This group of seniors came in as freshmen during the undefeated 2012 season and have carried that tradition forward throughout their tenure at Notre Dame.
They were able to learn from Irish greats such as Manti Te’o, Theo Riddick, Tyler Eifort and Zack Martin. They have seen ups and downs, but have coalesced and become leaders in their own right. Now, Joe Schmidt, Mathias Farley, Sheldon Day and Nick Martin are the captains, with other key seniors such as C.J. Prosise, Jarrett Grace, Ronnie Stanley, Jarron Jones, Chris Brown, Elijah Shumate and KeiVarae Russell helping to lead the way.
This group has keyed Notre Dame’s stellar season so far, which one could argue might end up being even more impressive than 2012 if this teams wins out and beats Stanford. The 2012 season saw one close finish after another, with several games coming down to pure luck. That is not to take anything away from that squad. In this day and age of parity in college football, it is no easy task to go undefeated. Any win against a good, power conference team is going to require some breaks. But this Irish team has been far more consistent in winning the games that they were expected to win by a sizable margin.
Like the 2012 team, this team has an inexperienced, redshirt freshman quarterback who manages the game and minimizes turnovers. But the offense overall has been more prolific this season.
Kelly seems to trust Kizer to air it out more than he did Golson in 2012, thought it helps when you have Will Fuller to throw the ball to. On defense, this year’s team is not nearly as strong as the Te’o-led defense that didn’t allow a rushing touchdown during the first half of the season and made the goal-line stand its signature play. But this defense has found a way to make plays when it mattered, including game-clinching interceptions at the end of the USC and Temple games.
The Irish are currently ranked fourth by the College Football Playoff Committee. If the rankings hold for the rest of the season, this would set up a rematch with Clemson in the semifinal at the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve. There is a lot that could happen before then, but the Irish appear to control their own fortunes.
It is unlikely at this point that Clemson implodes and loses a game or the ACC championship. It is also unlikely Alabama loses, though anything is possible in the SEC. Ohio State looks vulnerable, but Urban Meyer is not someone who should be underestimated.
We’ll see how the rest of this season goes, but this group of seniors can be proud of what they have accomplished on the field during their tenure at Notre Dame. Given the leadership and character they have displayed, it looks like they will continue to see success long after they graduate.
I’m predicting an epic finish to the Stanford game and hopefully another trip to college football’s biggest stage for these seniors.