The Notre Dame fan base continues to perplex me.
During an afternoon spent on campus in South Bend, Ind., prior to the Irish's Week 4 tilt against Michigan State, I expected to feel the palpable buzz that typically swirls through the cozy confines of the iconic university.
After all, Notre Dame entered the contest ranked 22nd in the AP Poll and were set to do battle with an annual rival.
But the excitement wasn't there.
Fans seemed to be "going through the motions," to steal a phrase from the book of coach speak.
Yet, the most shocking aspect of my time spent on campus Sept. 21 was the appalling amount of vitriol spewing from Notre Dame fans concerning their own team.
Whether it be criticisms of head coach Brian Kelly, forever immobile quarterback Tommy Rees or any targeted individual or group, the level of pure negativity and pessimism in the air was heavy enough that you could have cut it with a knife.
If you wouldn't have known Notre Dame played in last season's BCS National Championship game, you would have guessed you had time-traveled back to the Charlie Weis era. Yes, the staggering number of verbal barbs thrown in Notre Dame's direction from its own fans has been that stunning.
Regardless of the outcome of the game, it's really twisted how vicious Notre Dame's *own fans* feel the need to be. Why?— oak (@oaknd1) September 22, 2013
Yet, there they were, 80,795 fans in possession of a ticket—don't forget those without tickets simply hanging out in the designated tailgate lot—ready to witness the Irish's eventual 17-13 victory against the Spartans.
Matt Freeman, a moderator of The Irish Turning Point, which is one of the leading Irish fan blogs, noted that fans may have become disheartened after witnessing the Irish lose a regular season game for the first time since Nov. 2011.
"When they lost to Michigan, I feel like a lot of the fan base just gave up on them," Freeman said.
Indeed, the Irish went more than a year-and-a-half without a regular season loss. Perhaps that incredible span pumped steroids into the fan base's already embarrassing propensity to lay claim to unrealistic expectations on an annual basis.
And that may be the exact reason fans have been so quick to throw in the towel so early in the season.
"They (fans) knew they weren't going to get back to the national title game, so I think that's where a lot of the fans aren't supporting the team as much as in past years," Freeman said. "They got a taste of the 'old' Notre Dame last year when they went undefeated, and I think they kind of expected that again this year."
Sure, a trip to a BCS bowl game even without former starting quarterback Everett Golson seemed feasible, but a repeat trip to the national title game seemed highly unlikely. Worth noting is that during the BCS era, which began in 1998, only six programs—Florida State, Miami, Oklahoma, Ohio State, USC and Alabama—have made consecutive trips to college football's title game.
And Nick Saban's Alabama program is the only one of the six to have won consecutive championships.
Even the Crimson Tide—college football's current gold standard—lost a regular season game en route to their showdown with the Irish in Miami eight months ago.
To find the last program to finish with an undefeated regular season record two years in a row, you'd have to go back to 2004-05, when USC accomplished the feat (the Trojans' entire 2005 season has since been vacated due to NCAA violations).
That in itself makes the current showing from Notre Dame fans nearly unthinkable.
The poor attitude concerning this season's Notre Dame squad has also stripped the Irish of any perceived home field advantage it may have already had.
I was embarrassed how quiet we ND fans were yesterday. Disappointing display of support for our team.— Chris Salvi (@CSalvi24) September 22, 2013
That's former Notre Dame special teams stalwart Chris Salvi, who exhausted his eligibility at the conclusion of last season.
When a former player, especially one who played in last season's national title game, is clamoring for the fans to support the team, there's a problem.
Even the University made its own video essentially pleading for fans to stand up and cheer at home games.
Notre Dame fans are so nice, the school had to make a video convincing them to stand up and cheer. http://t.co/n61vacMA7H— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) September 21, 2013
Words truly can't describe just how astounding these current circumstances are regarding the Notre Dame fan base.
While Notre Dame Stadium will continue its streak of sellouts, a boost in morale is, for all accounts and purposes, necessary at this juncture.
And with fans on the proverbial ledge, the Irish may be one loss away from losing them altogether.
*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.