SOUTH BEND — The most relevant component of Notre Dame’s Dec. 28 Camping World Bowl date with a 7-5 Iowa State team is what it leads to.

That’s not what Irish head football coach Brian Kelly is telling his team, though, or necessarily should he be.

Kelly is all about consistency of message. And he found the right chord in the hours and days following a still-inexplicable 45-14 implosion at Michigan on Oct. 26.

He couldn’t keep the loss from being a defining point for this Irish team (10-2), especially in the collective eye test of the College Football Playoff selection committee, which gave ND the same standing in its first set of rankings this season (15th) in early November as its final set, on Sunday.

But as the five-game winning streak that ensued demonstrated, the soggy setback in Ann Arbor wasn’t toxic to his program and the post-2016 culture that has produced now three consecutive double-digit win seasons.

“Well, it’s just like the last five games we’ve played, it’s about a standard of play,” Kelly’s mantra emerged during his answer when pressed about what he hoped to get out of the non-playoff bowl experience. “It’s about an opportunity where a lot of these guys will be playing for their last game with this team.

“They want to play well. They want to play for each other. They want to continue to play at a high level. They’ve done a really good job of avoiding a lot of the different scenarios that are set up about how they should think.

“They really think about preparing for the game, then going out and playing to a standard, enjoying it.”

Privately, Kelly will probably enjoy it immensely more if facing a rising star in the coaching business (Matt Campbell), the nation’s ninth-most potent passing offense and a largely un-Big 12-like defense in roughly three weeks somehow coaxes his team toward looking like a playoff team next December on Selection Sunday.

Recruiting and perhaps some philosophical schematic tweaks, a la LSU’s offense, are far bigger factors potentially.

With the former in particularly good order when it comes to adding elite speed on offense, it makes it easy for Kelly not to play the what-if game or float conspiracy theories as to why a team with 10 wins and a 3-2 record against the CFP top 25 was excluded from the New Year’s 6 lineup.

To the latter, 2019 is an outlier. In the first five playoff cycles combined (2014-18), a total of five Power 5 teams with 10-2/11-2 records were excluded and none in 2014 or 2017. This year, there are a record four on the outside looking in: Utah, Alabama, Minnesota and the Irish.

For ND to have earned an invite to the Orange or Cotton Bowl, the two New Year’s 6 games with at-large spots in this cycle, the Irish would have had to finished ninth or 10th, respectively, in the CFP rankings. Even in the AP and coaches polls, the 14th-ranked Irish weren’t close.

And would the Irish have been any better off, besides financially, in doing so? Playing a 9-4 Virginia team — that the Irish already beat by 15 on Sept. 28 — in the Orange or playing a lose-lose game perceptually against a very good Group of Five Memphis team (12-1) in the Cotton Bowl?

Maybe in one regard. The deepest line of questioning Kelly encountered Sunday over a couple of meetings with the media was about his experience when it comes to actual camping. Seriously.

Perception and reality are both powerful when it comes to Notre Dame football, moving forward. The next significant step on both fronts would be a win on a big stage in 2020.

An Oct. 3 date with Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., and potentially the first matchup with a top 5 opponent in Notre Dame Stadium in the Kelly Era, Clemson on Nov. 7, could turn out to be those kinds of opportunities.

Even going 1-1 in those games may be enough to get the Irish deep into next year’s playoff discussion and quell the nonsensical talk that joining a conference is the elixir that fixes everything.

Speaking of fixes, in three key statistical areas, the 2019 Irish aren’t that far removed. There are five metrics championship teams tends to excel in or at least rank among the top 30 nationally: rushing offense, rushing defense, pass efficiency, total defense and turnover margin.

Turnover margin is what the Irish do best. They’re third. LSU is 10th, Ohio State second, Clemson fifth and Oklahoma 110th.

Total defense is another good Irish playoff look, at No. 21. LSU is 32nd, Ohio State second, Clemson first and Oklahoma looking like a typo at 24th, up 90 spots from last season.

With QB Ian Book surging at the end, ND is 22nd in passing efficiency, with the playoff foursome all in the top 11 (Nos. 3, 5, 11 and 4, respectively).

Rushing offense at No. 46 and rushing defense at No. 72, the two areas Kelly in preseason hoped/projected would define his team positively, are where ND is furthest removed from a playoff reality.

Only LSU is not among the top 12 in rushing offense and all four playoff teams are 32nd or better in rushing defense. Ohio State and Clemson are top 10 in both.

For this particular matchup with Iowa State, ND’s No. 5 ranking in pass-efficiency defense, is significant because the Cyclones pass often and pass well. Also significant is the fact that the Irish, in part due to a late exam schedule, will break with tradition and won’t break for Christmas before the bowl game.

It just means more?

The two most nationally relevant seasons of a decade of Kelly presiding over ND football (2012 and 2018) came after bowl appearances in the very stadium they’ll play in later this month (it too is now named after Camping World). One followed a bowl loss (to Florida State in 2011), and one followed a bowl win at the end of the 2017 season (over LSU).

This rendition may in and of itself not reveal a great deal about what the Irish will look like in 2020, but processed correctly it will help them set their GPS for where they need to go in the months ahead.

ehansen@sbtinfo.com

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

(25) comments

champ

Time for lifetime contract for Brian 10 years ten million a year-but for every loss away contract provision no win no pay for rest of year -a loss more than 21 points repayment to ND of !0 million

Domer70

I do not disagree that ND should have possibly been ranked higher with a 10-2 record etc. However, I think we are now seeing ND fatigue in the national media, with the continual failure of ND to perform in the big games. This trend goes all the way back to the end of the Holtz era. As to the rebound after the Michigan debacle, don;t forget we were on the ropes at home against Virginia Tech. But..........Go Irish!

Cowboy Mike

Eric I'm not agreeing with your article. This is a big letdown. ND is not even playing a Top25 team. Sad.

OverAll

The spin is beyond belief. Nobody cares about this game. i’m sure that extends to the players and coaches as well

Irish Venice Florida

Notre Dame,has the largest traveling fans bar none,and KELLY has us in a cheap bowl.Get on the phone with Michigan and play them.I'm sure both themes teams have fans that will travel well and most bowls would love to have.Most teams don't have fans that will travel as well as these two teams.Besides one last time to play each other thanks to sawbucks failure having Notre Dame in the Acc.

musicman4u2c

ND hardly travels that well any more. Heck we ve had several games where the visiting team AKA Geogia and Nebraska outnumbered ND fans in South bend. Now OSU travels very. Every time we have played them their fans by far out numbered us be it in South bend or in bowl games. This is another area where ND has lost its luster. Being relegated to a lower level bowl with a 10-2 record is another sign

SS

This is a total let down. Seriously, how can anyone spin a game against a 7-5 team with hardly even a vote for the Top 25. Win this game nobody cares, lose this game and you make a total fool of the program. Simply not even worth it. It would have been better to sit out the bowls.

Boulevard Bear

I would not call joining a conference nonsensical. Had we been in the ACC in football we would likely have played Clemson Saturday and been in the Orange Bowl against a name team, Florida. I agree this is a nothing to win; everything to lose bowl.

kolohe20p

Yo Boulevard, If ND joins a Conference it should be the Big 10 where it has traditional matchups with MSU, Purdue, Michigan, Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin. Then ND would be the 7-5 team in a minor bowl and Kelly would kiss his 10 win seasons Aloha. Ten wins against a conference composed of Clemson and the 11 Dwarfs plus BG and N. Mexico would be a thing of the past.

The 10 teams ND beat this year had 60 losses between them.

Go Irish and Go Kelly (somewhere else please)

OverAll

The spin is just unbelievable. We are nowhere near playoff caliber!!! Not in the same universe. please, do me a favor and look at the rosters of the teams in the playoffs this year. Please tell me that we could stay in a game with any of them for more than a quarter. And then tell me that adding two or three elite players in a year or two is going to change that. What a load of garbage. We are ranked exactly where we should be. Look what OSU did to Michigan and look what they did to us. Trust, We’re not going to be much better next year or the year after. The Only question should be: After ten years - a lifetime in CFB - is this good enough? No, no, a million times no. #FireKelly

oas

Stop complaining about the bowl ND is in. We got what we deserve. The Michigan loss was unforgivable with an extra week to prepare. However, when you think about it, when was the last time Kelly won a high profile game against an elite opponent? Why would you want to play an elite component to end the year?

I pray that the NFL comes calling and we can get a coach who doesn't fold under pressure. Then we can be in the big show.

Addendum: If we do get to the championship it will not be with Ian Book who like his coach knows how to fold in the big games. Phil Jurkovec and Coach ?????? will be our saviors.

ron a.

