One more chance.
A season defined by turnovers, quarterback changes and big losses on big stages will end Dec. 29 in Orlando, Fla., where Notre Dame has one more chance to make a statement on a national stage against an opponent in a similar spot.
This isn't 1993, and it's not a BCS bowl. The only thing at stake here for the Irish and the Florida State Seminoles is a ninth win in seasons that failed to meet lofty expectations.
But it's another chance for Notre Dame to make a statement against a brand-name opponent. And, judging from the fact the Irish are starting the now-experienced Tommy Rees over flavor-of-the-moment pick Andrew Hendrix, they aren't taking this one for granted.
Sure, Hendrix will see more action. He'll see plenty more in the lead-up to the game, too, given the uncertainty surrounding Dayne Crist's status for the bowl. And Hendrix's relief performance Dec. 29 may just go a long way toward clearing up next seasons's quarterback picture, but that's a long way down the road.
For now, it's Notre Dame and it's Florida State battling for that ninth win, possibly enough to earn (or, in the AP No. 25 Seminoles' case, hang on to) a place in the national rankings that began with both of them safely in. It's the Irish going for a second win against an AP-ranked opponent after dropping three of four against teams that finished ranked. It's the Seminoles going for a first win against a ranked team after an 0-2 regular-season mark when put to the test.
Sure, Notre Dame has a quality win this year. Let's not forget how the Irish manhandled then-No. 15 Michigan State in Week 3, overcoming three turnovers to defensively dominate a Spartans team that came within a play or two of the Rose Bowl. If anything for the Irish, watching a team they beat so thoroughly go on to have such a special season should only add to the frustration of a season that currently stands at 8-4.
Frustration? Notre Dame has been there, letting two wins slip away to start the season before unleashing that anger on the Spartans by a 31-13 score Sept. 17. Perhaps that same chip on their collective shoulder can manifest itself once again, this time following a convincing loss at Stanford and preceding a test against the best defense they will have faced all season long.
"It's not what Notre Dame should be," Harrison Smith told reporters after the loss at Stanford put his team at 8-4. "It's not what we expect to be. [But] that's all we are. At Notre Dame, that's not good enough."
"That's what we have right now," Manti Te'o said. "There's nothing else we can [do] but go out and get that ninth win. That's the bottom line."
The bottom line reads Notre Dame hasn't had a nine-win season in five years. That can change with an Irish win over a Seminoles team in a similar situation.
Two teams that began their seasons with dreams that would have pitted them against each other on a bigger stage. Smaller stage, smaller seasons. Same directive.