Notre Dame In Desperate Need Of Bowl Victory


After a 6-0 start to the season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were a sort of “darling” of the NCAA CFB playoff system. Not many had expected the Irish to be undefeated, although a soft schedule thanks to a Michigan team that suffered a collapse of a season, led many to question that status entering the match-up against Florida State. Of course, Notre Dame came up just short, falling to the Seminoles after having the go-ahead touchdown nullified following an offensive pass interference call on an illegal pick. I’m still a little bitter, but that became the least of our worries.

As the Irish head in to the Music City Bowl match-up against No. 23 LSU, this game becomes more than just a moral victory for a team that has struggled down the stretch. It won’t be a program defining win, but it will be critical for recruiting (Irish are currently 10th in class rankings), and possibly even assuring Brian Kelly will be back next season. While he referred to this as his “dream job”, the NFL will come calling this winter, and a team that finishes with five-straight losses? Would he jump ship? It doesn’t seem likely but the thought has to be in Kelly’s mind.

The collapse of the Irish happened for many reasons, but it can’t be ignored the amount of injuries they suffered to key players, including linebacker Joe Schmidt. A defense that had been a key cog in the success early on became a huge liability. The good news is for coach Kelly, he’ll get a few of those injured players back for the game against the Tigers.

Sheldon Day, Max Redfield and Cody Riggs will all return for Notre Dame, with Day probably being the most important return. He was a constant force on thee defensive line, and his loss led the Irish to have to remove redshirt status from Jay Hays. It wasn’t a move the Irish wanted to make, but depth had become a severe concern.

Another key importance of the bowl game for the Irish will be to identify their quarterback for next season. Everett Golson led the Irish to a BCS title game in 2012, but that team was defined by its defense, and Kelly has admitted that Golson was simply along for the ride. After missing last year due to academic suspension, it appeared Golson was set to be a leader of the Notre Dame offense, leading them to their 6-0 start. But when the wheels came off, they really came off. After essentially being turnover free, Golson couldn’t keep the ball in possession of the Irish offense. By air or by ground, the pace in which he coughed it up began to take its toll on the defense.

Malik Zaire, who believed he would win the starting job coming out of the spring, finally got his chance against USC when Kelly had finally seen enough. Zaire performed well, and led Kelly to proclaim both quarterbacks will play in the Music City Bowl. Kelly historically has used more than one QB at each of his stops, and this may be an indication he will shift back to that, or look to make a change away from Golson.

Much is on the line for the Irish – from pride to possibly their coach – this bowl game means so much more for the Irish than it looks like on the surface.

Next: Five Recruits That Could Spurn The Irish