The last game of the season ended with the same score as the first game of the season, but between those games — the Notre Dame Fighting Irish proved themselves as one of the best teams in the country. With their 24-17 win over the USC Trojans, the Irish have punched their ticket for the college football playoff.
It was such an incredible journey for Notre Dame in 2018.
The Irish started the season with a renewed rivalry game against the Michigan Wolverines, and according to just about every expert in the country — Notre Dame wouldn’t be able to handle Michigan on either side of the ball. The Irish then proceeded to punch the Wolverines in the mouth to start the game, and that team from up north never recovered.
After that 24-17 win, the college football narrative was still fixated on Michigan and what was “wrong” with them instead of showcasing how good the Irish were, and how that win could set up a run for the playoffs.
Michigan remained a dark cloud that followed the Irish in the weeks after the game. As Notre Dame struggled in wins over Ball State and Vanderbilt, Michigan kicked the crap out of their cupcakes. There was a growing sentiment that Michigan was still a better football team than Notre Dame.
Maybe they were right — after the Vanderbilt game. As much as it seems ridiculous, maybe at 3-0, Notre Dame wasn’t better than the 2-1 Michigan squad that they beat to start the year. Maybe that’s why Brian Kelly made the change at quarterback.
Once Kelly started Ian Book over Brandon Wimbush when Notre Dame went on the road against Wake Forest, the whole dynamic of the team started to change. No longer did the offense seem sluggish — it took off. One week later when Dexter Williams was finally able to play after serving a four game suspension, Notre Dame showed exactly what they were now capable of as it beat the Stanford Cardinal down.
Notre Dame’s stingy defense with newcomer Alohi Gilman, and surprise star Jalen Elliott in the secondary, were already playing like one of the better defenses in the country. With a formidable front seven that includes Julian Okwara, Jerry Tillery, Khalid Kareem, Drue Tranquill, and Te’von Coney there wasn’t a weak spot to be found. (All that without mentioning All-American and Jim Thorpe Award candidate, Julian Love at cornerback). Notre Dame was able to control almost every minute of every game this season because of that defense.
At the halfway point in the season, Notre Dame wasn’t the same team they were against Michigan. No, the Irish were better even if the national media didn’t want to admit it.
The tide finally turned last week when the Irish blew out the Syracuse Orange, and Michigan struggled with the Indiana Hoosiers. Finally, the media was warming up to the real idea that Notre Dame was indeed properly ranked at #3 and there was a much bigger gap between the Irish and Michigan than the Irish and the Clemson Tigers.
Still, it came down to the last game of the regular season for Notre Dame, and it was against their fiercest rival in Southern Cal, and in their backyard. Notre Dame beat this rival by the same score as that “other rival” in the first game of the season, 24-17.
It took this win, to make the better win (by the same score) more relevant than it’s been in weeks. Funny how that happens, and it’s even funnier how irrelevant that entire conversation was over the last two months. Triple that funny after the Ohio State Buckeyes beatdown Jim Harbaugh and Michigan.
Notre Dame bookends its 12-0 season with a pair of 24-17 wins over its rivals on route to the college football playoff. Try diluting that narrative, and you’re either stupid or a hater — probably both.