Conference Championship Games Highlight Notre Dame’s Season

Tommy Rees - Notre Dame vs. Michigan State
Tommy Rees (11) in action against the Michigan State Spartans, at Notre Dame Stadium, in South Bend, IN. Notre defeated eventual Big 10 Champion Michigan State Spartans by the score of 17-13.

Conference championship weekend for Notre Dame fans is pretty straightforward: wake up early, surround yourself with the necessary beverages and easily graspable food items, pick a comfortable chair strategically placed in front of a massive high definition television and not move for twelve straight hours.  And this year’s batch of games did not fail to disappoint, with Missouri and Auburn spinning the scoreboard dials into a frenzy while Michigan State and Ohio State kept everyone on the edge of their seats until the very end.  As the evening came to a close and Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio choked up when grasping the Big Ten trophy, I received a text message from my best friend, a fellow Notre Dame fan who had witnessed the day’s games with a troupe of euphoric Spartan fans.

“How in God’s name did ND beat these guys?” he wrote.

The question was a reasonable one.  Though Ohio State forced a tight game by roaring back from a 17-point deficit with 24 unanswered points, Michigan State appeared largely dominant against the formerly undefeated Buckeyes.  How was it that Michigan State’s only blemish in 2013 came at the hands of the Fighting Irish?  After a long period of reflection, the answer was simple.

Notre Dame’s a damn good football team, and Saturday’s conference championship games offered plenty of context.

Such a statement is surprising, but only in the sense that it isn’t self-evident.  Notre Dame would end up being the toughest opponent of the season for the Big Ten Champion Michigan State Spartans.  Dantonio’s squad mustered 254 total yards against the Fighting Irish defense, its lowest output of the season.  To put it in proper perspective, Michigan State racked up 438 yards against Ohio State, 70 yards shy of doubling their offensive output against Notre Dame.  The same could be said of the Michigan State rushing attack, which averaged over four yards per carry in 9 out of its 13 games, only failing to eclipse that mark against Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and Notre Dame.  At 3.4 yards per carry, the Spartans had their worst game of the season trying to move the ball against the Brian Kelly-led Fighting Irish.

How did Notre Dame beat the dominant Michigan State Spartans?  By being the better, tougher team.

The Pac-12 championship game also offered a perfect measuring stick, with both Stanford and Arizona State having been a common opponent.  Though Notre Dame fell short in disappointing fashion against the #8 Stanford Cardinal, the Irish took Stanford to the final drive of the game despite being down three starting offensive linemen, an All-American nose tackle in Louis Nix, and two safeties in Eilar Hardy and Elijah Shumate due to a violation of team rules.

Stanford blew Arizona State off the ball and out of the stadium while cruising their way to back-to-back Pac-12 titles.  The Cardinal managed to gain 100 more yards against Arizona State than they did against Notre Dame, and went from averaging 8 yards per pass against the Fighting Irish to 15 yards per pass against the Sun Devils, an impressive accomplishment for a Notre Dame defense that was attempting to patch in holes against the future Pac-12 champion.  Most impressively, Arizona State’s 9th ranked scoring offense was held to 14 points, 6 points less than Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees was able to put on the scoreboard with an inexperienced offensive line.

Why was Notre Dame able to take Stanford to the wire with a second-strong offensive line while Arizona State was physically punished en route to a 38-14 Pac-12 championship game loss?

Because Notre Dame is a damn good football team.

The 2013 season entailed dreams of redemption after a heartbreaking loss in the national championship game to Alabama, dreams that were derailed by countless setbacks incurred throughout the off-season, including the devastating loss of starting quarterback Everett Golson for academic reasons.  While the Fighting Irish failed to reach their BCS aspirations, Saturday’s conference championships offered some perspective as to how successful Notre Dame truly was during its 2013 campaign, as well as glimpses of what the future may have in store.  The 1,200 combined yards and 101 combined points between Auburn and Missouri’s dual-threat quarterbacks surely did not go unnoticed by Kelly or future Heisman candidate, Golson.

