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Why this year is actually different for Notre Dame Football

You hear it every single season around this time. Notre Dame had once again failed to meet the wildest expectations of its fans in the previous season, and now the chatter begins, “This is the year for Notre Dame.” “Last year wasn’t indicative of what this team is capable of, this year they’ll show out.” The first AP poll won’t come out until late August, but you can be sure that Notre Dame will be in the top 25, and the cycle will seem to repeat itself.

But for the last 20 years, it’s not been different. The Irish are 4-10 in bowl games, including 0-4 in “big” bowl games (meaning BCS, CFP, National Championship Games, etc). Every year the team gets hyped up to be one of the best in the nation and something just doesn’t click.

But last year was really different. Nothing went right for the Irish. On seven occasions, Notre Dame was within one score of victory, with a chance to win the game. And every time it seemed to bounce the wrong way. After the heartbreaking 38-35 loss to Duke in week four, all the air seemed to leave the Irish team. What more did they have to play for? Such is the reality of their situation. Because they have no conference to play for, no other way of getting into the College Football Playoff, after two losses, and certainly after three, there becomes a sentiment of “there’s nothing worthy of Notre Dame Football left to play for.” And that’s not entirely wrong. In order to make it to the CFP, Notre Dame must win 11 games, perhaps all 12. In order to make a New Year’s Six bowl, the Irish have to win 10 games. So last year, sitting at 1-3, there was nothing left to play for, in the minds of most. The midseason firing of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder did not bode well for an already reeling Irish defense, and special teams coordinator Scott Booker had signed his own pink slip after numerous special teams gaffes. This is all the negativity we’ve heard for the last half of a year. Why should we expect anything but a return to the norm in 2017?

Because of this. The coaching staff has been revamped, the team has been reconditioned and re-motivated, and there’s a new attitude in the Irish locker room. Safety Drue Tranquill, named a captain for this year, said in a press conference about a week ago, “We see play like a champion today everywhere, but I don’t think a lot of the guys bought into that last year.” The players have also undergone a radical physical transformation, tweeting out before and after pictures with scary results.

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Ahead of Saturday’s spring game, things are looking up for Notre Dame. As a fan who has fallen victim to the soul-crushing optimism that precedes each football season, this season feels like no other. I look forward to big games in Notre Dame Stadium in 2017, when Georgia and USC clash with the Irish under the lights. It’s going to be a special year for Notre Dame Football, for real this time.