Book is as clutch as they come. He's a winner and will be playing on Sundays. What do you place your optimism of Jurkovec on? A 4 star rating? He may be good someday, maybe great; but, as of today he's done nothing to prove that!

ron a.

Throw out the game played in torrential rainfall and swirling winds---totally unfavorable to a pass oriented offence (47 yds rushing), and ND has a very successful season. The Bowl game and preparation should be built on that, with an eye to 2020, when the fates may be more in their favor, understanding that with a strong nucleus coming back, plus new additions, there exists a real possibility of a Championship season. 15 extra practices should not be directed at Iowa State, but at becoming better and better physically while continuing to define and develop their traits and culture. The outgoing seniors can make that one lasting, and important, contribution to their teammates. Know who they are---and play their game!

OverAll

besides the ridiculous notion of throwing out games you don’t like (both teams played in the same weather), It’s not a successful season at Notre Dame. Not 10 years into a coach’s tenure who hasn’t competed for a national championship (getting beaten like a yard dog doesn’t count as competing) or developed a championship program - lest we forget, the entire reason he was hired. No, no, no. This season, this coaching staff, this AD, and this football program are a resounding failure. The jury is in. #FireKelly

ron a.

With all due respect---your response is somewhat simplistic. "Both teams played in the same weather" is, obviously, a fact. The weather was the same; but, conditions considered, the teams were not affected in the same way. Simply put: Michigan ran for over 300 yards, Notre Dame 47! NEITHER quarterback's performance was Heisman worthy (because of the weather both were muted). N.D., all season, has depended on passing for offence. (For a variety of reasons this can happen.) When that was negated, they were put at a significant disadvantage.

I'm not saying N.D. should have won that game. It was clearly an embarrassment, to coaches, players and fans.. But, it seems pretty obvious to me, had the game been played under NORMAL conditions, the score would have been much different.

If the nucleus of 5th year eligibles come back, and they fill with one or two quality 1st years, I gotta believe Kelly might feel this is his best chance for a Championship! The current team is, in my opinion, that close. Among other things---THIS TEAM HAS HEART!

Finally---Don't underestimate the limitations Kelly has placed on him at "the Harvard of the Midwest".

OverAll

We were totally embarrassed by a mediocre Michigan team in a game we had every reason to dominate. i don’t think that anyone arguing Kelly’s merits should even bring that game up, honestly. The details aren’t even relevant, the fact is is that it showed a shocking lack of preparation, coaching, in-game adjustments, you name it, from Kelly and co.. The fact that a performance like that is even possible in the tenth year of a coach’s tenure here, while the playoffs were still within reach, is final proof positive to me that he doesn’t have what it takes to win here.

it’s just my opinion, sure. But it’s shared by many.

The current team, no offense, is not close at all to the quality and depth in - for example - the current playoff teams. Come on. Look at the quarterbacks. The depth on the lines. The skill position athletes. We’re ranked just about where we should be.

Absolutely fair point about the restrictions at ND. But if they’re not going to build a championship program here, they should just be honest about it. Because if a season like this is seen as ‘good enough’ by the administration, they’d better get used to seeing more empty seats out there. I personally think that even with the restrictions here, a truly great coach can still win. I just think Kelly’s not that guy.

OverAll

They definitely have heart. A lot of it. And so does Kelly. Credit where it’s due.

jjohnson226

Pure greed is what this is when the coffers are already full. I agree with everyone who says this is a lose/lose game. The only thing this game will help is Iowa State's recruiting. Although it would have had the appearance of arrogance, it would have been far better to sit out this bowl season....surely the money wasn't needed! In addition, there is no guarantee that kids with an NFL future like Claypool will even suit up for a meaningless game and who could blame them!

NDomer70

As always on boards like this there are opinions of all kinds , but usually the negatives out weigh the positive because seeing the positive is seen as being blind to the deficiencies of the team. Most of the negative posts sound like children who were given chocolate milk and will never settle for plain white milk again. Sorry to be so positive but a 10-2 record is always a positive record. That's not saying that maybe the team could have played better at certain times but it certainly could have played worse. maybe the negative posters' standard for the Notre Dame football team and its coach is a bit skewed. I would bet money they don't hold themselves to the same lofty standard of performance in their own jobs. Anyhow I will always remain a loyal son of ND and keep my expectations of the football team tempered by reality. Congrats to the 2019 Irish, 10-2, and one more to go. Go Irish!!

