Notre Dame's 2013 season didn't live up to the program's lofty expectations, but there were a slew of positive moments throughout the Fighting Irish's 9-4 campaign.
Drama and tension are two constant themes of any Notre Dame football season, regardless of the program's final outcome.
2013 was no different for fourth-year head coach Brian Kelly and company.
Let's take a look at the best moments of Notre Dame's 2013.
Dating back to 2009, Notre Dame victories have been synonymous with Shamrock Series games.
That trend persisted in 2013, as the Irish defeated Arizona State, 37-34, at AT&T Stadium in the fifth edition of the Shamrock Series. This moved the program to 5-0 all time in the annual neutral site game series.
Preceding the game, Arizona State was a popular upset pick (yours truly pegged the Sun Devils to upend Notre Dame), and for good reason: head coach Todd Graham's team entered the contest ranked 22nd nationally and had already upset then 20th-ranked Wisconsin.
Adding Graham's relative success against Notre Dame in recent years, the smart money seemed to be on the Sun Devils.
However, Notre Dame silenced their doubters with a convincing win, not as close as the final score indicated (the Irish led by 10 with 1:08 remaining in regulation).
Despite the Sun Devils' disappointing 37-23 loss to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl, they entered postseason play ranked 14th in the country, making this specific Irish victory rather impressive. Also worth noting is that the only other team to beat Arizona State in the regular season was Stanford, which defeated the Sun Devils 42-28 (the Cardinal beat Arizona State a second time in the Pac-12 Championship Game).
When Notre Dame looks back on the 2013 season, it will remember its victory against Michigan State as the most impressive in Brian Kelly's fourth season on the job.
The Spartans arrived at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 21 with a 3-0 record, but had yet to crack the top 25. The Irish, on the other hand, remained ranked 22nd despite reeling from a disheartening and unsatisfying 31-24 win at Purdue, a team that ultimately finished 1-11.
As was expected, the Irish and Spartans were knotted at 10 each entering the fourth quarter of what was the equivalent of a prize fight.
However with 14:44 remaining in regulation, Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel scurried for a seven-yard touchdown run that put the Irish ahead, 17-10. From there, the fate of the game rested with the Irish defense, which limited the Spartan offense to one field goal during its final four possessions following the McDaniel touchdown.
While it wasn't an aesthetically pleasing win—the teams combined for just 474 yards of offense—it ended up preventing Michigan State from playing for a national championship, as it was the lone loss of the Spartans' season.
Since 2011, Notre Dame fans have begged and pleaded for life without quarterback Tommy Rees. They were granted that wish while receiving a humbling dose of reality during the second half of the Irish's 14-10 home victory against USC.
At the 9:31 mark of the third quarter, Rees was sacked by USC linebacker Lamar Dawson, resulting in a neck strain for Rees that would hold him out for the remainder of the game.
In his place was Andrew Hendrix, a quarterback who spent the duration of his four seasons at Notre Dame taking mental reps from the sideline. Hendrix played extremely ineffectively and silenced critics with his performance: 0-for-4 passing to go along with six carries for five yards in the final 21 minutes of action.
That wasn't the only narrative of the game, though.
The Irish defense was masterful during the second half, shutting out the Trojans while forcing four punts, a missed field goal, one interception and two failed fourth down conversion attempts.
Ultimately, it was the Notre Dame defense that saved the day and ended the program's five-game home losing streak to USC.
In a game the Irish had no business losing, they were dangerously close to being upset by Purdue, a team that has lost to Notre Dame in eight of the past nine seasons.
Surprisingly so, the Boilermakers trailed Notre Dame by a touchdown at the 12:40 mark of the fourth quarter, a deficit that was too nerve-wracking for the Irish. And in a night game away from Notre Dame Stadium broadcast by ABC, an upset seemed to be imminent.
That was until Notre Dame cornerback Bennett Jackson recorded his best play of the 2013 season.
With the Boilers at their own 32 yard line and marching toward the tying score, quarterback Rob Henry's pass was intercepted by Jackson, who scampered untouched into the end zone to put the Irish ahead, 31-17.
Jackson's heroics proved to be the nail in the coffin, as the Irish went on to win by a final score of 31-24 to prevent the program's first loss to Purdue since 2007.
The week following an embarrassing loss at Pittsburgh, Notre Dame returned to South Bend for the senior day game against BYU.
The loss to Pittsburgh lead to the team's lowest morale of the season, with the Irish having been eliminated from BCS bowl contention. With a 7-3 BYU team fresh off a 59-13 thrashing of Idaho State, combined with its near-miss at Notre Dame in 2012—a 17-14 loss to an undefeated Irish squad—the Cougars seemed to be the trendy upset pick.
But behind a solid rushing game and a steady performance from quarterback Tommy Rees, the Irish finished Senior Day with a 23-13 win at Notre Dame Stadium in frigid, snowy conditions.
Running backs Cam McDaniel and Tarean Folston combined for 195 rushing yards on 37 carries, while Rees passed for 235 yards and one score.
It was, perhaps, the grittiest victory of the season outside of the Irish's previously mentioned win against Michigan State.