Notre Dame has six weeks to wait to make history
BY MARK LAZERUS Sun-Times Media November 25, 2012 7:28PM
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly receives a dousing as other team members celebrate after Notre Dame defeated Southern California 22-13 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
LOS ANGELES — Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick truly believed Brian Kelly’s football team had the potential to do something great — to return the stagnant program to national prominence and restore the luster to the golden dome.
Just not this year.
“I always thought next year,” Swarbrick said Saturday night in the bowels of the Coliseum, in the giddy moments following the Irish’s 22-13 victory over USC. Then he grinned: “It’s cool to be ahead of schedule.”
Yes, the Irish are going to the national championship game in South Florida on Jan. 7, likely against the winner of next Saturday’s SEC championship game between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia. When the door was closed on the team charter late Saturday night, Will Smith’s “Miami” was echoing throughout the plane. Irish players littered Twitter with exclamation-point-riddled posts about South Beach. A throng of Irish fans woke up at the crack of dawn to greet the team bus when it arrived on campus at 6 a.m.
“I’m still kind of in shock right now,” redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson said.
Indeed, these are heady times for Notre Dame.
But as the celebration ends, the preparation begins — six long weeks of it.
“We get healthy,” linebacker Manti Te’o said of the half-a-season layoff. “And we get better.”
And make no mistake, there is plenty to work on. The Irish are perfect in record only. And it will take a perfect game and a perfect gameplan to knock off the SEC champion, which — whoever it is — will almost certainly be a heavy favorite despite Notre Dame’s status as the nation’s No. 1 team.
The most pressing concern is a familiar one: Notre Dame’s inability to put the ball in the end zone. In five trips inside the red zone against USC, the Irish managed just one touchdown and four field goals.
“Not getting touchdowns came back to make it a little bit more difficult on us, and I knew it would,” Kelly said. “We’re still in the process there. We’re not there yet. When we start clicking down in the red zone, we’re going to be really good. And we’ll have plenty of time to continue to work on that leading up to the national championship game.”
The good news is, there are six weeks to work on it. Six weeks to continue developing Golson, whose steady progress has made the Irish defense more versatile and more dangerous with each passing start. Six weeks to further fine-tune a lockdown defense that has held opponents to a total of minus-5 yards in goal-to-go situations all season, making two more goal-line stands against USC. Six weeks to rest, six weeks to heal, six weeks to study film, six weeks to prepare for a chance to make history.
The Irish might be ahead of Swarbrick’s schedule, but they’re right on time, if history is any indication. Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz each won a national championship in his third season as Irish coach. Now, somewhat shockingly, Kelly has the same opportunity.
In six weeks.
So “the process,” as Kelly repeatedly refers to the long-term rebuilding of the Irish program, continues.
“It’s hard for me to sit here right after the game and give the historical significance of all these things,” Kelly said. “Here’s what I know: We set up this season to build our program and get it back into the national discussion of championship programs. And we’re in that discussion.”