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No magic left to play for, Notre Dame focuses on next game

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Irish seek daily improvement, if not title

Monday, September 30, 2013 - 2:41 am

SOUTH BEND – There will be no trip to the BCS National Championship Game this winter for Notre Dame football.

There will be no cover shot for Sports Illustrated. And the annual postseason awards show on ESPN won't turn into a Notre Dame love-fest, as it did last season.

There isn't enough Irish whiskey to allow the Notre Dame fan base to lose sight of the fact that the 2013 season simply won't be special, as it was a season ago. Those within the Fighting Irish program are aware of that, but according to their leader, no one at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex is dwelling on it.

After losing to 12th-ranked Oklahoma 35-21 on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish (3-2) now have a pair of losses, and climbing into the national rankings (The Associated Press has the Irish ranked 31st today) all the way to one of the coveted BCS bowl game slots would need divine intervention at this point.

“I would say this,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said, “they have been in the national championship game. They have been to Florida for bowl games. What they are more interested in is playing well the next game and the rest of the season.”

That would help keep Irish fans interested, as well. A win this Saturday against 22nd-ranked Arizona State (3-1) would spur perhaps a bit of intrigue among Notre Dame fans, and that is much needed.

Notre Dame dominated the television ratings a year ago on its way to the 2013 BCS title game, and those numbers have shrunk considerably this season.

The Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame game a season ago attracted nearly 9 million viewers, and based on the ratings attracted in earlier games this season, it's probably safe to say Saturday's Sooner romp was viewed by far fewer.

Notre Dame's game at Michigan earlier this month did well (8.65 million viewers), but aside from that prime-time game pitting two not-yet-beaten and not-yet-disappointing squads, the Irish are being seen by about half as many fans as a year ago.

Recent victories against Michigan State and Purdue (4.8 million viewers in each) did well compared with most football programs, but not measured by the standards set in 2012.

“We know it can't be a national championship, and we are disappointed that's the case,” Kelly said. “But to say 'Hey, there's nothing to play for…' What? For one game in Florida?

“What we are more interested in as a group, and that's why we play this game, is as a team, to play better, to be more consistent, to challenge ourselves each and every week to be better. That's the group that we have here.”

At this juncture, that playing-for-pride mantra will have to suffice.