There’s an old saying in sports. It is “In order to be the best, you have to beat the best.” These are words this Notre Dame football program will have to live by in order to be serious championship contenders. So, as much as you’d like to see any opponent be at a disadvantage, it would serve no purpose to the Irish to play Florida State this week without Jameis Winston under center.
I’m going to save debating the moral issues behind Winston’s off field situation for another day. Whether he should or shouldn’t be playing isn’t for me to decide. However, it can alter my opinion of my team. Coming into the season, I wasn’t expecting much from this Irish team. I felt like they were an 8 win team, which isn’t bad, but it’s not where you want to be, especially in Kelly’s 5th season at ND. What I think you’re seeing from this team this year though is a full squad of Kelly recruits in his system playing in a way tailored to his coaching style. I think that’s part of the reason they came into the year a little under the radar. They’re more athletic then any Irish team we have seen in a while. Kelly finally has his team.
If you look back to 2012, they had a great run. Kelly was able to guide them to the title game with a team of mostly Charlie Weis’ recruits. He dumbed down his offense and relied mostly on a physically dominating defense. But let’s be honest with ourselves here. The Irish caught plenty of breaks that year to get them to Miami. When they finally played in the BCS Championship, they were overmatched. It was like men against boys out there. Whenever you saw Kelly onm camera, he looked like he saw a ghost. He didn’t know what hit them. It was a real wake up call for the program. Kelly saw that in order to compete with the teams from the south, you have to change the type of team you put on the field, which includes being faster and more explosive. Also, in order to do that and draw recruits, you have to play those teams, which you can see they are scheduling games against.
That brings me to this weeks game. I want to play the defending national champions with the reigning Heisman trophy winner playing. This game will show how far this program has come, and how much further they need to go. If Jameis winds up suspended, and ND beats the Seminoles, it doesn’t really guage where this team stands in regards to playing with the big boys. Don’t get me wrong. It is still impressive to beat Florida State without Winston. He’s not the whole team. But if they beat the Seminoles at full strength in Tallahassee, It will make a statement that this program is back to being elite, and it can play with anyone.
This post seems pretty negative. I’m not trying to be. Consider me cautiosly optimistic. But going into the game it’s hard to not think about that title game in 2012. If they beat a Winstonless FSU, they’ll probably win out and wind up in the playoffs. Then it’s a crapshoot. There’s still uncertainty about where this team stands. The last thing I want to see though is them get the floor wiped with them by teams that are more superior.
Winston or no Winston, I think the Irish will do alright this weekend. I think the -12 point spread is a little much. Florida State isn’t as good as they were last year. It’s a winable game. They went into Oklahoma two years ago as big underdogs and pretty much dominated them. This team is battle tested. Kelly is a great strategist and will be prepared for the game. I expect them to compete. There’s no shame in losing a close game under those circumstances. Win or lose, the Irish are better off if either result comes with Florida State’s best player on the field.
Talk Irish football with me on Twitter. @GetsThruBuckner -Tom