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Sánchez Córdova: A season of ‘what ifs’

| Friday, November 3, 2023

Mary Votava
Freeman (middle) departs the Notre Dame Stadium field after a 17-14 loss to Ohio State on Sep. 23.

Watching Notre Dame football’s last two games, it’s easy to say that this year’s team is really, really good. Especially on defense, this team has looked like a national championship-level team. Unfortunately, they have lost two games, which, in the final year of the four-team playoff, means Notre Dame’s title drought will last another year.

It’s a disappointing result for a year that started with so much promise. Through four games, Notre Dame was averaging more than 40 points-per-game while holding opponents to under 12 points-per-game. Transfer quarterback Sam Hartman brought a new kind of confidence and swagger that Notre Dame had been missing for a while. It looked good for Marcus Freeman and the Irish until now-No. 1 Ohio State came to town.

That first loss against Ohio State sucked. The Irish were the better team for a large majority of the contest, and it’s a game they probably should have won. They very well might have beaten the Buckeyes if only they’d had 11 guys on the field for the final two plays. It’s the biggest “what if” of the year. But even earlier on that final drive, you get another one, what if DJ Brown had held on to that potential game-sealing interception? It was painful, but ultimately, losing to a team like Ohio State isn’t terrible. They are a very talented team and they have a great resume. A loss to Ohio State doesn’t disqualify you from playoff contention.

It’s the Louisville loss that’s going to sting for a while. After demolishing Pitt last weekend, it’s hard to imagine that now-No. 13 Louisville lost to that hapless Panthers team that came to campus last Saturday. It’s a tough loss because there’s no doubt in my mind that Notre Dame is a better football team than Louisville. It just so happened that we played them on the road in primetime after two very emotionally taxing games against Ohio State and Duke. Notre Dame was their biggest game of the year, and they showed up for it. Notre Dame showed up tired and they paid the price.

As it stands, Notre Dame just has to hope they can find their way into a New Year’s Six bowl game. Beating Clemson this weekend in Death Valley would go a long way toward that goal. Sure, it’s not the matchup many envisioned at the start of the year when Clemson was ranked No. 9 in the country. Now, it’s a noon kickoff against a 4-4 Tigers team. After that they play two subpar teams in Wake Forest and Stanford. Finishing with a 10-2 record is pretty good for a second-year head coach. Coming into the year, many Irish fans probably would have taken that given the difficult schedule and the tumultuous 2022 season. It’s the way it has played out that makes it more difficult to swallow.

This year’s losses will always carry a “what if” kind of feeling for Notre Dame. All things staying the same, what if they had beat Louisville? Would they be up there with Oregon and Texas as one of the elite one-loss teams? They would almost certainly still be in contention for the College Football Playoff if a few things went their way. What if they had hung on and beat Ohio State? Might they still be undefeated? Who knows because unfortunately, that’s not the world we’re living in. That’s the reason why the “what ifs” are going to haunt this Irish football season.

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About José Sánchez Córdova

José is a senior from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico studying political science, French and journalism. He is currently serving as an Assistant Managing Editor at The Observer.

Contact José