Notre Dame football notebook: Irish veterans know end is near

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Football has a value beyond Saturdays.

Notre Dame's last two seasons have been loaded with life lessons.

An amazing run to the BCS National Championship Game; the disappointment in South Beach; the roller coaster ride of this season that had its share of ups and downs will be more than just a few lines in the history section of the media guide.

This is life. This is about handling adversity. It's a situation in which success and failure are clearly defined.

Those lessons aren't lost on the players who are staring life after college football in the face. Three fifth-year Irish players have taken a healthy perspective from everything they've experienced.

"Dealing with adversity, that's the biggest thing you learn in any football program," said left guard Chris Watt, who limped off the field with a leg injury early in Saturday’s first half. "Also, how to be successful; what it takes to be successful.

"It all comes back to how you approach things in your daily life that are going to get you better.

"With football and (offensive line) coach (Harry) Hiestand, it's all about taking each opportunity and taking it to the fullest. Go out there and go full-speed in everything you do. If you're not going full-speed, you're not doing it right.

"I'm more detail-oriented now; not even in practice, but walk-through, being more detailed."

Linebacker Dan Fox has grown to the point where he can look beyond the current situation for the bigger meaning.

But, it hasn't been easy.

"You learn there are going to be some adverse times; some downs," Fox said. "The best thing you can do is fight through it, learn how to get better, and turn it into a positive.

"At first, you don't see the real lesson behind it. You just see all the negative things. If you can just see through that and turn it into a positive, then you're making progress."

"That's what's great about football, you learn so many life lessons," said left tackle Zack Martin, who made his 51st consecutive start, the longest such streak in Notre Dame history. "We've been through the best times and some of the lowest times.

"It really teaches you how to deal with adversity and how to keep a group of guys on a team together. We've been through it all and it's going to pay off for everyone on the team."

DBs suspension impact

The absence of safeties Eilar Hardy and Elijah Shumate - who didn't make the trip to Stanford because of a violation of team rules, according to coach Brian Kelly - kept a burden on the shoulders of Matthias Farley and Austin Collinsworth.

The Irish secondary struggled against the Cardinal, who had their share of big-chunk plays. The bright spot was Collinsworth's second-quarter interception.

This wasn't the first offense for Hardy. He and linebacker Kendall Moore missed the Purdue game for a similar broadly-defined offense.

Hardy's stock has jumped in recent games. After playing well against Air Force and Navy, he parlayed the playing time he earned into becoming a regular part of the safety rotation.

What’s next?

Plenty of questions exist for the Notre Dame football team's immediate and long-term future.

Last year, the Irish knew if they beat USC in the final regular-season game, they'd go to the BCS National Championship Game. Lose and the destination would be another BCS bowl.

That was way too easy.

This year, the Irish are at the mercy of conferences that can't fill out their contracted spots in lower-tier bowls.

The most likely destinations would be the Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 28) at Yankee Stadium in New York against an American Athletic Conference representative, likely Houston or Rutgers, or the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego (Dec. 26) against a Mountain West team, likely San Diego State.

The AdvoCare V100 Bowl, known to most as the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., hasn't given up hope of getting the Irish. An AdvoCare V100 Bowl rep, wearing a very conservative dark blue blazer (unlike the gaudy colors other bowl reps wear), was in attendance Saturday passing out propaganda boasting the finer points of Shreveport.

It was a one-page handout - printed on both sides - with 13 pictures and lots of graphics.

That's the immediate future. Everything should be in place by Sunday, Dec. 8, if not sooner.

The long-term situation is much, much fuzzier.

The 2014 Notre Dame football schedule has yet to be released. A university spokesman said one game is holding up the process. The expectation is for the release to come next week.

Fans are clamoring for the dates to be secured.

Having to re-make the slate in order to schedule five Atlantic Coast Conference teams has been a challenge. The conjecture is either Northwestern or Rice — both previously scheduled to play at Notre Dame — would have to be taken off this year's schedule and moved to the future.

ALesar@SBTinfo.com | 574-235-6318

Notre Dame's Chris Watt, left, QB Tommy Rees, center, and Zack Martin wait line up to take a snap during the NCAA college football game between Notre Dame and Stanford on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN