Phew, sorry about that. Just had to vent my frustration. I was thinking about how exciting Notre Dame’s performance versus North Carolina could have been had the Irish just found a way to win against Marshall. Then they’d be sitting at 3-1 right now with an outside shot at the College Football Playoff.
Alas, it’s too little too late. Notre Dame isn’t going to the Playoff barring eight straight wins to finish 10-2 plus an improbable rash of top teams collapsing. That’s not realistic, and there’s no changing it. But there’s no use in harping on the past, and I promised someone (my mother) that I would be positive in this postgame column, so let’s shift gears.
If there’s a message college football fans (including myself) probably need to hear at least once per season, it’s that this sport is about more than just the CFP. Saturday’s 45-32 Irish win should be that reminder for Notre Dame fans. And as the Irish head into a bye week at 2-2 — a reset point for a season that narrowly avoided going off a cliff — now is as good a time as any to take a moment and reflect.
Forget a “neck-crack” game. After atrocious play for the better part of three contests, Notre Dame’s dismantling of North Carolina was like simultaneously popping every single joint in your body. It was confirmation that the Irish are still capable of playing good offensive football and dominating opponents.
The sense of relief instilled by that win shouldn’t be diminished just because the game will have essentially zero impact on the Playoff picture. Likewise, it shouldn’t be dissected for what it means for 2023 when the Irish will have a fresh chance at making the CFP. Because more matters than just the Playoff.
Making progress as a first-time head coach matters. Winning with a backup quarterback matters. Gelling as an offensive line matters. Continuing to own ACC opponents matters. Derailing the annual North Carolina hype train matters. And while building toward the future matters, so does living in the moment and enjoying this iteration of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
It’s natural to look towards the future, to worry that certain young wide receivers aren’t getting experience they’ll need down the road or that the current Irish quarterback with the highest upside is missing out on valuable reps after a season-ending injury. Those concerns are valid.
But that shouldn’t take away from the incomparable talent that Michael Mayer possesses, especially since he’ll be gracing an NFL roster next season. It shouldn’t detract from the joy of Notre Dame’s defense apparently learning how to contain a mobile quarterback. It shouldn’t stifle the satisfaction of watching Drew Pyne transform from being too nervous to catch a snap to looking like a serviceable college quarterback (admittedly against a nonexistent defense, but if they couldn’t dominate North Carolina’s unit, then who could they dominate?).
This was yet another performance that will probably make Notre Dame fans wildly reevaluate their expectations, and it likely won’t be the last with so much season left to play. The natural inclination may be to look at everything through the lens of what it means for next season. But this is as much a reminder for myself as it is for our dear OFD readers who may (or may not) need to hear it: let’s see the forest for the trees.
To paraphrase a wise man, “College football moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I don’t want to miss Marcus Freeman’s first season as head coach thinking about those yet to come. I imagine I’m not alone.