- Dave Wilson is an editor for ESPN.com since 2010. He previously worked at The Dallas Morning News, San Diego Union-Tribune and Las Vegas Sun.
Despite blowout losses in Notre Dame’s past two marquee games, coach Brian Kelly said on Monday that the Irish don’t have anything to prove in Friday’s College Football Playoff semifinal against No. 1 Alabama.
Notre Dame last faced Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game, a 42-14 loss. Two years ago, the Irish lost 30-3 to Clemson in the CFP semis at the Cotton Bowl.
“We’re knocking at the door every year, playing really good teams and great opponents and they’re elite football teams,” Kelly said. “I don’t know why this narrative continues to pop up when we’re always in the game. No, we haven’t won a national championship. That’s correct. And, you know, I’m not changing the record. But we are there every single year and we are grinding it out just like everybody else.”
No. 4 Notre Dame is a 20-point underdog to Alabama, one of the biggest underdogs this bowl season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, this will be Notre Dame’s seventh appearance in a BCS or New Year’s Six bowl game since 1998, when the BCS era began. The Irish are 0-6 in those games, having been outscored by a total of 144 points. None of the six was decided by fewer than 14 points. This year, they have the challenge of facing an Alabama team that was wire to wire as the No. 1 team and has three Heisman Trophy finalists in Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris.
“Only one team gets to celebrate at the end of the year,” Kelly said. “We’re going to keep banging, and we’re going to keep getting back here, and that’s our job. That’s our challenge each and every year is to compete for a national championship, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Kelly said before the 2018 semifinal against Clemson that the program had undergone several changes, including in the strength and conditioning program, on-field staff and in recruiting.
“We’re still being compared to what happened in 2012, fair or unfair,” coach Brian Kelly said in 2018. “We need to set a new kind of parameter there.”
But that game ended in disappointment. This year, Notre Dame earned the No. 4 spot despite suffering the biggest loss by an eventual playoff team in the playoff era (24 points in a 34-10 loss to Clemson in the ACC title game).
Despite a top-five ranking all season and a 47-40 double-overtime win over Clemson on Nov. 7, the Irish know this is their most important opportunity to prove they belong among the best programs in the country.
“It’s motivating,” running back Kyren Williams said. “Not everybody in the world believes in us, and it’s OK because we don’t want anybody to believe in us besides us. We’re going to go out there on Friday and do what we do best. Being an underdog is nothing new to us, and we’re going to keep proving to the world who we are.”
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