Going into the college football National Championship, everyone agreed that the best two teams in the country would be on the field. Both Alabama’s stellar offense and Clemson’s elite defense led them to the national championship to meet for the third time in four years. Even though it was freshman Trevor Lawrence and Clemson’s elite defense that dominated the night, these two powerhouses had an amazing amount of talent that separated themselves from the rest of college football.
However, Notre Dame watched the big game on TV from their homes, knowing they did not take advantage of their opportunity against Clemson to play in Levi Stadium. There were certainly many breaks that went against the Irish in the College Football Semifinal, including the first-half injury to Julian Love, a cornerstone of the Irish defense. At the same time, there was a glaring talent gap between the two teams that led to the eye-opening 30-3 rout. The Irish were outmatched in every aspect of the game: on a physical level in the trenches, on a talent level in skill positions, and especially in the quarterback play where Trevor Lawrence was able to make all the throws that Ian Book could not. Speaking as an ND fan, it’s a shame that they did not take their opportunity to show that they belonged with college football’s elite. On that night, it looked like they could not even compete with these big hitters.
If Notre Dame truly wants to accomplish their goal of winning a national championship, major changes must be made within the program. First of all, the mindset of the players and program administrators must change. Notre Dame must adopt the frame of mind of Bama and Clemson. Even prior to the game, there was a certain acceptance of the impending result within the Notre Dame community that showed that the Irish were not ready for this caliber of a game. There were even many fans that just hoped to see the Irish put up a good fight. Printing “Undefeated Regular Season” gear and being ecstatic that the Irish made the playoff are not responses that this season should merit. Instead, this game against Clemson should serve as a wake-up call that the program is not close to accomplishing their ultimate goal.
Secondly, it is time that Brian Kelly’s job be placed under real scrutiny. He has an 81-35 record in nine years at the school, and he has accumulated four ten-win seasons. But even though he was brought in to win national championships, he has won zero in his nine years as the head coach. He has a 0-3 record in BCS or College Football Playoff bowl games with an average margin of loss of 23.7 points. Even though he is attracting good players to ND, he is not recruiting the type of talent that can compete with the elite of college football; that disparity was certainly on display in the Cotton Bowl. This is not good enough for a program whose goal is to win national championships, and, even though he is coming off of a 12-1 season and a College Football Playoff berth, his job should not be secure.
Next season for the Irish becomes one of the most important in their illustrious football history. In order to regain status as a college football powerhouse, they must put the Clemson beat-down in the rear-view mirror and prove that they can be as consistent and commanding as the Clemson’s and Alabama’s of the world. Also, the Irish need to not only win games but win them handily in order to prove that conference participation is not indicative of playoff performance. It might be easy to look back on a 12-1 season as a success, but if Notre Dame truly wants to win national championships, this year was a real disaster.