Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 26, 2022*

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

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Page 4 of 55 NOV. 26, 2022 5 A two-letter word has domi- nated Notre Dame football discussions this fall. "If." If only Notre Dame didn't lose to Marshall. If only Notre Dame didn't lose to Stanford. Where would Notre Dame be if its only loss was to No. 2 Ohio State on the road in the season opener? How much better would the Fighting Irish be if they had a game-changing quarterback? If, if. If, if. The word floats through the South Bend air with a higher fre- quency than lake effect snowflakes and the tones of the bells ringing from the tower of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Here's a sentence that uses four two-letter words that begin with the letter "I," and none of them end in an "F." It is what it is. Notre Dame lost to the Thunder- ing Herd and the Cardinal. Its only loss isn't to the No. 2 Buckeyes. Sophomore starting signal-caller Tyler Buchner succumbed to a season- ending injury in Week 2. The Irish have been playing with backup junior Drew Pyne ever since. It is what it is. And that's perfectly fine. Notre Dame still owns two victories over teams that are in the top 15 of the Week 12 College Football Playoff rankings. The Irish thrashed No. 13 North Carolina 45-32 Sept. 24 in Chapel Hill, N.C., and embarrassed No. 9 Clemson 35-14 Nov. 5 when the Tigers were ranked No. 4. This has been a successful season for the Irish despite the two inexplicable losses, and it's not over yet. The Irish could notch another nationally ac- claimed victory if they go on the road and upset USC in the regular-season finale. Through Week 11, there were seven FBS programs that had multiple wins over teams appearing in the most recent CFP rankings. Notre Dame was one of them. The others were Tennessee, Ohio State, UCLA, Georgia, LSU and Clemson. Good company. Five of those seven were still alive for a CFP berth at that time. Notre Dame was one of the two that was not, which perhaps leads us back to the pesky two-letter word that we started with. I get it. It's fair to ponder the possibil- ities of what could have been for Notre Dame in 2022 if all the stars aligned. If everything went the Irish's way. Oops. Even I used the word a couple times there. It's an easy trap to fall into. But we have to remind ourselves that this wasn't ever going to be an easy three months for a first-year head coach to navigate. Marcus Freeman was es- sentially handed an 0-1 record from the start in having to face the second- best team in the country on the road in Week 1. His Irish hung tough and even led late into the third quarter. It's a respectable defeat against a for- midable opponent in a hostile environ- ment like that, though, and it's the wins over UNC and Clemson that make the losses to two-touchdown-plus under- dogs harder pills to swallow. So, sure. Use the word. If Notre Dame had only lost to Ohio State through the first 11 games of the season, it would have a strong College Football Playoff case with a win over USC. Only one of those seven aforementioned teams with multiple CFP top-25 wins had three such victories — Tennessee. The Volunteers are likely to fin- ish 11-1 and miss the CFP, though, because that's their ceiling. Sort of like the Irish in 2021, not hav- ing a chance to get to 12-1 with a conference championship victory is working against the Vols. Imagine the world in which Notre Dame could get to 11-1 in 2022. It would still likely miss the playoff. The winners of the SEC and Big Ten are in. Like last year, the Irish would need a whole lot of chaos to sneak in. The hypotheticals are a waste of time. The reality is this is a three-loss football team. The Irish struggled to beat a California team that will miss out on the postseason. They beat a BYU team that was 5-5 through Week 11 by one score. Syracuse lost by a combined point total of 67-12 vs. Pittsburgh and Florida State in the two games after the Irish beat the Orange. Marshall and Stanford had a combined record of 9-11 through Week 11. So stop with the coulda, woulda, shoulda stuff. This was not a playoff team from the moment it lost to OSU in Week 1. But that doesn't make it a lost season. It's actually quite impressive that Notre Dame, in a year in which so much did not go according to plan for the Irish, trounced the ACC's two best teams and still put itself in position to win 10-plus games for the sixth season in a row deep into November. Freeman and company rewrote the narrative of the season. They changed it from doom and gloom to optimism for the future. Be thankful for that. And stop using that darn two-letter word that rhymes with cliff because, no, you do not need to jump off one. It's all going to be OK in South Bend. ✦ GOLDEN GAMUT TYLER HORKA Tyler Horka has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2021. He can be reached at Head coach Marcus Freeman has learned how to navigate the course of an up-and-down season. PHOTO BY TAVAN SMITH Don't Dwell On 2022's Missteps

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