Does Notre Dame Have the Talent to Win a National Title?

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.

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  1. What kind of coach keeps around a DC that gave up 690 points in two seasons? I think the only reason he keeps hi around is as a stepping stone to the pros. This is a tragedy for all true Domers. It’s not mediocrity, it’s incompetence bordering on ….

  2. So , let’s move on to 2016 with all due respect to posters. The “Debbie Downer SNL reruns” have been running rampant since loss in Fiesta Bowl. Down , Down , Down we go. Academics , lack of 5 star recruits , fire Kelly , fire BVG , no Title since ’88 , don’t play in major bowl games cause “boo-hoo” we might lose. All opinions welcomed. Funny though , how some these posters only flood UHND after season is over. I like the game to game comments–pro/con on each game. These guys know ND football. Not the “Johnny come lately’s” after season is over.

  3. Woulda, coulda, shoulda! if this if that, sounds like excuses from a rabid Irish fan. Hey, I’m as crazy and irish fan as the next guy but reality is they just weren’t gott enough to get the job done. There is no way ND beats Alabama in the championship game! No way! Losing to Clemson what can you say. They lost for whatever reason. Don’t blame the weather. The penalty against FSU was a joke but they still lost. the fact remains that those teams were just a little better than the Irish. Kelly needs to stockpile top recruits, like he’s done at QB and coach his ass off. VanGorder needs to simplify the defense just a little. Will they ever have enough power to be Alabama, I doubt it, not with Saban there. FSU & Clemson totally beatable. With a small touch of Leprechaun Luck and Divine Intervention a championship could certainly be in the future! GO IRISH!!

  4. Nemesis, very succinct. I agree on every point. I’m still a BK fan, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. And agree on BVG. Despite that many fans want him gone now, it was only his 2nd year. I still think there is potential there, and I like his intensity, but he definitely needs to do a better job. If we are still talking about the same problems after next season, then it’s time to move on. Also agree with 6. I do think there are things they can do and still maintain their emphasis on education.

  5. It certainly was a nice article.

    1- recruit even more talent, 2- increase depth with talent, 3- BVG gone if this year’s D does not show SIGNIFICANT improvement, 4- BETTER COACHING and organization, 5- start winning the meaningful games, 6- consider adjusting some admission standards with flexibility on a case by case basis for some potential student athletes who could both benefit ND & be benefitted by a ND education that might be borderline normally from an admission point of view.

  6. Articles like this are exactly why ND is so hated. The ND bias is sickening. Yes the talent is better than it has been but ND is nowhere near where it needs to be.

  7. I see a great season ahead. Lost some marquee players — but up-coming Juniors/Seniors—maturing into college football players are going be really good. In addition are a few freshmen coming to the forefront on D. So much negative talk on BVG ‘s D—is warranted. I agree with it. But , fact is he’s here for 2016 season. What I see for 2016 is one of the best Defensive units ever assembled at ND. Despite loss of Jaylon Smith. Your going to see a line-backing core across the board —make up for a Jaylon Smith’s 14 tackles per game on his own. Your going to see a front four across the board make up for a one Sheldon Day. Your going to see a secondary led by a mature Max Redfield—-he’s back and he will be good. I can’t wait for season to start. Schedule is tough. I believe third game is against Michigan State—turning point early as to where Irish are headed.

  8. I honestly don’t see it happening any time soon. And I have no problem with a mobile quarterback. As long as he isn’t a run first quarterback like the ones mentioned in the article. With our offensive line, and weapons on offensive, your quarterback shouldn’t need to run that much. I completely think what it boils down to is kids spending more time in the gym and honing there talents, and a lot less time in the classroom or the books. How many of the 5 star athletes are also honor students? Its getting a bit bothersome to watch the ND staff and media try to sell the excitement in a list of 3 star guys. I understand that some find their groove, but without bringing in some top talent, a national championship won’t be coming any time soon. Even if they find their way into the playoff, they will be there playing against the 4 and 5 stars they let get away.

  9. I don’t believe ND’s administration or their AD need, or even care, to win a national championship. It’s not gonna change the millions in revenue they get from TV rights, ticket sales and ND logoed jerseys and the like. A NC may garner a few extra bucks from alums with large checkbooks. But again, that’s not sustainable. No, they just want a clean program with a ‘white shoe’ head coach who will not cut corners to advance his own interests. It appears that’s the case with our AD and HC (recruiting bus not withstanding). Our NC hopes died when Lou could not get the administration to act quickly enough to admit the one talent that would have probably led to more NC’s under Holtz’s reign. Lou lost the battle to get Randy Moss admitted. It cost us his AD, his Recruiting Coordinator and eventually Holtz himself. End of story. So the admin looks at the past 28 years and thinks…we’re not the worst for wear…let’s just keep the status quo. Clean image, clean program, near misses. It’s working for them…just not for us.

