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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Edmonds: ND fanbase ought to do more to be among the elite

It’s Bowling Green weekend and there’s not much to say.

Around the country, conference foes are beginning to take each other down as the College Football Playoff scene starts to take shape. After a competitive road loss to No. 3 Georgia, No. 9 Notre Dame has lost some control over its own destiny and will depend on winning out and continued strong performances by the Bulldogs if the Irish are to reintroduce themselves to the playoff conversation. But that six-point loss taught us a lot more than just the current standing of this team. In many ways, it revealed some important aspects of the future of college football.

Fans and members of the Notre Dame community are increasingly discontent with the reality that Notre Dame is no longer an automatic perennial contender. That’s only exacerbated by the fact that even with overall program improvement under head coach Brian Kelly’s leadership, success has rarely translated to victory against college football’s modern elite. Kelly, in his 10th season with the Irish, is 0-5 in matchups against top-5 teams and following both undefeated seasons (2012 and 2018) the Irish lost decisively in the playoffs. (I should pause to acknowledge that with victories against teams like Oklahoma, Michigan and USC the program is better under Kelly than it has been at any time since Lou Holtz retired in 1994).

While the game against Georgia early this season certainly gave Irish fans hope about this program’s ability to hang with the heavyweights of college football, that lingering disappointment and sense that a victory is just out of reach remained. We could complain about this coaching decision or why a certain player needs to be benched in favor of that four-star freshman recruit, but maybe we should turn that disappointment inward and ask ourselves if we as fans do enough to help our team. Are we doing enough to make Notre Dame Stadium a loud and, dare I say, hostile environment that will energize the Irish and maybe intimidate our opponents? I think we can do better.

I wrote about Georgia’s game day experience last week and I can’t help but reflect on the difference in intensity between Sanford Stadium and Notre Dame Stadium. Granted, the hype around that matchup was unlike anything we’ve seen here in South Bend since last season’s opener against Michigan, but I can confidently say the environment exceeded that of last season’s opener. 

The Observer has heard from countless opposing fans who praise the welcoming and hospitable nature of the Notre Dame fanbase. Growing up in Oklahoma, I’ve heard numerous accounts myself of Sooner fans who made the trip up here in 2013 and were so impressed by the positive and welcoming atmosphere created by the fans. In so many ways, that’s something of which to be incredibly proud. But at what point should we commit to more?

This is not to suggest the fanbase should compromise its reputation for hospitality and sportsmanship that it has worked so hard to develop. Rather, to be considered among the elite programs, we have to agree to create an environment that competes with the elite programs. Say what you want about how the play on the field should inspire the atmosphere — fans have the opportunity to inspire the play in the field. It goes both ways.

It might be hard to feel that expectation of intensity against Bowling Green this Saturday, but why not distinguish ourselves as a program that elevates its atmosphere each and every game, regardless of our opponent? Let’s be welcoming and courteous at the tailgates, but once we make it to the stadium maybe we can make things more uncomfortable. At the very least, allow this season to be preparation for next year’s game against Arkansas … or Clemson … or Stanford.