For nearly 150 years, Football and the small town of South Bend, Indiana, have been nearly synonymous with each other. From the incredible talent and legendary coaches to its nationwide significance as a pop culture phenomenon, the football played on the University of Notre Dame campus has been embedded in the history of college football for nearly as long as the sport has been relevant in America. However, in recent years, the Fighting Irish have been just as well known as a disappointment as a powerhouse in the sport.
This fire of Notre Dame being a letdown was once again reignited to the country this past Saturday, as on the final play of regulation, the No. 9 team in the nation was narrowly edged by the No. 6 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes by a score of 17-14 in South Bend. The game was unquestionably marquee one on the Irish’s schedule, usually one they build themselves. Of course, this is because since the program began, it has been one of just four in the FBS to be designated as an “independent,” meaning they are not subject to a conference nor having to schedule the same opponents every season, but must play five ACC opponents every season through 2036. In the simplest sense, Notre Dame is the epitome of the traditional college football program, with everything from how they recruit and develop, to who leads them out of the tunnel, to who broadcasts their games.
However, it is essential to remember that throughout the last two decades, college football has evolved like never before. Despite the sport embracing NIL, conference realignment, and seismic TV money, Notre Dame’s incredible brand and historical significance have kept them nearly invincible to most of the change around them, regardless of their play on the field. Even with the ACC (Notre Dame’s conference in every other sport besides football) and the Big Ten continuously making offers to the program for membership, the Irish have repeatedly stood pat. When ESPN and FOX have tried to clamor the institution for broadcasting its games, they still rely heavily on their lucrative relationship with NBC.
As Notre Dame has watched the sport change around them, it is still slightly surprising with the talent they continue to recruit. Even so, it has yet to result in national titles, let alone victories in games against perennial powerhouses. The Bush Push in 2005, 2013 BCS Championship, and the 2020 CFP Semifinal are just a small sample size of games where the Irish have been handed a chance to return to glory against true title contenders and fallen short.
In the end, for head coach Marcus Freeman’s squad, it will not take long for him and his team to realize that even with a possible 11-1 record, it will be hard for the playoff committee to consider their resume. Home losses to fellow contenders don’t have a great track record. The loss of not playing in a conference championship game as one last resume booster has always held the Irish back in recent years, and this one could be yet another example.
In the end, while the nation saw from Notre Dame on Saturday was a team slightly outclassed by a quality opponent, the recent history of the green and gold certainly speaks for itself, and it may signify that South Bend must adapt to the times to reach long-lost glory.