  10. I do agree with SFR here. I think ND can afford to do a little self analysis about what worked in the past and are there things they can do today to make them more competitive.

    That doesn’t mean they have to sacrifice their soul to the altar of being an NFL development team. Academics can, and should still be the priority. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things they can do to be more successful on getting and retaining recruits. As SFR noted, this was done during the Holtz years, and ND was still a premier academic institution.

    Now, if a recruit solely wants to go to college simply as a jumping point to the NFL or NBA, then ND is not the school for that person. There’s nothing wrong with that being a goal, but that can’t be the only goal, IMHO.

  11. d-line quality AND depth. our o-line recruiting is excellent but isn’t even close as good on the d-line. i liked that we switched tillery to d. maybe need to do more of that with guys that are buried on depth chart but were 4 star maulers. especially interior d.

  12. When the defensive performance equals or approaches the high output offensive performance, we will be in the NC hunt, not before

  13. Nothing breeds success like success.

    We will be successful (NC-ful) once we provide game-time support to the “titty-propping”, “frazzled brained” guy we call our DC, VanNo. It’s coming…and soon. I think EVEN Kelly knows it now.

  14. This team will be decided by the defense. The offense has skill at every position. The defense held team 127 back and needs to see major improvement. Not picking on these players at all but Joe and his limited athletic ability is gone. Keivare and the stress fracture he played with all season is gone. Elijah and his confusion is gone. This is addition by subtraction in my opinion. Losing Sheldon and Jaylon’s individual brilliance will hurt but overall i think the unit improves. Jarron, Cole, James, Max, Isaac will all be seniors and that experience may help bridge the gap over losing Sheldon and Jaylon’s individual brilliance.

  15. ND has come a long way. Let’s not forget where they were with Weis and White a few years ago. They’ve upgraded the stadium, put themselves in a better position scheduling wise by dumping Big 10 demands (playing State, Michigan and Purdue the first 4 games every year), improved player development (training table) and clearly entered the 21st century in the past few years. They’re not recruiting like Bama but no one is. They recruit positions of need and player development has been superb (Fuller, Prosise). The 2 glaring issues have been defense and injuries. If the Irish can figure out those problems, they will win more and recruit with the best and compete at any level IMO. 2 huge problems to be sure but the program is undeniably moving in the right direction. Go Irish!

  16. Hello, Bob,

    I think you seriously underestimate how much the landscape of college football has changed in the last 30 years. ND had its pick of the crop, regardless of academic standards, over the decades. That’s simply no longer so. Now, ND’s academics are used against it by schools that at one point would’ve not even been in ND’s league to compete for the same caliber athlete. Conference realignments and expansions, increased TV monies, scholarship reductions, etc. have all changed the rules of the game and they haven’t favored ND.

    Moreover, Bob, under Lou the ND administration was more flexible. Standards weren’t sacrificed but they were most certainly (selectively) adjusted. What a coincidence that this increased admissions flexibility coincided with the last time ND was recruiting elite athletes, and, lo and behold, winning and competing for national titles. But I guess all that’s simply circumstantial.

    ND’s administration needs to wake up and realize that while it hasn’t yet killed the goose that lays the golden eggs, it’s preparing the pot. Keep this up and pretty soon ND will be nothing more like NW or Vandy or Wake with a longer football heritage. Just like Chicago, Yale, Princeton, etc. Football powerhouses yesterday.

    Go Irish!

  17. I think they’re a little ways off yet. Notre Dame hasn’t been picking up three or four of the top 25 recruits every year the way the perennial contenders have. Maybe the way in is to keep polishing up diamonds in the rough the way they have been for the last few years to go along with the top recruits that manage to live up to their potential. I don’t believe that you have to have as many 5-star recruits as Alabama does to win it, but they help. If you get three or four of them and a couple work out, then you are a perennial contender.

    All of the stuff about Notre Dame’s more stringent academic requirements making it impossible to recruit the way the top schools do is so much Blarney in my opinion. They have always had stringent athletic requirements, and they were quite capable of picking up as many or more top players as anyone until the recent past (meaning the last 25 years; I must be getting old). I think the problem is more that it will take a bit more time before we live down the old message of mediocrity that we spent 20 years sending. Kelly and Co. are doing a good job of that, and we are beginning to look as attractive as any top school to the top recruits. The fact that our recent players have been doing well in the pros is important, and will continue so to be. As Kelly says, we’re going to keep knocking on the (national championship) door, and the louder we knock, the more interested recruits are going to be.

  18. In addition to the points made in the article, it will be imperative for Coach Kelly to have the team ready to go from the opening whistle. We can’t be two touchdowns behind 6 mins into the game against teams like Clemson or tOSU.

  19. Not until all schools are on a level playing field, everyone follows
    the roles and all recruits have the mentality to attend college. Schools like ND. Duke, Northwestern and a few others are and always will be at a disadvantage.. …Stanford used to be included,, but changed when MR. Michigan was there.

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