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Monardo: Last year seems so far away (Nov. 1)

Joseph Monardo | Wednesday, October 30, 2013

There is a point when comparisons to Notre Dame’s 2012 national championship runner-up team are unwarranted, unnecessary and even counterproductive. But that point is not here yet.

Nor should it be. Last season was a high point for one of the most storied and accomplished football programs in history. It was the greatest season for a Notre Dame team during the lives of any of the University’s current students. It was a season that looked highly improbable against a strong schedule and played out in a fashion that made it seem even more unlikely, as though it would collapse with the slightest shift in the wind.

And, sure, it did collapse eventually in dramatic fashion, with the Irish on the wrong end of an embarrassing loss to Alabama in the BCS title game. Offseason drama emerged to taint the memories of the year. But the undefeated season of 2012 remains an historic feat.

So it is a little bit of bad luck that this year’s team has to follow up a miracle season. In the program’s recent past, a 6-2 start would likely have been cause for celebration. This year fans, and the national media, have greeted it with mild appreciation and minimal praise. It’s not fair that the standards are as high for this team as they are, but that is what happens when the predecessor took down No. 10 Michigan State, No. 18 Michigan, No. 17 Stanford and No. 8 Oklahoma in its opening eight games.

The drop-off in defensive production from last year to this is the most obvious (and perhaps most significant) difference, but one of the more high-profile and controversial changes in the offseason came with the suspension of junior quarterback Everett Golson following an academic violation. The dual-threat quarterback recently confirmed in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples that his infraction was cheating on a test. But the video interview likely had Irish fans wondering what could have been – a much bigger- and stronger-looking Golson flings around perfectly-placed passes while blindfolded.

But has there really been a drop-off in production at the quarterback position? In his debut season last year, Golson completed 56.9 percent of his passes through his first eight contests. He threw four interceptions, eight touchdowns and accumulated 1,372 yards. Through eight games this year, senior quarterback Tommy Rees has a lower completion percentage (55.3 percent) and has tossed more interceptions (six), but has thrown for 1,944 yards and 20 touchdowns. His current efficiency rating of 143.3 exceeds Golson’s season-ending rating of 131.01.

Obviously, Golson and Rees are different quarterbacks. Rees’ high-volume passing attack provides him with more opportunities to compile gaudy numbers than Golson had, the two are asked to do different things within the offense, etc. More to the point, it is impossible to simply substitute one player’s passing statistics into another time and place as if they fit perfectly. For instance, Golson could very well have powered the Irish rushing attack to a level of production well above that of this year’s unit.

There is no easy way to compare last year’s Golson and this year’s Rees, just as there is no surefire way to compare last year’s Irish to the current version. That is, of course, excepting the respective records. Notre Dame forfeited 8-0 many weeks ago, but improving to 7-2 is not a bad way to move forward. If the Irish can do that, they move one step closer toward an accomplishment that can stand independent of last year’s results.

But until that point comes, comparisons are not yet invalid. That could be good news for the Irish, albeit tense times for their fans. Last year, on the first weekend of November, Notre Dame escaped from a home matchup with underdog Pittsburgh in triple overtime with a 29-26 win. Maybe some of the luck that played a part in Pitt missing a would-be game-winning 33-yard field goal will descend upon this year’s squad.

You know, for old time’s sake.

 

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu