Noie: Buzz about and around No. 14 Notre Dame absent from Camping World Bowl
ORLANDO, Fla. — Life and its priorities wander a different path for visitors down here, when even a dreary weather day still can be better than what it might be back home.
This area’s so much about fun and sun. It’s about kids and the Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It’s about relaxing. Converting on first and goal or getting the defense off the field on third and short? Not so much.
Typically when Notre Dame rolls in, that football game is the talk of the town. Everybody knows it. Feels it. Lives it.
The “L’s” were up and out on every corner when the season kicked off Labor Day night in Louisville. You couldn’t walk five feet in mid-September without a “Go Dawgs!” after Notre Dame arrived in Athens. The visit to Michigan? That speaks for itself.
Even at Duke in an early November chill, they turned out. Not so much to wrap the regular season last month at Stanford, but like down here, there’s far more to do out there than live and breathe and sleep and drink college football.
Even Thursday on the hotel shuttle over from the airport, conversation centered more on what Disney attractions to get to than how the Irish might attack the tricky 3-3-5 defensive alignment of Iowa State.
The old Citrus Bowl, since renamed Camping World Stadium, hosts two bowl games in five days. It could be argued that the main attraction is No. 9 Alabama and No. 17 Michigan on New Year’s Day. Big matchup on a big bowl day. Saturday’s 30th annual Camping World Bowl clash between Iowa State (7-5) and No. 14 Notre Dame (10-2)? No way an undercard, but far from the marquee matchup routine for one program.
Especially on the same day as the two national semifinals. Talk about an afterthought. This one’s a bowl game needle in the college football postseason haystack.
Then again, if this becomes one of those 54-51 shootouts so common in the Big 12. ...
Can this Notre Dame team pick up where it left off when last seen last month? That’s a question not answered easily, right alongside with just how does Santa stuff that sleigh with all those presents for girls and boys. (Hint: Very carefully).
Nothing about this week offered any indication that Notre Dame’s going to be the same or different than when last seen 28 days ago and 2,800 miles away in Northern California. That’s where Notre Dame put the wraps on an impressive five-game win streak. But a lot can happen (thankfully, outside of offensive coordinator Chip Long being shown the door earlier this month, it hasn’t).
It’s tough to plug right back in and flip that competitive switch over the course of a week. Maybe the Irish will. Maybe they won’t, and Iowa State plays like the team with so much to prove like Notre Dame did in November.
It’s been a win of a week for Notre Dame in that nothing out of the ordinary occurred. No shockers. No surprises. No fractured curfews (that we know). No key contributors sat down or sent home (we’ll know for sure Saturday).
The biggest news arrived in the form of a feel-good piece (walk-ons Mick Assaf and Colin Grunhard awarded scholarships) and a no-brainer promotion (quarterbacks coach Tom Rees will call plays Saturday for the departed Long).
How ever Saturday unfolds (and a triple thumbs up emoji for that noon kick), with Notre Dame being Notre Dame, this one falls into the lose-lose category. Win, and hey, it’s Iowa State. Lose, and whoa, it’s Iowa State.
Coming off last season’s appearance in the College Football Playoff semifinal, everything about this week, about this game, feels different. Watered down. Average. That one had a pulse, an energy, a feeling of anticipation that we’d be treated to a spectacle (but not the one witnessed). Two days before that clash with Clemson, every coach and player from both teams were made available for interviews. You got a true measure of the magnitude of that moment from everyone, be it the starting quarterback to the backup kicker.
This week’s been photo ops and fluff on team trips to drive go-karts and shopping sprees at big-box stores. A real sense of what this means? Hard to gauge. Two days before this one, as the Irish prepared for their only workout at Camping World Stadium (Friday’s walk-through was held at their resort hotel), only Irish head coach Brian Kelly met the media. No captains. No players. No real insight.
Kind of speaks to this game. Not an exclamation point for a 2019 season that might have been. Not an opening paragraph for a 2020 season that might be special.
Just kind of there.
Notre Dame insists this game means something. Iowa State insists this game means something. Maybe it does to both, but the feeling that it kind of doesn’t hovers like the region’s afternoon humidity. Can’t shake it, no matter how many times you ride Pirates of the Caribbean.
Kelly mentioned during Friday’s 18-minute head coaches’ press conference that he’d seen the Irish start to flip the switch. Fun’s over. It’s get down to business time.
That means the AirPods go in and the iPhone playlists get a workout and the focus sharpens. Game time’s coming closer. For some, it’s their last time (Chase Claypool, for sure, Cole Kmet, for uncertain). For others, it’s just the next time (more Kyle Hamilton and Braden Lenzy and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, please).
Either way, it’s almost time.
What does this game mean to Notre Dame? Everything? Something? Nothing?
We’re about to find out.