Before the reins are once again handed over to Golson, the Notre Dame faithful should take a moment and give senior quarterback Tommy Rees one final ovation for leading the Fighting Irish to victories against two of the three programs that were represented in this past weekend’s conference championships.

That’ll do, Tommy.  Bring on Rutgers.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, as well as appeared on MSNBC as a sports contributor. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at [email protected] 

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  1. Shaz, great historical synapse with Hayes punching Baumann. I’m sure we will see that many times.

    There is something more sinister in Columbus. The Ohio State-Michigan game
    has always been played with what Bob Timberlake once called “Good Clean violence.” But they never fought and if you search the game records they seldom had personal foul penalties called in the glorious ten year war between Bo and Woody.

    Meyer sure changed that. He probably regrets that he can not again recruit low-life Will Hill. The fight in this year’s Ohio State Michigan game was shocking, yet not, as it evidenced what Meyer brings to the table.

    It didn’t take long for the Tressel effect to wear off.

    And, yeah, if Tressel had been coaching, Ohio State would have
    beaten Michigan State.

    One other thing, Shaz, my Buckeye insiders claim that it was Earle Bruce, who succeeded Hayes, who introduced Schlichter to gambling taking him out to a racetrack in Columbus. It is a pity. I saw Schlichter play live twice in ’79. He was remkarkable as a soph, and was 15 years ahead of his time in throwing sideline passes in tight windows to Doug Donley.
    He had the gun, the football awareness and the command presence. A human tragedy.

    1. Big-D,

      At first, I was shocked about the fight as well, then saw that it involved ‘second stringers”
      This is an old Hockey gimmic.. send out a “Goon” to start a fight with one of the other team’s top players so they both get tossed.
      Bush League bullshit that says alot about the current state of both programs.

      “The Human tragedy” theme has come up historically at Ohio State.

      I saw Maurice Clarett play remarkably well as an under classmen. Again, a short time later, the bottom fell out.

      Could it be their priorities?

      As in.. winning at any cost always comes first?

    2. But isn’t the fight before the Miami game in ’88 one of the best memories of our Irish. Kids get caught up in the moment, I don’t think it makes an overall statement about the character or lack thereof in the school.

  2. fxm, that’s a great point. And I want to see you one and raise you one.

    While I’d love to see Tuitt return, there is a part of me that is rooting for him to leave. GREAT COLLEGE FOOTBALL TEAMS have one or more players each year who leave after their third year. If we want to run with the big dogs we’ve got to lose studs to the pros at their pace.

    And it does not involve an abdication of Notre Dame’s primary mission. Para ejemplo, there was no one more persistent and eloquent than Jaylon Smith in emphasizing to other recruits that a Notre Dame degree is a great solution if you can not make it in the NFL. He has it just perfect (as he does in everything he does) And if Jaylon leaves after the third year, it will be another sign that we are closer to arriving.

    You don’t climb Kiliminjaro without getting out of your comfort zone.

  3. Scott, et. al.
    I’ve been trying to say something like this all year, although trying to communicate it, drew insults for those who hate any of us who experienced the old Notre Dame first hand or know wha the motivations were back in the times of Rockne, Leahy and even Parseghian.

    Two themes: You are what your record is. and Underachievement

    Notre Dame is what it’s record is 8-4. Forget blame. Remember accountability. When you look at the losses, people have come up with explanations, yet no one has a simple remedy. I ask questions.

    Why did it seem like the run game was abandoned to the point of looking one dimensional much of the time? People will quote stats, but no one can tell me that the running game was consistently potent.

    Why wasn’t Tommy Reese’s issue with interceptions and fumbles at just the wrong time addressed? Someone told me that most teams have a sports psychologist and it seems to me that Tommy’s problem was not limitation of talent, but some psychological trigger in his head that said, “I don’t belong here.” and caused some reaction leading to turnovers. He’s been too brilliant at times not to ask that question.

    Why did the defense take so many steps backward, especially early in the season? It seemed the D-line was on an island at times with the LBs out to lunch and the Safeties and CBs, playing soft.

    What happened to the hard hitting CBs that we saw in the second half of 2012?

    Why so many injuries? Other than 2012, there seem to have been a greater than average number during the last 4 years.

    Why the return to the 2011 identity, or lack thereof?

    Ackowledging that yes this is a pretty darn good football team, why the 4 losses? Why did this team under achieve?

    What does it say about a Notre Dame team that should be better than it’s record? That never happened under Leahy, most likely Rockne, and other than Ara’s last year, never for his teams. Holtz prior to 1994 also never had a team under achieve. So can Kelly get his team to represent Notre Dame the way those coaches did?

    1. C-Dog:

      two comments I liked of yours’

      Tommy’s interceptions and fumbles at wrong time addressed? $64,000.00 question! Turnovers before half to Mich. earlyon to Oklahoma, late to Stanford–while we were driving and GOD in HIS Mercy only knows what the heck happened at Pitt!
      Addressed? IDK –lack of horses in the barn, I guess.

      Running game was abandoned to the point of looking one dimensional–AMEN brother–AMEN! It’s not rocket science–run the ball, run the damn ball! Ugggh!

      One more thing in addition to the two comments I liked best:
      OSU is NOT as good as their record. This town of Columbus is very quiet–and I hope the humble pie will be served more than every so often. Weak non-conference schedule–99% AT home at noon in Sept. –aka scrimmage festival–
      ( must be nice to have the luxurty) and then big ten has 50% sucking 25% medicore 12% above that and MAYBE the remaining is competitive–but NOT CONSISTENTLY ON A NATIONAL BASIS—
      there is the key difference between SEC and the numerically incorrectlly named big “10” CONSISTENT
      Again, I would lay $ 100. 00 or more on this–If o. state suckeyes had ND type of scheudle year after year –they wouldn’t be 12-0 and they are not nearly as important as they think they are. Living here, I know it.

      HOW I WISH ND would have played red and gray os who last year for a national title game instead of bama.
      Oh well
      thanks C-Dog for your questions which hit the nail on the head–
      2 simple things–
      running and Reese decisions at bad time not addressed–
      THAT is the Season maker–in this the breaker
      cest la vie!

      1. irisheye,

        Gosh I love this statement…

        “If o. state suckeyes had ND type of scheudle year after year –they wouldn’t be 12-0 and they are not nearly as important as they think they are. Living here, I know it.”

        That couldn’t be any more true but will never happen for them because look what happened when they decided to put USC on their schedule, haha.

      2. Since you brought up “year after year” what is ND’s BCS bowl record since it’s inception vs. OSU’s BCS bowl record?

        I have not and I will not defend OSU’s schedule lately and the Buckeye defense the last three years has been mediocre to put it politely but how can you be so shortsighted as to discredit their whole existence because of one loss?

        After one somewhat suspect season of recent relevence I hardly think you as a ND fan are in a position to judge anybody. There were probably 10 teams that would have given Alabama a better game last year than the fraud you guys trotted out whereas the supposedly weak Big Ten acquitted themselves better than most thought they would.

        Michigan gave mighty South Carolina everything they could handle and even Nebraska, who the Buckeyes throttled, were very competitive with SEC finalist Georgia. Also, the Rose Bowl with Wisconsin and Stanford could have gone either way.

        You guys like to use the A beat B and B beat C therefore A is better than C when analyzing ND’s opponents but that logic doesn’t pass the smell test. Your team has enough warts on it’s resume this season, including a fortunate win against USC who were on their deathbed at the time, to make one think that you may want to actually achieve something on the field before disparaging every other program that you see as a potential threat to ND football.

        You like to espouse the educational merits of the Stanfords and Dukes of the world but if or when they start to beat you on an annual basis I’m sure the knives will be out for them also.

        Again, I will not defend OSU’s schedule or the defense they put on the field this year but they have lost one game in two years, a game they should win but didn’t. Maybe it’s because of the quality of the Buckeyes success in the BCS era that makes me a realist but I know they were not ready to compete with Florida State. And maybe it’s because of ND’s lack of success in the BCS era that you thought one season of some success makes ND god’s gift to college football instead of a one hit wonder, Alabama proved that right?

        I know where OSU and ND stand in the heirarchy of college football but I don’t think you have a clue and to use one season, ND last year, or one game, OSU vs. MSU, seems illogical to me. And cute cut-up names like suckeyes or OSwho don’t help your argument they just make you look cheap and maybe a little envious.

      3. Buceye

        OSU won all their games last year and continued that winning streak this year.

        Yet week after week passed without Ohio State ever gaining the “respect” of the polls or the voters(no matter how much Urban Meyer whined about it)

        So as a last ditch, desperate effort, you really think you’re going to finally find it here??? Really?

        Now that type thinking doesn’t exactly pass the smell test on being a realist does it?

        But all is not lost… congratulations on your teams’ upcoming game against Clemson.
        It will make for the perfect opportunity to remind the football world of the famed bowl game meeting between the same two teams 35 years ago where
        the Great Woody Hayes suckered punch a Clemson player who had just intercepted
        Ohio State QB, and gambling degenerate, Art Schlichter…

        So at least you got that going for you.

      4. The last thing I would look for here is respect, right after objectivity.

        The respect the Buckeyes received in the polls was accurate as it turns out but I have said before I won’t defend recent schedules. As for Urban’s whining, I don’t think he said anything that any other coach in his position wouldn’t have said.

        I won’t even try to defend what Woody did because it was wrong but for some strange reason I think that we would disagree on the rest of his career at Ohio State which I think was stellar.

        Good Luck versus Rutgers.

      5. Objectivity speaking, You seem to be overflowing with “strange reasons”

        And Good Luck (starting next year) versus Rutgers as well.

        Between them bolstering your schedule and Meyer’s relentless whining, it would seem the Buckeyes should have a better than average chance to make the playoffs!

      6. Rutgers strengthening our schedule? Te salut Shazamrock, I am looking forward to next year.

        One question, and I always get this mixed up, is it Oscar Meyer Whiner or Urban Meyer Weiner? Either way I am glad we have him and trust him to get the defense straightened out – then they will fear us.

  4. Guys, Michigan State is not that good. The Big Ten sucks so bad that it made it easy for them to have a strong defense. Their offense has no real playmakers, which shows you how bad Ohio State really is on defense and how incredibly overrated they always are.

    ND was their only formidable opponent outside that crap conference and we beat them.

    Western Mich – 1-11
    South Florida – 2-10
    Youngstown State (D1-AA or whatever) – 8-4

    The Big Ten sucks so bad. I can’t believe we lost to Michigan, even though I think they played their absolute best game all year against us.

    Stanford is going to pound State into the ground. And I truly feel bad for those poor bastards that have to play the SEC schools, haha!!

    1. ChrisJ,
      The Big Ten is not the best conference this year, that’s for sure. But they don’t completely suck. MSU and Wisconsin are competitive. OSU is good but not as good as their record. And yes, the Big Ten succombed to pressure and guarded their win loss numbers with mostly week out of conference opponents. But MSU is as legit as their record. They’ll have to prove it against Stanford and then this debate should return.
      Most agree that the SEC is 1. After that many debate it, but you might have the PAC-12 as 2, ACC 3, Big 12 4 and then Big Ten 5. The MAC is closing the gap with the Big Ten. The rest of the conferences have one maybe two decent teams and then total weaklings.

  5. Unrelated to this topic, but on the pay site I am a member of. There was a review of how last years 42 five stars did this year. What struck me was not that Alabama had 6 (although, wow!!) it is that 5 of them played a lot this year as true freshman. I feel good that we had so many productive first year players this year.

