Qualifying for the BCS next season will be a bridge too far for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish captivated college football fans across the nation with their undefeated regular season. They were massive underdogs against the Alabama Crimson Tide, and the final result illustrated why.
Notre Dame was out-gained 529 yards to 302 in the 42-14 defeat.The Irish had no answer for Tide running back Eddie Lacy.
The running game was key for the Fighting Irish, but they only ran for 32 yards. Getting down early meant they had to air it out, which was devastating for Notre Dame's offense.
Good years are without a doubt ahead for Notre Dame. 2013 will not be one of those years, though.
Of course, there's a lot to get enthusiastic about when thinking about the future for the Fighting Irish.
Rivals.com ranks Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class first in the country, ahead of Alabama in second. In addition, the schedule doesn't look incredibly daunting. There are some tough games—at Stanford, at home to Oklahoma and USC—but that's to be expected.
Brian Kelly's reign as head coach seems different from Charlies Weis and Tyrone Willingham before him. Both coaches hit the ground running, Weis more so, only to flame out in a few years.
While Kelly looks much more stable and reliable, next season is going to be a massive step down from playing in the national title game.
The Fighting Irish will have to replace both Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. That's 1,500-plus yards that are graduating at the end of the season.
George Atkinson III was a highly regarded recruit, and he got some touches this year, carrying the ball 51 times for 361 yards.
Atkinson III might be a stable runner, but Riddick and Wood complemented each other very well.
Tight end Tyler Eifert is graduating as well. His 44 receptions for 624 yards both led the team. He was consistently a dependable option for quarterback Everett Golson.
In addition, there's the massive hole that Manti Te'o leaves in the defense.
Rarely has one player been as pivotal to his team as Te'o. It's extremely hard for a defensive player to take over a game, and he did that seemingly every week during the regular season.
If there was a face of Notre Dame's resurgence in the college football landscape, it wasn't Kelly. It was Te'o.
Also, regarding the players returning, Kelly has quite a decision regarding the starting quarterback.
Golson was the starter for the majority of the season, but Tommy Rees came on as a replacement on a few occasions. More than likely a few fans were wondering if Rees might come on for Golson in the BCS title game.
This could provide an unwanted headache for Kelly next year.
Notre Dame is back on the path to become a sustained fixture in the BCS in the coming years. However, there's going to be some pain next year as the Fighting Irish come down from the highs that 2012 provided.
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