OverAll

The standard for the Notre Dame football team and its coach wasn’t established by fans. It was established by Notre Dame - and by the coach also, who has stated repeatedly that his job is to win championships and graduate players - meaning, he has failed at half his job for ten years now. Speaking for myself, I was fairly positive for the first nine years of this guy’s tenure. Now, it’s perfectly fair to hold him accountable, because he hasn’t done what he was hired to do, which is build a championship program. That’s all there is to it. 10-2 with a horrid loss is OK at ND if you’ve built a championship caliber program and done the job you were hired to do. Not if you haven’t. #FireKelly

ron a.

As you know football is a team sport. N.D. can recruit a number of good players, but not in the quantities of the elite teams to produce an elite offence and defense at all positions, with strong support from reserves. Take Book, put him on an elite team with a strong offensive line to give him time, receivers with speed who get separation and a defense providing decent field position, and you'd have one of the top quarterbacks in the Country too. (Listen to what the opposing coaches say about him in their post game pressers. Except, of course, Harbaugh.)

Reserve strength? I still wonder what might have been if Love had not gotten hurt in the Clemson game. N.D. was competitive in that game for a quarter and a half until he went out. After that, Clemson went after his replacement and scored, at least, 2 touchdowns against that position. Not saying N.D. would have won; but the game, might have taken a different course. And they, at least, would have competed even better than Alabama against the eventual National Champion. Now, Alabama fans are the ones who really have something to complain about!

Bottom line: N.D. normally doesn't have the numbers to compete with the elites and all their 4 & 5 stars. 130 schools competing and 1 National Champion? I'll take a 10 or 11 victory season---and appreciate it for what it is: a SUCCESS.

jim masterson

I don't understand the anger directed at Eric. He clearly states:

Kelly is all about consistency of message. And he found the right chord in the hours and days following a still-inexplicable 45-14 implosion at Michigan on Oct. 26.

How much clearer can you get than inexplicable?

The UM game was an unmitigated disaster. And I don't think anyone could have seen it coming.

It was a great regroup by BK, the coaching staff and the players.

Any time the Irish are playing football is a good day.

Irisheyes72

It would be great if ND could create its own Bowl game. I'm sure there are corporations that would jump at the idea. ND as an independent could set the rules for the Bowl. So let’s create our own Shamrock Bowl. Maybe Guinness would sponsor it.

I believe that the hype about how great it is for ND to be playing a team outside of the top 25 begs the question given ND's year end record of 10-2. Would any other 10-2 team have been satisfied with playing a non-25 team?? I doubt it. Don’t think they aren’t laughing at ND. It’s the BSC’s way of berating ND. There's more to this than a defeat by Michigan on a bad weather day. Before criticizing ND’s record…LOOK at the teams Ohio State plays. None of the top 10 teams play a schedule like ND does. Sure their stats are higher – but obtained by playing nobodies. They play schools that aren’t even Division 1. They all play patsies and for good reasons: it helps keep injuries down, helps their stats. Take a good look at who these “top rated” teams play. ND plays one of the toughest schedules consistently year after year. The Bowl Selection Committee members are not friendly toward ND. Look at their backgrounds and where they come from. I’m fed up with the lack of fairness in college sports. Refs are blatantly crooked. Universities lower standards for athletes who can’t even read. I’ve seen it. Chairs of departments actually change grades of athletes because they don’t want problems. It would have been great if Notre Dame got to play at least a top 25 team. ND would not be in a Loser Bowl situation. I agree ND should have declined the Bowl offer. ND doesn’t need the money and it can only lose even if it wins. Kelly should have called the BSC and said “Thanks but no thanks”.

ron a.

It seems to me that the Big Ten teams are getting inflated reputations for betting other "highly rated" Big Ten teams. Give 'em credit, they're keeping it in the family.

PAIRISH9

I think A lot of valid points have been made and I certainly understand both sides of the argument. I think most would agree that the Michigan game was a disaster in all areas. However, a lot of credit has to go to the staff and players for not letting this season spiral out of control. The Va Tech win, while not a thing of beauty, certainly showed that Coach Kelly had not lost the team and that Ian Book is a competitor. We all wish/want/crave a National Title Contender, but with 2 mins left in the VA Tech game the season looked like an 8-4 or 7-5 finish was looming. To the credit of the entire program they found a way to finish 10-2. It could be a whole lot worse.

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