Irish close BCS gap, look to 2013

MIAMI -- Notre Dame senior running back Theo Riddick sat at his locker, head down.

The tears continued to roll down his cheeks. Occasionally he would wipe some away with a towel. However, Riddick could not erase the memories, or the hurt, from Monday's 42-14 loss to Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship.

"All I can say," Riddick said, with his eyes staring at the ground, "is we have a great future in front of us."

The future does look much better around South Bend these days. As disappointing as Notre Dame's throttling was, the Irish went from unranked in the preseason to a No. 1 ranking, 12-0 regular season and their first berth in the BCS title game.

"It doesn't matter what happened tonight, because I'll remember the guys in this locker room as a brotherhood," said senior center Mike Golic Jr., who also fought back tears.

"Hopefully this is a springboard for the players coming back. I heard [senior] Braxston Cave say if the pain you're feeling right now is not enough to motivate you in the offseason, then you might not have a pulse."

The program's pulse was getting weaker and weaker at the end of the Charlie Weis era.

That all changed with the arrival of coach Brian Kelly.

"We needed a program builder," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. "Our program needed to be rebuilt in a very fundamental way, down to the foundation and back up."

At the start, Notre Dame was knocked down and couldn't get back up. Alabama took a 21-0 lead four seconds into the second quarter, and it looked like the Irish's vaunted defense might allow more points to the Crimson Tide than their basketball team did earlier in Monday night's 66-60 victory against Cincinnati.

"We had a great [regular] season," Notre Dame left tackle Zach Martin said. "We were 12-1, but we wanted to finish and be national champions.

"It will still go down as a special season. It was definitely disappointing. We definitely wanted to [finish] the season out. There's something good to build on. We closed the gap by getting to the final game."

Alabama outgained the Irish 529 yards to 302, but Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III wouldn't say the Irish were dominated.

"Domination is not a word I want to use," Nix said. "We missed a lot of tackles."

When asked why the Irish missed so many tackles, Nix didn't have an explanation.

"I don't know," Nix said. "I don't know why the world turns."

The college football world continues to revolve around the SEC, winners of seven consecutive national titles -- and counting.

The SEC will go for an eighth consecutive championship next year when the Rose Bowl hosts the BCS title game. Nix said Notre Dame's goal is to return to next year's championship.

"Pasadena 2014," Nix said. "The seniors brought Notre Dame back to relevancy."

Last spring, Swarbrick joked Notre Dame should fire whoever the athletic director was that scheduled five teams ranked in the Associated Press' preseason Top 25 poll.

"After looking at our schedule before the season, everyone counted us out," defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said.

Swarbrick admitted he didn't believe the Fighting Irish would go undefeated.

"I thought the schedule might have too many landmines," Swarbrick said. "I thought we were much, much better. I was afraid the schedule would obscure that. These guys were better than I am. They didn't let the schedule bother them."

Swarbrick also said Monday's lopsided loss in no way overshadowed what Notre Dame accomplished in 2012.

"That's one good football team on the other sideline," Swarbrick said. "You measure yourself against them. We're not there, but that doesn't diminish the regular season in any way. We changed the perception and reality of this program this year. That's the significance of the year.

"They're a great, great program and we have to get there."