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Sports

Concannon: Georgia game was something to build on for the Irish

| Sunday, September 22, 2019

Saturday was a perfect illustration of what Notre Dame football is in 2019.

The Irish are a great college football team. Irish fans are lucky to have such a successful team led by the greatest Notre Dame coach in recent memory. Their fight in the late fourth quarter after going down 23-10 showed what a mentally tough group they are. They gave Georgia a better game than 95% of FBS teams could have.

Ann Curtis | The Observer

Junior running back Tony Jones Jr. looks for an opening to break through the Georgia defensive line on Saturday in Sanford Stadium.

Talent-wise the Irish are not quite on the Bulldogs’ level. There is no shame in admitting that you are not amongst a tier of roster talent that perhaps only includes Clemson, Alabama and Georgia. To join teams like that, you have to beat the best, and after Clemson in 2015 and Florida State in 2014, the Irish are tantalizingly close to elite status but are not quite there.

There should not be any moral victories for a team like Notre Dame, but in many ways Saturday was something to build on. The Irish belonged on that field, the way a genuine top-10 team that can upset anyone on any given Saturday belongs on the field. The toughest part of making the jump from top 10 to perennial title contender will be continuing to manage life without consistent in-state talent.

In-state recruits are the path to elite status. Eight of the 11 starters Georgia lists on offense were in-state recruits. Georgia could likely field a better team on paper than Notre Dame with just the players it recruits from in-state. No disrespect to the Mishawaka Cavemen, but the talent coming out of the northern Indiana region at large is just not going to beat Georgia.

Yet Irish fans have so much of which to be proud. The team overcomes the lack of Midwestern football talent by recruiting nationally, poaching the occasional elite recruit like Atlanta native Kyle Hamilton away from Georgia the way almost no one else could.

Notre Dame is going to be playing the best teams in college football competitively for years to come. They’ll record double-digit win seasons and compete in high-stake bowl games the way good teams do. Who knows if a College Football Playoff Title is on the table anymore, but maybe it doesn’t have to be for Irish fans to be happy with how things are going.

This all is not to say the Irish never had a chance entering Athens. They did. One could tell from the crowd noise at Sanford Stadium that Georgia fans were sitting on their hands a bit at the beginning of the second half, nervous to witness what would have been their first loss on home turf since 2016.

Upsets happen, and this is exactly what Irish fans need to grasp. When the Irish head to places like Athens, they do so as an underdog, but an underdog with a legitimate chance to shock the world.

The Irish have a hell of a football team in South Bend, and I felt a whole lot of pride seeing the standing ovation the team got from the Irish faithful as they sang the alma mater. The Irish might not be Georgia or Clemson, but they’re a great football team with excellent players and a superb coaching staff. We’ve got it pretty good.

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