Notre Dame's desperate-to-believe faithful found out last January what a select few -- most of them residing south of the Mason-Dixon line -- suspected all along: the Irish, despite a 12-0 regular season, weren't of Grade A quality.
Nine months, a hellacious off-season, and a handful of less-than-inspiring September games later, it appears their successors aren't only below the sport's upper crust, they're no longer an item on the menu.
Oklahoma's 35-21 handling of the Irish wasn't as absolute as Alabama's bundling of Brian Kelly's overmatched crew last winter, but it was no less telling. The Irish offense dug a hole, and unlike last season, their only decent defense didn't have the 60-minute chops to overcome it.
450 yards allowed, 212 of them on the ground. Two touchdown passes surrendered, no turnovers forced. And as has been hinted previously, the unit seemed far too slow to compete with the first and second-tier teams in college football.
Oklahoma ranks among that second tier, but they were doubtless superior to Kelly's Irish. It's the 2012 National Coach of the Year's job to fix that harsh reality, now with eight games remaining in a season that appears will end before the New Year for the third time in his four seasons.
"I've got a football team here we're trying to develop and work with," said Kelly when asked about the difficulty of making a BCS Bowl with two losses already in tow. "You guys can have your own comments and decide what that means and you can put us in whatever Bowl you want. We're dealing with our players. We've got to coach better, we've got to develop our players better, and we'll let you guys decide what that means."
It means, unless the Irish rip off seven straight, that something resembling the Pinstripe Bowl awaits. That is unless money still talks and the Irish brand takes a second-tier bowl bid from a less-appealing conference also-ran. In that case, a ceremonial flogging of the Irish between the lines will follow, with a program such as Florida State or LSU or (heaven forbid), the Fighting Johnny Manziel's ready to run freely through what used to be Manti Te'o's no fly zone en route to pay dirt.
Notre Dame can't beat a second tier team as currently constructed. Too slow, both out of the gates and afoot. Pedestrian at key positions. Too sloppy, too many errors, both mental and physical, and from upperclassmen, freshmen, and the coaching staff alike.
"This is my 23rd year as a head coach," said Kelly, exasperated at another slow start. "You never expect to not pick up the simplest of stunts and have your quarterback get the ball stripped. You never expect not to run the right route when you're supposed to. You never expect those things, but they happen. That's why we have ulcers in this business.
"So you go back, you've got to be communicating. Because, ultimately, it falls on me. We lost today, so that goes in the ledger as a loss. We've got to go back and communicate better. We didn't do a good enough job communicating. We've got to coach better. We have to do a better job in making sure that those things don't happen again."
And we thought they were past that.
2012 was an inspiration for many, but also, it appears, an aberration. 2013's fall from grace can still be mitigated with across the board improvement.
Otherwise, 8-5 will again be the norm in South Bend.