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Notre Dame Football: The Clemson Hangover

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You’ll need to clear your head a bit for that big picture talk.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Cotton Bowl-Notre Dame vs Clemson
This is what you woke up to this morning... now you have to deal with it.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish lost yet another big bowl game to a team that was far better in just about every facet of the game. This time, it was the Clemson Tigers in the Cotton Bowl, and it was a college football playoff semi-final — just to make it that much bigger.

It was a brutal 30-3 loss that felt a lot different than the 2012 game against Alabama, but still left fans with that same feeling of dread afterwards. It’s time to weed through the bullshit and find some truth in all of this mess.

Here is your Hangover:

NOTRE DAME IS IN THE SHALLOWS

I watched the game a second time at about 4 in the morning on Sunday. It usually takes a third watch to fully gauge and understand what happened, but nothing in the second viewing really changed my opinion... Notre Dame’s depth (or lack of) is what kills them in the big game.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Cotton Bowl-Notre Dame vs Clemson Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the biggest names in this game that kept swimming around in my head were two players that didn’t play; Alex Bars and Shaun Crawford. The two biggest parts of the game that Notre Dame got beat were two of their supposedly biggest strengths with the offensive line and the defensive secondary. Crawford was the starting nickel in fall camp and probably Notre Dame’s second best cover corner before he had a season-ending injury. Bars was Notre Dame’s best offensive lineman, and when he went down earlier in the year, it’s been an odd scramble to get a decent lineup.

So, before the game even began, Notre Dame was already using its depth. When Julian Love went out early in the first half, it became remarkably clear just how far down the Irish had to go. Sadly, the depth on the offensive line was finally exposed as well when it faced (by far) the best defensive front of the season.

That was the game in a nutshell. The production of Clemson’s offense with Julian Love off the field, and Clemson’s dismantling of the Irish offensive line that meant the dismantling of the Irish offense in general (especially as it pertains to Ian Book).

This is where is gets more complicated than most realize. It’s not just that Notre Dame doesn’t have top 3 classes every year (Clemson doesn’t either) and it’s not just the lack of 5 star recruiting. It’s a weird mix of both with as one part, but the other part has a ton of other factors; attrition, need, development, placement, engagement, and timing.

It’s a much more difficult fix than RECRUIT 5 STARS. If that were all it came down to, it would be an easier task to change the Irish roster for the better. As it stands, Notre Dame still appears to be going down the right path, but a slight change in one ingredient or shift in the wind can still cause a void.

I have no answers for you in this regard, and bring only more questions to the table.

THIS GAME HAS NO REAL BEARING ON ANY FUTURE PLAYOFF SEEDINGS

The idea that Notre Dame will have a much harder time getting into the playoffs because of this loss is absurd. First, we have no data to back that up because of the relatively young life span of the playoffs. Did anyone care about any of the past semi-final results when talking about another team’s chances to make it in future years? Here’s a reminder of how the semis have gone down:

So losers by at least 3 scores...

My god it’s been a bloodbath in the semi-finals. This doesn’t excuse the crap loss by Notre Dame, but it can’t (and won’t by committee members) be held over their heads anymore than the rest of that list. The only place where this becomes a factor is with the media and fans feeding a fire that offers no heat — only bright light.

THE CONFERENCE MYTH

Whatever noise there was about Notre Dame’s “need to join a conference” only increased by about a million after the Cotton Bowl. Not only do I rewatch the game several times, but I read a lot of social media posts and message board posts before I open up my post editor. More than ever, defeatist Irish fans are joining in this absurd notion that somehow if Notre Dame was in a conference things would be better for all parties.

Bullshit.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Cotton Bowl-Notre Dame vs Clemson Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The only real thing that matters is access to the college football playoff. The committee (and the conference commissioners as well) have already made it clear that Notre Dame is on the same footing as every other Power 5 school. Unlike the UCF Knights, Notre Dame plays a real schedule. Most years, Notre Dame plays 10 schools from Power 5 conferences and all 12 from the FBS. The strength of schedule usually falls right in line as well, although this year was certainly a paper tiger in many respects.

12-0 will always get Notre Dame in the playoff — if only because most years won’t see this many undefeated schools at the end of the season. 11-1 will certainly be a different issue, but that will all depend on the many other factors involved in the schedule and that year (far too many to predict). At worst, 12-0 as the qualifier for Notre Dame to get in as an Independent is a fair trade-off in most alums eyes (and in the eyes of the administration).

What would change if Notre Dame joined the ACC full-time OTHER than to appease fans that mean jack and shit to the process? The answer was, is, and will always be... nothing.

Until the conferences themselves try to actually force Notre Dame’s hand, this is a non-issue for anyone other than a lazy media to sell to Joe Fan.

MOVING FORWARD

Talking about Notre Dame football and its place in the college football world is like peeling away an onion. There are many levels to this shit, and I can’t cover them all in this one post. I barely got past the dead skin. There are more conversations to come, and one glaring omission from this post... coaching.

I’ll get to that after I chug a bit more of this Pedialyte.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Cotton Bowl-Notre Dame vs Clemson Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports