Mac Engel

Notre Dame has no business being in a College Football Playoff ever again

Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly on Clemson’s young corps

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly talked about how impressive Clemson's young corps is led by freshman QB Trevor Lawrence and freshman WR Justyn Ross. Clemson knocked off Notre Dame in Saturday's Cotton Bowl.
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Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly talked about how impressive Clemson's young corps is led by freshman QB Trevor Lawrence and freshman WR Justyn Ross. Clemson knocked off Notre Dame in Saturday's Cotton Bowl.

The best part of the first College Football Playoff game on Saturday was not the actual game but rather Clark The Bald Eagle who got lost inside the stadium and perched himself on two fans before bothering to return to his actual trainer.

Once Clark was secure after his memorable flight around AT&T Stadium during the National Anthem, the game began and there was no Luck of the Irish.

There is only The Con by the Irish.

Clemson’s 30-3 win in this national semifinal game showed once again that in this current era of college football, Notre Dame is a top-tier team in name only.

Watching the Irish play like the Amish in the Cotton Bowl, I often had Georgia on my mind.

The Irish had the perfect record to play Clemson in the Cotton Bowl, but not the team. They should never have been in Jerry’s Night Club to play the Tigers.

There was a reason Notre Dame was a 12.5-point underdog.

If the BCS Plus Two is going to use a bunch of fancy computers, analytics, algorithms, data sheets and MIT grads to select the four “playoff” teams only to rely more on the eye-ball test, Notre Dame can’t be in this thing again.

Unlike decades ago when Notre Dame had real leverage, the way college football is structured now the Presidents of the Power 5 schools can push around ND’s Fathers who run the school thinking its the Vatican of amateur athletics.

Push the Irish into the ACC or Big 10 full time, and make them do it like the rest for there is nothing special about this college football program any longer. There has not been for years.

The Irish had no business being on the same field as a Clemson team that seemingly has more NFL first round players than actual first round slots.

The Irish continue to stick around and are given exemption status not because of anything they do, but rather what they did, which was to build a brand and a name recognition that has no equal in college athletics.

Credit pioneer ND coach Knute Rockne for that, who did for the Irish what the late, great Tex Schramm did for the Dallas Cowboys.

“I do not feel like there was an overwhelming difference in terms of talent,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said after the game.

I often feel like there is not that much difference between myself and, say, John Steinbeck. Or Brad Pitt. Or at least the difference is not overwhleming.

“If we coached better and we made plays that we have been making all year, we would have had a pretty good darn football game going into the fourth quarter,” Kelly said.

And if Notre Dame just had not played Clemson as opposed to say, Ball State, he’s absolutely right.

Notre Dame’s brand was built decades ago on its special relationship with TV, when few games were televised. ND was always on the tube. Now, Kansas football is on TV as often as Notre Dame football.

The Irish remain forever good for the business of college football; sports are better with villains, and teams people just love to hate. ND’s game against Clemson is bad for credibility of the playoff. Not that the playoff selection committee cares.

Notre Dame v. Clemson in the 2018 national semifinal game played out exactly as Notre Dame vs. Alabama in the 2012 BCS title game. Bama rolled the Irish in that one, 42-14.

Notre Dame is simply not Notre Dame, and only a collection of aging fans, ratings-horny executives and brand-delusional fans believe that.

Anyone who bothered to watch the game on Saturday could see that while the team is well coached, and has a handful of good players, they don’t have nearly the skill, size or athleticism as Clemon’s best.

Notre Dame’s defense managed to stay with Clemson for a decent portion of the first half, but the conclusion was inevitable. The Tigers are simply more talented. The Clemsons attract the talent Notre Dame once did, when Lou Holtz was coach.

Tied at three in the second quarter, Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw three second-quarter touchdown passes to end the whole, sad, predictable affair.

At the half, Clemson receiver Justyn Ross had five receptions for 137 yards and two touchdowns. At that point, Notre Dame had 141 yards as a team.

It’s a credit to Kelly that he has been able to win since he arrived in South Bend, Ind. in 2010 to fight what Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis could not. That is the fight against college football evolution.

Ask Michigan and coach Jim Harbaugh about this.

Teams in the north simply don’t attract the talent like a southern school. For perfectly good reason.

Go to Ann Arbor in January and get back to me. See how much fun State College, Pa. is in the middle of February. Take a vacation to Lincoln, Neb. in March.

Have you ever been to South Bend, Ind.? There is nothing like a fall football Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Now try Monday through Friday, and Sunday. At any point after September 15.

Don’t hate on me for that perfectly reasonable assessment. I grew up two hours south of South Bend, and know the best part of South Bend is that it’s only 90 minutes from Chicago.

A college kid does not have to go to South Bend to play on a big stage. And he can be warmer, too.

Ohio State, and maybe Washington, are the only ones of the Yankee schools to successfully fight this growing reality that recruiting big-time talent to these locales has made college football lopsided.

What played out in Arlington on Saturday afternoon was inevitable.

The Irish had a great regular season by barely defeating a slew of barely average teams, therefore they had the record necessary for the “committee” to gleefully put Notre Dame in the semfinals.

But Notre Dame never belonged in this game, which is why we all had Georgia on our minds.

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