What a difference a year makes.

I was preparing for my annual New Year’s column this week reading over some of my prior columns on the goals I wanted to accomplish and my wishes in the sports world for our local recreation, high school, college and even professional teams.

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First on my list most every year is a national championship for Notre Dame football. Last year my column came off of a frustrating and embarrassing loss to USC and the order to vacate all of their 2012-13 wins due to academic dishonesty. Ever the optimist I wrote, “But, it’s a new year, we’re looking forward with a positive attitude, and it looks like [Brian] Kelly will be back for another year at least. So with that in mind hopefully he can put a successful BCS campaign together and at least keep Notre Dame Football relevant well in to December and hopefully next year.”

The Irish WERE relevant late in to the season sitting in prime position to be in the BCS Final Four. Then losses to Miami and Stanford late eliminated any hope of BCS play. But the Irish did finish with a 10-3 season and an exciting late minutes victory over LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Not a national championship, but a far cry from the disappointing 4-8 record last year.

Difference? Check.

In the same column last year when I defended Kelly, I also “threw my support behind John Harbaugh and reluctantly I still do. The seismic meltdowns against the Redskins, Raiders, Giants, and Steelers that ultimately cost the Ravens the division title and a trip to the postseason should cost somebody their job and if it’s not Harbaugh, at a minimum Dean Pees needs to look elsewhere for his employment.”

Sound familiar?

A year later I can no longer support Harbaugh and yet another late season, late game come-from-ahead loss to a division rival under the guidance of the defensive “genius” and go in to this Wild Card Weekend having nobody to root for. Another thing I wished for was that Ozzie “drafts a top level safety or lock-down corner,” and Marlon Humphrey certainly has fit the bill this year.

Difference? Push.

The good news is that Pees has retired and we may actually focus on an offensive lineman in the draft to protect our $120 million investment (who also may need to be considered for replacement if things don’t change in 2018).

As we prepare our snacks, adult beverages, and creative excuses for calling in sick on Tuesday morning after the BCS National Championship game, I look back on last year when I, like so many other college football fans asked for an expansion of the playoff pool.

“I’d like to see the NCAA expand the Bowl Championship Series to an eight-team playoff. For the second year in a row, there’s been a fair dispute on No. 4 and No. 5 spots putting one team in to the mix and the other into the next tier bowl game, costing them millions of dollars.”

Difference? Not this year.

Make that three years in a row. Ohio State (11-2) and Wisconsin (12-1) sat just on the outside this year wondering what else, short of a perfect season, they could do to make it to the dance. The University of Central Florida (UCF) had an even better case, posting the only undefeated season in the top 25, despite sitting way back in the No. 12 slot.

They each continued to make their cases in the post season as Ohio State spanked the eighth-ranked USC 24-7, Wisconsin took out No. 10 ranked Miami 34-24, and UCF knocked off seventh-ranked Auburn in an exciting 34-27 win. Auburn has the distinction of knocking off both teams in the BCS National Championship, handing the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide their only losses of the year so far.

How hard would it be to add to one more week to the playoff season, shortening their 30-day break from competition by seven days?

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With the drop in attendance and television viewing audience in the NFL from their antics this season, the NCAA is sitting in prime position to expand next year to eight teams, generate millions of dollars in additional revenues, and have the ability to share their surplus with many other schools, not just the ones in the Power Five conferences and the couple dozen each year that actually post a profit.

What will be different as we head in to 2018?

Will my Fighting Irish make it back to the BCS Championship series in an expanded, eight-team playoff? Will the Ravens’ new defensive coordinator be able to stop the heartbreaking losses suffered over the last two years?

Whatever lies in store for us, we can look at the words of Oprah Winfrey: “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

Happy New Year!

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