When the 2017 season started Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly stated “We don’t have a conference championship, our goal is to win a National Championship” . That may have been the goal, but after another November Meltdown, the Irish find themselves in the Citrus Bowl facing the LSU Tigers.
Consolation? Perhaps, they do get to play in a bowl game on January 1, albeit not for the National Championship. I’m sure that when the season started, against the schedule the Irish had, playing in a bowl game for a chance at 10 wins would have been accepted.
“So, you know, just really proud of our football team to be rewarded to play in the Citrus Bowl. One of the older, most prestigious games on New Year’s Day, on national television. We’re really super excited. Then to play LSU. Another nationally ranked team, that will give us our seventh nationally ranked team to play on this schedule.” -Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly
Now? Not so much, after the Irish rose to number 3 in the playoff rankings, the Irish squandered nearly every opportunity they had to put themselves squarely in the conversation. A blow out loss to Miami, an uninspiring win against Navy, a 4th quarter collapse against Stanford.
The list goes on and on, in what was supposed to be a special year for the Irish, ended with yet another cloud of doubt surrounding the future of this program. So let’s talk about the bowl game, and what could a win mean for the Irish?
We will have a lot more leading up to the game as far as looking at the LSU Tigers, but for the sake of argument, what would a win do for this program? If the Irish can go into the Citrus Bowl and beat an SEC team, and get to 10 wins, that could be an incredible benefit for recruiting.
However, a loss could leave some recruits questioning whether or not this is the place for them. So while the Citrus Bowl may not have been the goal, do not think it has no impact on the future of the program. Head Coach Brian Kelly did have this to say about the recruitment process “if you don’t sign in December, you’re not committed”
Pretty point blank, I’m sure that statement comes on the heels of the recruiting rumblings that players do not want to play for him, and the loss of 4 star running back Markese Stepp. What’s especially painful in the Stepp loss, is he’s a local talent (Indianapolis Cathedral), if Notre Dame can’t get the best players from their own state, how can they compete on a national level?
Brian Kelly was also asked whether any of the possible NFL players had talked about skipping the bowl game to protect draft stock. In which he said that after meeting with seniors, no one brought up the notion of skipping the bowl to do so.
“Nobody has approached me about it. I’ve met with all of my captains today, and none of them gave me any indication that that would be the case. But, again, we’re — we’ll deal with any individual situations if they arise, but nobody has approached me about it.”
“Again, I met with the captains today and asked if that was the case, and that wasn’t the case today. But we’ll proceed as if everybody’s going to play. If there are any individual cases that need to be dealt with, we’ll support our players 100%.” – Brian Kelly on whether or not seniors may consider skipping the bowl game to protect NFL Draft stock.
When asked about added motivation of playing LSU on New Year’s Day he said “You don’t need much motivation for your football team, our guys are pretty motivated”. Well, that’s good, right? I mean, it would make sense to be a bit more motivated, after all it is a bowl game in Florida, on New Year’s Day, against LSU.
So in short, the Irish set a lofty goal for themselves, and for much of the season, that goal seemed to be attainable. They fell short, but a chance at 10 wins is right there in front of them. If the Irish can beat LSU, reach that second tier goal, 10 wins, I think much of the off-season goes much more smoothly. Lose, and well, 10 wins may not save Brian Kelly’s job.