The Notre Dame football outlook for 2016 season. The Fighting Irish were close to getting into the College Football Playoff last year, and they might be that good again.
So really, what would’ve happened?
What would’ve happened if Notre Dame had been able to hold on late against Stanford, Conrad Ukropina missed his legendary kick, and it was an 11-1 season instead of 10-2?
Forgetting for a moment that the College Football Playoff committee has the power to pick the four best teams no matter what – and that going 10-2 with the way the Irish’s two losses happened could’ve been taken into account – they really might have been one field goal away from having one terrific case to get in.
Play it out. Notre Dame beats Stanford in Palo Alto to finish 11-1. That means it would’ve beaten the Pac-12 champion in its own house, and the lone loss would’ve come against unquestioned CFP No. 1 Clemson on a missed two-point conversion in Death Valley. Throw in the 38-3 obliteration of a Texas team that beat Big 12 champion Oklahoma, and the committee might have had no real choice but to put Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl over the Sooners.
The rest of the schedule wasn’t exactly a killer, and Ohio State ended up exposing the Irish in the Fiesta Bowl, but at least last season showed that the path is there. It really might be possible to not be perfect and still get into the College Football Playoff as an independent.
12-0 is always going to result in an invite into the fun, and 11-1 makes it a discussion.
Even with a slew of key personnel losses, Notre Dame might be able to get that conversation started again.
Head coach Brian Kelly has been around long enough – this is his eighth season in South Bend – to make this his program. The 2013 BCS Championship appearance bought him time, and he’s keeping the program relevant and close to being special, but this might turn out to be a key season with 22 losses in the five years outside of the 12-1 2012 campaign.
Kelly won’t get fired with a bad year, but the schedule isn’t all that bad and the talent is there to make another run at a great record.
Considering last year’s team came so close to being in the dance despite having to play its third-string quarterback – if you want to count Everett Golson one of the team’s top two options before transferring – and after losing RB Tarean Folston to an early injury, then this year’s team shouldn’t have any complaints.
The receiving corps needs to uncover a few new options, but it’s not going to be all that bad. The line will be solid again, and the backfield is deep and plenty talented. Considering the type of offensive mind Kelly is, he’s got more than enough to work with.
The other side loses Jaylon Smith, but he wouldn’t have been able to play this season even if he came back. The line has replacements for the lost parts, the corner situation is sound, and the overall talent is good enough to avoid getting into shootouts.
So is it possible? Can Kelly really get Notre Dame to 11-1? Probably not – there are just enough 50/50 games against Texas, Michigan State, USC, Stanford and Miami, along with interesting landmines against Syracuse and NC State on the road and at home against Virginia Tech to potentially lose two of them – but it’s not crazy. And that’s Notre Dame’s biggest positive.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a conference and win its championship to get in.
Keep on cranking out good teams, keep getting close, and eventually everything breaks right. That doesn’t mean that Notre Dame is good enough to actually win the national title once it gets into the CFP, but being back in the land of the extremely good isn’t a bad place to be.