Can Notre Dame erase a decade of history and compete with Alabama?

Recently Notre Dame played Clemson in one College Football Playoffs In the 2018 semi-finals, coach Brian Kelly complained that the Fighting Irish had been falsely judged for what had happened six years earlier.

“We’re still being compared to what happened in 2012, fair or unfair,” Kelly said at the time, referring to Notre Dame’s 42-14 loss to Alabama played in the BCS National Championship after the 2012 season. “We have to set a new kind of parameter there.”

The Fighting Irish promptly lost to the Tigers 30-3 on their first CFP appearance.

After that game, Kelly told anyone who would listen that the Irish had filled the gap with the heavyweights of the sport more than the one-point improvement that the results would indicate.

“Do I feel like it’s different? [Alabama] Game? Oh i do Absolutely, “said Kelly afterwards.” I left the game feeling like there was so much work to be done from the inside out, so much development, so much recruiting.

“”[Clemson was] the better team today – there is no doubt about that. [But] It’s a completely different feeling. I have a feeling that this soccer team is on the sidelines [of a championship]where when i left this [Alabama] Game was, “Boy, do we have a lot of work to do.” … We can come back here and win. So it’s a different, really different feeling for me. “

It’s been eight years since the Crimson Tide pressured the Fighting Irish No. 1 – yes, Notre Dame was unbeaten and was ahead of Alabama – by scoring the first 35 points of the game and racking up 529 yards of offensive to her third BCS to win title in four seasons.

On New Years Day, the No. 1 Tide and No. 4 Irish will meet in the CFP semi-finals at the Rose Bowl game presented by Capital One (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN / ESPN app). And while both programs and their head coaches have evolved since that memorable night for the Fighting Irish in South Florida, some things have stayed the same.

Nobody gives Notre Dame a great opportunity.

Alabama opened as a 20.5-point favorite, the largest ever played in a CFP semi-finals or national championship. ESPN’s FPI gives the tide an 81% chance of winning the game.

Given its recent postseason, does Notre Dame have more to show than the other teams in the CFP?

“No, I mean, we knock on the door every year and we play really good teams and great opponents,” Kelly said this week. “And there are elite football teams. I don’t know why this story keeps coming up when we’re always in the games.”

Under Kelly, the Fighting Irish are experiencing their most successful era in more than three decades, since Lou Holtz led them to the 1988 national championship from 1987 to 1995 and nine consecutive bowl games in January.

After a 4-8 mistake in 2016, the Fighting Irish have won 41 regular-time games in the past four seasons, the majority in any four-year period in school history. You are one of only five teams that have made CFP appearances over several seasons. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma are the others. Notre Dame has a 33-4 record since the start of the 2018 season. As of September 30, 2017, it has won 24 straight games at Notre Dame Stadium, the longest home winning streak in the program’s modern era.

While Notre Dame was attending a conference this season due to planning issues related to the coronavirus pandemic for the time in its 114-year history, it went 10-0 into the ACC in the regular season while competing in the ACC. The Irish were upset at the time – No. 1 Clemson 47-40 in two overtime (albeit with Tiger’s quarterback Trevor Lawrence paused due to COVID-19) and reached the ACC championship game, losing a rematch against the Tigers 34-10.

The Fighting Irish have done enough to reach the CFP and will play the Rose Bowl for the first time since the Four Horsemen galloped past Stanford 27-10 on New Year’s Day 1925 to win the school’s first national consensus championship.

Despite all this success, the Rose Bowl on Friday feels like Lucy and Charlie Brown to almost anyone living outside the shadow of the Golden Dome.

“I understand we’re going to get this narrative, but it can be a little frustrating,” said Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame sporting director.

That perception, fair or not, has followed the Irish because they have appeared on the sport’s greatest stage for the past two decades. This is Notre Dame’s seventh appearance in a BCS or New Year’s Six Bowl game since 1998. The Irish have been 0-6 in previous games and a total of 144 points, with none of the competitions being decided by fewer than two touchdowns.

“Look, the history of these teams being played in those games obviously plays a role,” said former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. “It’s hard to get past it.”

Swarbrick said that Notre Dame’s independence – this will be the only season the ACC will play – is the main reason it has received more flak than other teams that flopped in the postseason.

“No matter what we do in the regular season, it will always give people a basis to say, ‘Well we should have been there [the playoff] instead, “said Swarbrick.” We can’t be there if it was the BCS and now the CFP without someone’s conference champ not getting in. This independent dynamic will always put a specific goal on our backs. “Postseason.”

Still, it’s not that Notre Dame is the only team to have made it down the chin in the CFP semi-finals. Defending champion Florida State lost too Oregon in a CFP semi-final in January 2015 by 39 points. In other CFP semifinals, Alabama beat Michigan State from 38, Washington at 17 and even Clemson at 18. Oklahoma is 0-4 in its CFP appearances, losing an average of 18 points.

Even Alabama and Clemson, the two most dominant teams in the CFP era, were on the wrong end of losing. The Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide in the 2019 CFP National Championship by 28 points; Clemson lost the title game at 17 to LSU last season.

