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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Greason: This season cannot be considered a success

STANFORD, Calif. — I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

If you had told me at the start of the season I would be disappointed in a team with a 9-3 record, I don’t know that I would have believed you. In fact, I predicted this team would finish the season 9-3 at the start of the year. And I like being right.

However, this year’s Notre Dame squad has both the benefit and curse of being a totally different one from last season. It left last year in the past, and while that’s great in terms of football, it helped to send expectations skyrocketing, my own included.

The Irish powered up the rankings throughout the season, ascending week after week, with big win after big win, ultimately reaching No. 3 in the country. At that point, they were fully immersed in the College Football Playoff picture. And once that happened, the baseline for a successful season was reset.

Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush throws a screen pass during Notre Dame's 38-20 loss to Stanford at Stanford Stadium on Saturday,
Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush throws a screen pass during Notre Dame’s 38-20 loss to Stanford at Stanford Stadium on Saturday,

And that’s why this season, this 9-3 regular season, is a failure, regardless of what happens in whatever bowl game the Irish end up in. Because, that’s just it. They should have been guaranteed a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl after going 10-2 with a win over Stanford on Saturday. But that didn’t happen, did it?

While there is still a good chance they will make one of the top bowl games, the three-loss Irish have essentially sealed their fate in the sense that a New Year’s Six Bowl is out of the picture. Once they hit No. 3 in the country, that’s what became a successful season in my mind — an appearance in a bowl game that actually matters. And a win in anything less than a New Year’s Six Bowl does not cap off the season on a genuinely positive note. This senior class doesn’t want to leave Notre Dame with another win at the Music City Bowl.

In hindsight, Notre Dame could have gone undefeated this season. Not should have. But could have. The Georgia game could have gone either way. And once the Miami (FL) game was underway, it was almost immediately out of Notre Dame’s hands. But, in reality, the Irish should have been able to keep pace with the Hurricanes.

Which brings me to this week’s fiasco.

Fear the tree? No. There was no need. The Irish chopped themselves down on Saturday, and not vice versa.

There was nothing particularly menacing about the Cardinal. They proved themselves to be a quality opponent, absolutely, and they deserve credit for playing an excellent game against Notre Dame. But they also didn’t stop the Irish. Notre Dame defeated itself in a truly pathetic manner.

Notre Dame had no excuse to not win that game. Instead, it proved itself, once again, incapable of winning a game that mattered — a game on the road that held actual consequences in the balance. This time, those consequences were the reputations of its season, as well as the quality of its postseason competition.

Instead of rising above the mistakes it has made so far this season, namely an embarrassing loss at the hands of Miami (FL) in South Beach, the Irish cracked under the pressure of their first major mistake: junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s interception to start a drive early in the fourth quarter that yielded a Cardinal touchdown. And the domino effect from that one mistake was jaw-dropping, proving that Notre Dame still isn’t quite at the level of a fully-functioning team.

Teams that only win at home don’t win titles. And until the Irish can overcome this truly problematic road-win road-block, there isn’t a whole lot of success on the horizon, in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, all three of Notre Dame’s losses this season are quality losses. But you reach a point where a quality loss only means so much. A loss is still a loss. The Irish should have been able to pull out at least one win of those three in order to achieve that 10-win milestone in the regular season.

There are different metrics for success. But in my mind, no matter how you spin and no matter what this Notre Dame team does during bowl season, the 2017-18 season was a failure for the Irish. A win in a lesser bowl game means nothing to a team that had a shot at making the Playoff at one point in the season and to a team that absolutely should have made a New Year’s Six Bowl. And a nine-win season without a win when it mattered most simply isn’t good enough.

Instead, 9-3 will go down as the record of a team that was only able to win when it was inconsequential.