We spent last night watching the Notre Dame Fighting Irish get bullied all over the field. Notre Dame's coach, Brian Kelly and his team looked overmatched from the first Tide drive until Nick Saban decided to call his boys off. Manti Te'o, the heart and soul of the Irish team, walks away with a less-than-stellar showing on the biggest stage.
Now, eyes turn to the future, and Notre Dame is going to be one of the many teams hoping to claw its way back onto the big stage. Yes, folks will point to Oregon, Texas A&M, Ohio State and, hell, even right back at Alabama, as teams likely to reach next year's title game. Yet, despite their poor showing on Monday night, the Irish could well end up back in the limelight when the dust settles.
For the 2013 campaign, Te'o is gone, as are other key contributors on defense, such as end Kapron Lewis-Moore and safety Zeke Motta. On offense, Rimington Award finalists Braxston Cave, fellow lineman Mike Golic, Jr., running back Theo Riddick and receiver Robby Toma are out the door.
All-Americant tight end Tyler Eifert has elected to forgo his senior year to head to the NFL, CBSSports.com reports. As of now, according to Yahoo! Sports, Eifert is oddly enough the only significant Irish player to declare for the NFL draft, as guys like Louis Nix III, Zack Martin and Chris Watt have elected to return to South Bend. The Irish still wait to hear the definitive word from running back Cierre Wood.
Whether Wood, the Irish's second-leading rusher, returns in 2013 or not, the team is looking to be in the hunt. Everett Golson, entering his third year in the program, will have to hold off the Irish's stable of quarterbacks, but he looks to be the starter heading into the spring.
On the edge, T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels have proven they can be reliable options in the passing game. George Atkinson III, and the young studs from Kelly's 2013 class, will be looking to tote the ball on the ground. All of this behind an offensive line that has young talent and, in Martin and Watt, some experience returning.
For Bob Diaco's defense, getting back Louis Nix III is a big plus. Despite all of the bad goings on in the BCS Championship Game, Nix was able to put together a monster effort against Barrett Jones. Having Irish Chocolate back for the 2013 season means life gets easier for the defense.
To go with Nix, Sheldon Day will step into a more full-time role with the departure of Lewis-Moore. Danny Spond, Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese should be back in South Bend, but younger talent will also get a shot to crack the depth chart. Throw in Prince Shembo, a guy who just keeps getting better, and the front-seven should push towards success.
On the back end, Matthias Farley will be returning along with KeiVarae Russell and Bennett Jackson. There is good young talent in the secondary, and the Irish will get Lo Wood, last year's projected starter at corner, back from his Achilles injury.
There are pieces all over the field for the Irish to call upon in their quest to return to the BCS picture. While folks are reeling from the embarrassing loss to Alabama, the players have been to the mountain top and know that returning is very feasible.
Add to the mix the Irish's 2013 schedule and the table is set for them to at least get into a BCS Bowl, if not back to the title game. Opening with Temple, playing Michigan and Michigan State teams that will be searching for identities early, getting Oklahoma and USC at home—the schedule is not easy, but it most certainly has some advantages for the Fighting Irish.
If they can win the games they are supposed to win, avoid the missteps as they did this season and catch a few breaks along the way, they could be staring another stellar record in the face.
So, while folks get their laughs about the poor performance in the title game, the college football world is still going to have to deal with a Notre Dame team that's not likely to disappear.