Of the 12 CFP semi-finals played, only three teams won with less than 10 points and eight with 17 or more points. The average profit margin on these games was 21.3 points.

“I’m pretty sure Alabama has been blown away by Clemson in the past few years,” Notre Dame said offensively Liam Eichenberg said. “I’m pretty sure other teams were blown out in the playoffs. I’m not particularly worried about that. This is a different year. This is a different team.”

Unfortunately for Notre Dame, it may not show how far it has come in the past eight years against this Alabama team, averaging 49.7 points and 544 yards per game. Quarterback Mac Jones and recipient DeVonta Smith are Heisman Trophy finalists. The Associated Press named six Alabama players to their All-America team. The Irish had chosen two players – guard Aaron Banks and linebackers Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

Notre Dame could be a much better team and still not as good as Alabama.

The Irish insist that what happened eight years ago has no bearing on what happens on New Years Day.

“That was a long time ago for us,” said offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, who was a 2012 backup quarterback for the Irish. “And I was there. I remember it. And it obviously wasn’t a fun night. Me.” I think the program has come a long way under Coach’s leadership. I think the way we hired and how we evolved within our program has increased.

“And then I think we’ve been in this situation several times now and there is a belief within the program that we are consistently one of the top five teams in the country and we do that and we have that belief.”

After losing 28 points to Alabama in 2012, Kelly rebuilt his program to improve recruitment, strength and fitness, nutrition and his local workforce.

“See, if you don’t get better at everything in life every year, you will be left behind,” said Kelly. “So you have to look at what you’re doing internally. Even after you went undefeated this year [in 2012]We lost in the national championship game and were not seen as a very good football team. We had to look at the things that could help us grow. And we do that every year.

“So we’re a different football team? We’re a different program. We have to be. You have to change and you have to be able to keep up with the latest trends and things that are occurring every day. We all do this . ” Whatever business we do. “

Kelly, 59, adopted gentler, gentler behavior on the sidelines too. He delegated more responsibility to his coaches, including Rees, who was the target of some of Kelly’s side outbursts when he was quarterback for the Irish from 2010 to 2013. Kelly promoted Rees, 28, to playcaller when Chip Long was fired after three seasons in January 2020.

“I can’t tell you how impressed I am,” said Swarbrick. “Just forget about the coaching community. It is everyone, every leader, every entrepreneur who is genuinely willing to review and embrace all of the way they run a business, and how they react personally . I think that’s the most impressive thing. I was so intrigued by it when we went through it, and then it was really rewarding to see the results. I just don’t think there are many people out there who can do the really basic ones Make changes to how they approach something they have been doing for a quarter of a century. “

When defensive coordinator Mike Elko moved to Texas A&M after the 2017 season, Kelly promoted linebacker coach Clark Lea. The Irish occupy 14th place in goal defense (18.6 points), 15th place in running defense (110.6 yards) and 20th place in overall defense (335.1 yards) among the FBS teams. This feat recently helped Lea get a job as head coach at Vanderbilt, his alma mater.

Recruiting has been one of the areas that has come a long way over the past eight years. The Irish put more emphasis on the offensive and defensive lines and on the construction depth. This was one of the revelations from the 2012 loss to Alabama. Of the 22 players who started for the Tide in that game, 16 played in at least one NFL game. The Irish had almost as many with 15 players (attacking duel against Christian Lombard, another potential NFL player, had to retire from football as a senior in 2014 due to a back injury).

The difference was that Alabama had players like future NFL, the T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, linebacker Reggie Ragland, Safety Landon Collins and offensive lineman Ryan Kelly play as reserves.

“The depth was the difference,” said Swarbrick. “Our initial defensive linemen were [Stephon] Tuitt, [Louis] Nothing and [Kapron] Lewis Moore. But we didn’t have the next three and the next three Alabama would bring out. “

Notre Dame has excelled at recruiting and developing offensive linemen. In 2018, Guard Quenton Nelson and Tackle Mike McGlinchey were top 10 picks in the NFL draft. According to Eichenberg, Eichenberg is the sixth best device for next year’s design Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN., and Banks is the fifth best guard.

“I think Notre Dame has found that they have some of the best offensive linemen in the NFL,” said Quinn. “There’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to recruit these guys at the top level, and they did. If you run back in high school then why the hell wouldn’t you want to come to Notre? Dame and play behind those offensive lines? “

In April, Alabama had selected nine players in the first three rounds of the NFL draft, including four first-round players. The Irish had picked three players in the first three rounds – none in the first. Kiper anticipates that four Alabama players will be selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft Najee Harris is the # 1 traffic jam and another potential top notch. He has a Notre Dame player – Owusu-Koramoah – projected among the first 32 picks.

It seems that for every step Notre Dame takes, Alabama is taking another leap.

“No, we didn’t win a national championship, that’s right,” said Kelly. “I’m not changing the record. But we are there every year and grind it like everyone else. And at the end of the year only one team is allowed to celebrate. And we will keep beating.” it and we will keep coming back here. And that is our job. And that is our challenge to fight for a national championship every year, and we will continue to do so. “

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