After the Irish lost the national championship on January 7th, 2013 to the Alabama Crimson Tide by a score of 42-14, it seemed as though the Irish were lightyears away from winning their 12th national championship. While it was clear that the Tide had superior talent in that title game, the Irish were not that far from being the national champions of college football.
If Kansas State didn’t get upset by Baylor late in the season, Notre Dame would’ve played the Wildcats in the national title, a game that the Irish would’ve likely won. I also believe that the Irish would’ve won the national title against almost anyone besides either Alabama or Georgia that season. It was unfortunate for the Irish because the Alabama team that the Irish faced in the title game was probably the best team in Nick Saban’s tenure at Alabama.
Since the title game Brian Kelly has stepped up recruiting and built up a stronger depth chart.
Coach Kelly has been recruiting more players who fit his system – particularly the spread offense. He now has Mailk Zaire, Brandon Wimbush, and DeShone Kizer as his quarterbacks. All top ten dual threats coming out of high school. Nothing against Tommy Rees, but he just didn’t have the same dual threat capabilities that are so vital to running the spread offense in college football.
Notre Dame has also built an unbelievable offensive line that has dominated the trenches against almost every opponent they have faced. While the Irish defense has had a setback since the title game, I don’t believe it’s because the Irish have had less talent on defensive side of the ball. The Irish were headlined by two of the most dominant players in college football last season, Sheldon Day and Jaylon Smith. The only problem that the Irish face is staying healthy and understanding the Brian VanGorder system, something I’m hopeful VanGorder will try to adjust in the upcoming seasons.
At the beginning of this year it looked like the Irish were poised to have a run to the college football playoffs. Even Sports Illustrated had the Irish picked to go to the playoffs in its preseason magazine. But as the 6th ranked Irish faced the 12th ranked Clemson Tigers on a Saturday night in early October, they came up just 2 points short in Death Valley. A game that I feel the Irish would’ve won in South Bend or perhaps even if the Irish were playing in anything besides hurricane like conditions. To their credit, the Tigers did have to play in the same conditions and they proved to handle the rain better than the Irish.
With Notre Dame already missing several key players such as Malik Zaire, Jarron Jones, Drue Tranquill, Tarean Folston, and others the Irish still almost beat the Clemson Tigers in Death Valley, a feat that not many teams have accomplished. The Tigers would go on to beat Oklahoma in the semifinals of the college football playoffs and take Alabama to the wire in the national title game losing by just 5 points.
I know it’s Notre Dame and being happy about losing a game should never be the norm, but by comparison to other Notre Dame teams in recent history, I believe they are much closer to finally getting over the hump. If not next season it will only be a matter of time until Brian Kelly takes the Irish back to the title game.
Going back to 2014, the Irish faced the same situation at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee Florida. I’m sure it was by no accident that the ACC had the Fighting Irish traveling to the Florida State and Clemson in only their first 2 years with the league and not in fact hosting these two teams, but that is an argument for another day. The fact of the matter is the Irish had the Seminoles beat, a team who had won over 20 straight games and was coming off a national championship victory over the Auburn Tigers. The Fighting Irish went down to Florida State and went toe to toe with one of the best rosters in college football. The game could’ve went either way, but as many Irish fans have been accustomed to in recent history, it did not.
I know some people will call me biased, but I don’t think that was pass interference by the Notre Dame receiver. First of all, for anyone who watches the NFL they will see “pick plays” run quite often. In fact I’ve seen Peyton Manning use that pass play many times. Second, the Irish had already established that play earlier in the game and nothing was called. I’m assuming that the referees didn’t warn Notre Dame or the Irish would not have run that play later during the most critical point in the game.
Also, if you see the play develop in the back of the end zone in slow motion, you will find the Florida State players grabbing the Notre Dame Receivers and initiating the contact which should not be pass interference on the Irish. I understand what the referees saw, but based on everything I just mentioned they should not have called pass interference.
But back to my point, Brian Kelly will be heading in to his 7th season as the head coach of the Golden Domers, and I believe he is only getting closer to reaching his ultimate goal of winning a national championship. If it wasn’t for the injuries that were unimaginable for the Irish last season, I think they would’ve been a playoff team. Notre Dame sure had enough talent to compete with Clemson even though they were missing a substantial number of players, and that same Clemson team almost won the national title.
In order for Kelly to win a national championship at Notre Dame a few things are going to have to happen.
First off, Kelly needs to have the talent in order to compete against the most talented teams in the country. I know he has the talent because I watched the Irish go toe to toe with Clemson, Stanford, and Florida State.
Secondly he needs a dual threat quarterback that is in the Heisman talk. In his early years, Kelly had Tommy Rees as his quarterback, and with all due respect to Tommy, I think he played unbelievable for only being able to throw from the pocket and not really being a mobile quarterback. As seen in the past, the teams that can beat Alabama are the teams who have dual threat quarterbacks, Heisman type quarterbacks such as Texas A & M’s Johnny Manziel, Auburn’s Cam Newton, and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, who gave the Alabama defense everything it could handle.
There are a lot of factors that determine national champions, but I think the most important thing for next season is the health of the Irish and the location of their primetime games. Think about the biggest games of the last 2 seasons. Where were they played? Notre Dame played at Florida State, at Arizona State, at Clemson, at Temple, and at Stanford. Next year the Irish will play host to Michigan State, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Stanford. The Irish were a perfect 6-0 at home last season and most games weren’t even close.
Back to the injuries. No team can compete with as many injuries as the Irish did last season. When they got to the Fiesta Bowl, there were at least 20 players who had been injured in 2015 and that number doesn’t even include those who got injured in the actual game including the best linebacker in the country, Jaylon Smith. The Irish have the personnel to make the playoffs. They just need them to stay healthy in order to get there. I don’t know if it’s bad luck, overtraining, or poor conditioning, but I can only hope that the Irish are healthy in 2016 because I know they have the potential to make the playoffs.
The whole reason in bringing up these past few years is to let Irish fans know that the Irish are knocking on the door for the college football playoffs and challenging for a national title. I know that they have lost almost every major game the last few seasons, and I seemed to have an excuse for every game, but the fact of the matter is the Irish have the talent, coaches, and capability of claiming their first title since 1988 and adding their 12th banner sooner rather than later.