Preview 2017: Notre Dame Won’t Win The National Title. Then What?
Previewing and looking ahead at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish season – and what you need to know.
Notre Dame isn’t going to win the national title this season.
But you knew that already.
Head coach Brian Kelly might have taken the 2012 team to one national title game, and came within a long Stanford field goal of taking the 2015 squad to the College Football Playoff, but is that good enough?
Kelly is now 59-31 in his seven tumultuous years at the helm, and he’s only managed to lose fewer than three games once.
So what do you do if you’re Notre Dame?
For some moronic reason, the school didn’t learn the bad paper lesson from the Charlie Weis contract, giving Kelly an extension through 2021 – effectively bidding against itself after the 2016 season. Coin isn’t a big deal to the program that can use its pocket change to pay off coaches to leave, but it’s still a factor.
How did that work out? The Irish went 4-8 last season in a puzzling clunker when nothing seemed to break the right way.
Embattled, Kelly came up with the last act of a coach clinging on to his job. He brought in two new coordinators – to be fair and correct, offensive coordinator Mike Sanford left to take the Western Kentucky head coaching gig – and now he has to hope for a new mindset. A new attitude. A new wave of luck in a bounceback year.
But even if it is, if you’re a Notre Dame fan, is 10-3 going to be good enough? Is not being in the national title mix going to matter if the team is better?
The Irish probably aren’t going to make the College Football Playoff, either, and it’s not because they won’t be good.
The 2017 team will be a whole lot better than the 2016 disaster, but not nearly as terrific as the 2015 version – that was probably Brian Kelly’s best squad – or the 2012 one that got to the BCS Championship.
And that means at least three losses.
It’ll partly be due to the schedule. Notre Dame always challenges itself, but this is silly, with 11 of its 12 games against teams that went bowling last season. That 12th game? At Michigan State.
There’s a date with a conference champ (Temple) and another against the team that lost to that conference champ (Navy). There’s a battle against a Rose Bowl champion (USC), two resurgent superstars (Georgia and at Miami), and one against a team that’s probably the best in the Pac-12 (Stanford), if it’s not that defending Rose Bowl champ.
And that doesn’t include trips to North Carolina, Boston College and Michigan State, and home battles against Wake Forest and NC State.
To get philosophical, if Kelly wins ten games against this slate, how do you let him go? If he wins ten games and doesn’t get to the College Football Playoff, how do you not try to move on and find a guy who can win at least 11 games and get into the CFP?
Forgetting about the other issues, deaths, debacles and controversies that occurred while he was the head man, doesn’t Notre Dame need a head coach who’ll be in the national title chase on a regular basis?
Of course, the Notre Dame brand name doesn’t mean what it did ten, twenty years ago, but it’s still the international college football program with its own world, it’s own TV deal, and a fan base unlike any other.
It should be better than 59-31 in a seven year span.
But, at the very least, this year’s team should be better. New offensive coordinator Chip Long will ramp up the tempo, and he’s got some great pieces to work with, inheriting a terrific line, some talented No. 1 skill stars, and a quarterback in Brandon Wimbush who should fit the O to a T.
New defensive coordinator Mike Elko should do wonders for a woeful pass rush, but he needs the playmakers to rise up around killer linebacker Nyles Morgan and hybrid safety Drue Tranquill.
With the changes, and with the improvements, as long as Notre Dame comes up with a few big, nationally-splashy wins – like over USC, or at Miami, or against Georgia – it might be enough to satisfy everyone in a stepping-stone season to a possible bigger 2018 under Kelly.
Not to ruin the surprise, but that team isn’t going to win the national title, either.