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Blue & Gold Illustrated

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 OCT. 7, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T he Notre Dame players and coaches stayed united with their message in the moments and days after losing a tough 23-17 battle at No. 3 Georgia Sept. 21. They vowed that a game may have been lost, but the preseason goals remained. "This one stings a little bit," senior captain Khalid Kareem said. "It's only one loss. It doesn't define our season." "We feel pretty good about our football team, even though we're dis- appointed with what happened to- day," head coach Brian Kelly added. "We're a team that's gonna step up to any challenge," senior captain Alohi Gilman said. "The sky's the limit for us." The consolation prize was some- what satisfying. The Irish lost by only six points instead of suffering another double-digit drubbing Irish fans feared against a top-five oppo- nent that was favored by 15 points. But the positive spin can't change the fact that given Notre Dame's in- dependent place in college football, any hope this season of a return trip to the College Football Playoff (CFP) is gone before the autumn leaves even turned. Notre Dame's independence car- ries many advantages — a national following, games in Ireland and Yan- kee Stadium, and its own personal revenue stream. Yet, independence also comes with a price, and that tab was already paid in full in the loss to Georgia. Keeping in mind that Notre Dame has beaten one top-five opponent in the last 21 years and 18 tries, the bill might come due too soon again next year against Clemson because there is no late-season championship game for Notre Dame to absorb a loss. Even without a conference champi- onship game, there was plenty of de- bate last season about Notre Dame's playoff worthiness even after it went undefeated. Independence also provides sched- uling challenges for Notre Dame di- rector of athletics Jack Swarbrick as he tries to gather a slate of games — typically years in advance — that will impress the CFP committee but not bury the team at the same time. So, when a schedule like 2019's misses the mark, CFP hopes usually are dashed with even one loss. During the past decade or so, Notre Dame always had the benefit of finishing its regular season over Thanksgiving weekend with a mar- quee meeting against either USC or Stanford — until those two programs started losing their signature status. USC had lost four of five games last year when Notre Dame finished its regular season in Los Angeles. Stanford, this season's finale oppo- nent, had won only one of its first four games this year. With Stanford on the downslide, Notre Dame's five-game November schedule — where CFP berths are gained and lost every year — looked like this before last weekend. Rankings were taken from the CBS Sports 1-thru-130 Poll: Virginia Tech (No. 64), Duke (No. 76), Navy (No. 73), Boston College (No. 81) and Stanford (No. 62). Throw in a game this weekend against Bowling Green (No. 119) and an earlier one this season against New Mexico (No. 123), and seven of Notre Dame's 12 regular season op- ponents ranked no better than 62nd, more evidence as to why the Georgia loss already derailed any Irish play- off push. The symbiotic football relation- ship between Notre Dame and the Atlantic Coast Conference is a cozy one with the Irish playing five league teams each season. Notre Dame gets bowl game tie-ins from the confer- ence and the ACC gets a national brand to market and profit from. But in another scheduling mishap working against the Irish this sea- son, the ACC is having a down year with only two teams — Clemson and Virginia — ranked in last week's As- sociated Press Top 25. Now, none of this year's crummy schedule can be blamed on Notre Dame. To stay relevant, Swarbrick's intent is to annually build a strong and diverse schedule that includes a sampling of at least four of the Power Five conferences. And ironically, with road games this season at Louisville, Georgia, Michigan and Stanford, Swarbrick actually took abuse from the Irish fan base in 2017 for overscheduling in 2019. "I understand the reaction to '19," Swarbrick said at the time in a story for Blue & Gold Illustrated. "Now, it's up to us to try to navigate it." We're still in September, and Geor- gia is the only unbeaten team among those four. Irish senior quarterback Ian Book said after the Georgia loss, "This is why you come to Notre Dame, to play in games like this." But with any CFP plans likely null and void, it's unfortunate Georgia actually is the only game like this on the schedule, with no mulligan avail- able to make up for losing it. ✦ Independence Leaves Little Room For Error UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at The Fighting Irish presented a united front after the loss to Georgia, talking about how their preseason goals remained on the horizon. However, their independent status and lack of a conference champion- ship game will make it difficult to overcome that defeat. PHOTO BY J. SISSON/WPG

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