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Despite drubbing, Notre Dame looks toward long-term success

MIAMI GARDENS FL - JANUARY 07:  The Notre Dame Fighting Irish look after losing against AlabamCrimsTide by score 42-14

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 07: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish look on after losing against the Alabama Crimson Tide by a score of 42-14 inthe 2013 Discover BCS National Championship game at Sun Life Stadium on January 7, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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Updated: February 9, 2013 6:28AM



MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.—This is going to hurt for a while.

Notre Dame put on its tuxedo Monday expecting to be South Beach prom king. And got splattered with mud when it stepped out of the limo, before it even got to the big dance.

Showing ND how the game is played, the Crimson Tide rolled to a 14-0 lead before the Irish knew what hit them. Midway through the first quarter, after Notre Dame had run exactly three plays from scrimmage, it trailed by two touchdowns.

In winning 42-14 and becoming the first back-to-back champion of the BCS era, Alabama was dominant in every way. Even the referees piled on, calling a clear catch by Tyler Eifert incomplete and whistling the Irish for a phantom interference call when they punted. Not that the miscalls mattered.

But 118 other major-college teams would have loved to be in ND’s cleats. And when the Irish dust themselves off from this single-game disaster, they’ll realize what they did accomplish this season.

The Irish table is set. And Monday night doesn’t change that.

``We all now know what we have to do,’’ coach Brian Kelly said. ``A 12-0 football team, that’s a pretty darn good team, but not good enough. It’s clear what we need to do. We have to get physically stronger, continue to close the gap there. This was a great opportunity we had here. Our guys know now what a championship football team looks like. They’re back-to-back national champs. Measure yourself against that. I don’t want to minimize that we have made incredible strides to get to this point. Now it’s pretty clear what we have to do to get over the top.’’

Through all the unfulfilled seasons since Lou Holtz regularly had Notre Dame in the national championship discussion, it had been reasonable to wonder if ND was capable of returning to its lofty standards.

There were any number of reasons why Notre Dame’s national independent program might have had to adjust its thinking in a world where television stood ready to spread everyone’s gospel, where power-conference schools had easily defined paths to BCS glory, where the Irish program itself was evolving.

Even if this BCS appearance turned out badly, Notre Dame, which should return eight starters on defense and seven on offense, is built to continue knocking on the championship door. Its 12-0 regular season shows the Irish formula still can work.

``I’m obviously disappointed,’’ star senior linebacker Manti Te’o said. ``Not necessarily that we lost, but that we didn’t represent our school, our families and our team the way we could have. That’s disappointing. At the same time, I’m proud of this team. What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. The best thing about this experience is that it creates fire. It creates fuel for both the guys staying here and the guys leaving. Everybody here tonight will be better because of it.’’

This trip to the woodshed was deflating. But it doesn’t take the luster off the Irish’s future prospects.

``It was important for our program to get back to this point,’’ Kelly said. ``Getting back into the conversation relative to national championships has brought everybody closer.’’

If anything, BCS title disappointment only figures to make ND strive harder to return to this big stage. This also gives it a measuring stick for what it will take to be successful.

``Playing in this game is an incredible springboard,’’ Kelly said. ``You come back next year, it’s unacceptable for a standard to be any less than being back here again.’’



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