I have a radical idea, as college football tribalism goes: I’m going to celebrate the accomplishments of a school I didn’t attend.
Want to join me? Care to turn off the hate-o-meter for a minute?
Notre Dame is 12-0 and headed to the College Football Playoff. The Irish beat teams from six conferences. They beat spread teams, option teams and everything in between. They beat Pat Fitzgerald and Jim Harbaugh, probably 1-2 in Big Ten Coach of the Year voting. They checked the final box Saturday night at USC and celebrated as if they’d been handed a 10-cent coupon for an oil change.
No gloating, no shushing, no “we shocked the world” garbage.
These guys are pros, if not actual pros.
SEC teams won’t leave their counties without a court order, but Notre Dame toured America with this group. Have defense, will travel.
The Irish could have canceled on Northwestern or tried to strong-arm the school into moving the game to Soldier Field. They didn’t. Notre Dame even voluntarily moved a home game against Syracuse to Yankee Stadium. In the last five weeks they’ve played in San Diego, Evanston, South Bend, the Bronx and Los Angeles.
“We’re like an on-Broadway play,” coach Brian Kelly said.
C’mon, Brian. It’s just Broadway.
That’s as close as I’ll get to ripping the Irish. You should consider the same.
I’ve seen your vitriol for Notre Dame on Twitter. If you don’t win every game by at least three touchdowns, you’re trash. Notre Dame had the nerve to beat Pittsburgh by a mere five points during midterms. Don’t roll your eyes. Yes, Notre Dame had an academic misconduct scandal on Kelly’s watch, thanks to a rogue tutor. Yes, Notre Dame still is one of those schools where the players can’t major in Fruit Appreciation.
Other fans rip the Irish for being independent; when did that all-American word become a bad thing? If your favorite school had a chance to have its own TV contract and recruit from sea to shining sea, don’t you think it would?
Give Notre Dame its due. The Irish took everyone’s best shot.
USC had no pressure Saturday night and played like it. JT Daniels completed an outrageous 16 of 17 passes in the first quarter. But the Irish stripped two Trojans receivers and pounded away with tailback Dexter Williams.
“Gritty,” Kelly said in describing the performance. “It wasn’t perfect.”
Unlike, say, the season thus far.
Kelly, who used to turn purple while lambasting his quarterbacks, is far from perfect. The extraordinarily dignified family of Declan Sullivan knows this. But he wasn’t too stubborn to hit the reset button on his program two seasons ago, bringing in new coordinators and strength coaches.
This is Kelly’s second 12-0 team. The Manti Te’o crew of 2012 survived the gauntlet before getting smacked by Alabama.
This group has an exceptional defense that ranks eighth nationally in yards per play (4.53) and fifth in opponents’ passing efficiency rating.
“This is a team that has sustained itself week in and week out and played really good defense,” Kelly said on the field in his postgame TV interview. “We think we’re deserving (of a playoff spot). We know that if we get that opportunity, we will represent very well.”
The “deserving” part is beyond question.
We’ll find out about the “represent very well” part Dec. 29, probably in an Orange Bowl duel with Clemson.
As the coaches met Saturday at midfield for a postgame handshake, USC’s Clay Helton imparted these words: “Go win it all.”