For the university of Notre Dame, as well as the rest of the world, 2020 was a very complicated year, during this period, the Irish’s plans were modified in a lot of ways and we ended up having a very atypical season.
Notre Dame’s original schedule consisted of 12 games and playing like they do traditionally as an Independent team, and facing its classic anual rivals like USC, Navy and Stanford as well as the most anticipated game for them, a battle where they would be hosting the Clemson Tigers. This was supposed to be parto of the Irish’s road to the championship before the Covid-19 pandemic struck and shocked the whole planet, including the college football world. As the cases rose, and the situation kept getting worse, a feeling of uncertainty appeared in the universities around the country about a college football season, especially for independent teams. As that happened, many started to take action, some conferences cancelled their seasons, others talked about potentially pushing football season to the spring, while others cancelled their out of conference games and limited themselves to playing only within them. With all of that happening, Notre Dame received an opportunity to join the Coastal conference for the 2020 season, where they would compete to play in the conference championship game in Charlotte, breaking a long tradition of being an independent team but realizing there was no other choice if they wanted to play this year.
After this decision, a series of all kinds of reactions followed, some experts said that Notre Dame wasn’t ready to compete in a conference, others predicted that this would be good for the Irish and they would grow as a team, but only very few could predict that the 2020 season would be one of the best years for the irish in recent years.
After a long wait, finally a new college football season was underway, and it immediately got off to a rocky start, with a lot of disagreement with the decisions that were made towards how to approach the season. And of course in 2020 unfortunately a football season wouldn’t be complete without positive Covid-19 cases, colleges throughout the country suffered from that, and the programs were forced to cancel their games, so we ended up with some teams playing 12 games, 10 games or even 6 games only, making the committee’s job even harder when it came to selecting the 4 teams that went on to the semifinal.
At the end of the day, we all know how the story went, Notre Dame went on to win 12 games, standing up to the challenge and being one of the best teams in the country, making the CFP and losing to the university of Alabama in the Rose Bowl; But what was the road throughout the season for the Irish that ended up all the way in Arlington playing in the semifinal? And how it was one of the best years for Notre Dame in all of the 21st century?
Notre Dame started their journey ranked 10 and making their 2020 debut on September 12th, hosting Duke. The irish went on to beat the blue devils 27 to 13. After that, 2 the Irish managed to put 2 more Ws, beating USF and Florida State 52-0 and 42-26 respectively.
The rest of October went pretty easy for Brian Kelly’s team, dominating Louisville, Pittsburg and Georgia Tech with a combined score of 88 to 23.
As November came by, the South Bend team prepared for the final stretch of the regular season and their biggest game so far. On November 7th, Notre Dame Stadium would host a memorable game when the number 1 ranked team in the country, the Clemson Tigers came to town being the heavy favorites despite missing their star QB Trevor Lawrence, but true freshman and former five-star recruit D.J Uiagalelei showed that he is the right heir for the QB throne that Lawrence left at Clemson once he takes on the NFL. The QB from Polynesian descent threw for 439 yards and two scores, but even that wasn’t enough to beat a Notre Dame team that left it all on the field. Also Dabo Swinney’s team wasn’t counting on boom that the Irish’s rising star RB Kyren Williams had that night. Williams ended up with 140 rushing yards and 3 Touchdowns. Notre Dame refused to quit once the game seemed to be over, as the Irish forced OT after an 80 yard TD drive with less than two minutes led by Senior QB Ian Book. After two drives in overtime, Notre Dame managed to be up 47-40, that’s when the defense stepped up and sacked Uiagalelei twice to seal the victory over the #1 team in the country and starting the chaos in South Bend as the students rushed the field. The Tuesday after that, Notre Dame would make its highest ever ranking in the new playoff format, coming in at #2 behind Alabama. Notre Dame finished the regular season with 3 comfortable wins against Boston College (45-31), North Carolina (31-17) and Syracuse (45-21), giving Notre Dame a ticket to Charlotte for the conference championship game and finishing as the only unbeaten team in the ACC. Their rival would be once again Clemson, now with a healthy Trevor Lawrence the Irish fell to the Tigers 34 to 10 at the Bank of America Stadium in one of their worst performances of the year, putting their playoff appearance at risk.
The day after, the committee decided that Notre Dame’s resume, which consisted of 12 wins, 2 of them against top 15 teams and only 1 loss, deserved to be in the College Football Playoff, where they would face the University of Alabama in the Rose Bowl at AT&T Stadium in a rematch of the 2013 championship game in the old BCS format. Just like it happened in 2018, the Irish once again fell short in the semifinal after a bad performance on offense and defense, making them 0-2 in the College Football Playoff era.
Yes, it is true that after all, Notre Dame didn’t achieve its goal of being national champions, but it would be wrong to call this season and this team a failure. 2020 helped the Irish prove to everyone, including all the “experts” that said that they would not succeed this year and that they weren’t ready for the ACC. Notre Dame managed to step up to the challenge when facing adversity and showed why they’re on of the winningest programs in history and that they’re ready to play, wether it’s in a conference or not.
The future is bright for the university of Notre Dame, yes, the post Ian Book era is here, but they have a lot of guys that could potentially be calling the signals next year, as well as all the starters that return to keep playing like champions everyday.