Notre Dame cruised into the College Football Playoff last season with an unblemished record and hopes of winning the national title for the first time since 1988. Clemson obliterated those hopes with a resounding 30-3 victory over the Fighting Irish in the Cotton Bowl. It was the second time in the BCS/CFP era that Brian Kelly's squad has laid an egg in college football's meaningful postseason after they got smoked by Alabama in the BCS Championship Game after the 2012 season.
Notre Dame's fans might not want to hear it, but those two duds left an impression on the nation that Kelly's crew has to shed: Fraud.
That's what makes the seventh-ranked Fighting Irish's trip to Athens to take on No. 3 Georgia so interesting. It's a show-me game. Show me that you can win a big game over a college football power. Show me that your roster is on par with the best in the nation. Show me that you belong.
Kelly did his best to dispel that notion during Monday's press conference.
"No. It is not even part of what we do for preparation," he said. "To me, it's about our players, it's about our coaches giving them a great game plan, it's about my job to make sure we put together the best possible preparation for our team. The rest of that stuff, I really could[n't] care less about."
He might not say it, but he knows the results and what's at stake on Saturday night against Georgia on the SEC on CBS. His team had to run the table in order to make the CFP last year because the schedule didn't exactly jump off the page and scream "gauntlet."
Current and former Georgia players made sure to point out the Fighting Irish's lack of resume during that blowout loss to Clemson last December in Tweets that were promptly deleted.
The same problem appears to be developing this year. Outside of Georgia, Notre Dame plays just two teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25 poll -- No. 11 Michigan and No. 21 Virginia. It's not Notre Dame's fault that traditionally good teams on its schedule like USC, Virginia Tech and Stanford have underwhelmed. It is reality, though.
A win over Georgia will get the Fighting Irish into the College Football Playoff discussion. They won't make it just off a victory, but people will take them more seriously. It would erase the stigma attached to the program from the outside world and prove that it is more than a paper tiger only capable of making the playoff, not actually winning it. A loss, however, would all but eliminate the Fighting Irish from national relevancy this year.
Will it matter later this season when the selection committee has its weekly meetings? Absolutely. It isn't the reputation alone that could cost Notre Dame. The committee isn't supposed to factor other seasons into its process and has stuck to that guideline during the first five years of its existence. But those committee members know the history of the game and trends that exist. It's the reputation plus the opportunity to erase it that will haunt the Irish if Georgia hands them an L on Saturday. Based on the rest of the schedule, it will be the only opportunity.
Kelly is slow-playing the matchup just a bit.
"We'll try to muster together 22 guys, get them on a plane, go down to Athens and see what we can do," he said on Monday.
Those 22 guys better bring their A-Game. This is their only shot to secure a signature win this season and keep hopes alive for the College Football Playoff.