For Irish, '07 seems a lifetime ago

One does not need to look too far back to find perhaps the worst team in Notre Dame history.

"I was talking to [Robby] Toma about this earlier," fifth-year senior receiver John Goodman said recently. "Coming back from Notre Dame being the worst it's ever been to being maybe the best it's ever been -- maybe starting a little franchise here with a bunch of wins in a row, a bunch of good seasons in a row -- it's really special to be able to be the beginning of that."

Goodman and five other players on Notre Dame's current roster had committed to the school following a 3-9 mark in 2007, the program's most losses ever. They will cap their college careers in the national title game, either as the national champion or runner-up.

The Irish have come a long way in a short time, with even athletic director Jack Swarbrick saying that the program is a year ahead of schedule. In 2007, they did not score an offensive touchdown in their first three games, getting outscored 102-13. They lost their first six games.

They lost to Michigan and USC by identical 38-0 scores, lost to Michigan State by 17, to Purdue by two touchdowns, to Boston College by 13 and to Navy in triple overtime, giving up 46 points.

One head coach and five years later en route to a perfect regular season, Notre Dame swept those six opponents, allowing them just four total touchdowns.

It's been a long five years in between, but the Irish are finally seeing the payoff now, and memories of such hard times have made reaching the heights even sweeter for them.

"In any program, whether you're at Notre Dame or for me at Grand Valley State when we built national championship programs, there's going to be a core guy, core group of guys that have to go through those tough times," coach Brian Kelly said last week. "Every group that I've had that have gone through those tough times, they're stronger for it. So I think there's no question that this group is stronger because of the experiences that they've had along the way.

"And that's what makes this team such a good football team, because they've had the down times and they know what that end looks like, and they don't like it very much. And so that's where you really feel good about your football team, if they've had those kind of experiences."