    1. I agree, but I remain dumbfounded by the fact that our D was so inconsistent and vulnerable. With these offensive weapons Golson would have baled us out of most of the messes we got ourselves into. Granted, he may have imploded for a game or two, but our super back-up could’ve come to the rescue to save the day. And, No, I don’t call for Diaco’s head. But, I don’t like bend but don’t break. I believe it may keep your opponent out of the end-zone but seems to keep them in the game.

      1. fxm, yeah, Diaco can be frustrating because he shows flashes of brilliance, but seems to have a stubborn reluctance to let the players improvise or take chances. You simply want to see him go that next step on his coaching journey.

        As for the QB situation, why was the team so reliant on one QB that another couldn’t have stepped in with greater ease?

    1. I very much take issue with this statement. He is indeed a fan, and has been his whole life. The same goes for his father. I remember watching the 1993 ND-FSU game with him and his family when we were just kids — he’s ND all the way, and was even accepted there as a student.

      Just because someone was impressed with another team’s performance does not mean they aren’t a fan.

      1. Scott,
        You have to understand that Toulmin has blind loyalty to ND and questions nothing about their decision-making etc.

      2. Scott,

        THB is delusional. I’m sure he still thinks that Purdue is a great team. Go back and see if you can find his posts after the Purdue game. He was trying to sell us on how we should all be impressed with ND’s victory over the Boilermakers because they were/are a great team.

        There’s blind loyalty and then there’s just being blind. THB is the latter.

        He claims to be the biggest ND fan on here. In reality, he’s the worst kind of fan. He doesn’t want to see ND return to glory because in his fantasy land it never left. Plus he’ll make all kinds of excuses for mediocrity

      3. Scott,
        I like your article very much, although your reply to THB includes a statement about your friend’s father being an Notre Dame fan som one of your colleagues may have to rip your life up and down for mentioning any legacy about Notre Dame before 1994. Also, you should never refer to anything about Notre Dame other than football. Some people in your ranks take offense to Notre Dame’s history and character. To them it’s just about football and blindly following the team without ever critiquing the status of the program. Unfortunately some Irish fans just happen to root for the team while they swill their favorite beer or cocktail.

        But now I will add my thoughts since you so thoughtfully offered this article.

  6. 2013–
    Beat Michigan State in a slug fest 17-13.

    That same Spartan team ( God Bless them ) beat Ohio State soundly by 10 points and racked up some yards and big plays.

    While anything can happen on a given Saturday, it is interesting to note that despite the lack of killer instinct as RUSSELL mentioned above, ND was about 12 KEY plays from running the table.
    Turnovers at KEY points was the determining factor in the end.

    Young players DID get a lot of playing time.
    2014 good?
    I believe it can happen.

    ND must establish a GREAT running game ( success before with it)
    and BRING THEIR play to the opponet –not REACT to the other side of the field!

    This is key to rising from mediocre-good and POTENTIAL to a great team

    Now–Irish-do your homework and DESTROY RUTGERS!

  7. If the Irish play well on December 28th and beat Rutgers soundly then I think we have to define the 2013 as a success. No the Irish didn’t earn a spot in a BCS bowl but they will have won 9 games despite losing their starting quarterback before the season began and despite an unbelievable rash of injuries to key players. I have never seen a team lose so many vital players to injury during a season. The “silver lining” to all of this (if there is any) is that many young players got to play a ton this year and that should certainly bode well for the 2014 season. Here’s to finishing up strong with a dominating win over Rutgers and then focusing on next year and getting to the 4-team playoff to determine a National Champion! Go Irish!

    P.S. Hey Tuitt, stick around for 2014 – it could be memorable!

  8. Yes Scott the ARE good, but why do they seem to play to the level of the competion? I travel from southeast Texas to pull for my IRISH and for the life of me can’t understand when we get a lead we seem to take the foot off the gas on when we have the ball and play prevent of defense. With these players why doesn’t the “D” attack. Thanks again for all you do for the IRISH I really enjoy your work. GO IRISH

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