J. Brady McCollough looks at the 25 biggest storylines in college football heading into the season. Is Notre Dame primed to be a national title contender?
No matter where one stands on the job Brian Kelly has done as Notre Dame’s head coach, his resume provides something for everyone.
For those who want to believe the Fighting Irish are hovering near the nation’s elite under Kelly: In his nine seasons, they have played in one national championship game (in the Bowl Championship Series) and made another College Football Playoff appearance — joining only Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Florida State and Oregon. Notre Dame has also been ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll at some point in four of the last five seasons, a sign that the Fighting Irish are more often than not good enough to create a substantial buzz.
For those who want to believe the Fighting Irish are all hype and not close to joining Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State atop the sport’s hierarchy: The two times Notre Dame got itself to the big stage, it was humiliated — 42-14 by Alabama in the 2013 BCS title game and 30-3 by Clemson in last year’s CFP semifinal played at the Cotton Bowl. And, stuck in the middle of that four-out-of-five-year run of making the AP top five, the Fighting Irish had a 4-8 stinker that was one of their worst seasons of the modern era.
Kelly has never been truly on the hot seat in South Bend, but he has also never been beloved because he hasn’t done that one thing the Irish haven’t accomplished since 1988.
Coming off an invigorating undefeated regular season in 2018 that was followed by a no-show in the playoff, 2019 sizes up as a year that will help place Notre Dame more confidently in college football’s caste system where there appears to be so few elites that can take advantage of their immense privilege.
If Notre Dame can pull off a win in one brutal road game at Georgia (Sept. 21) or at Michigan (Oct. 26) and then win at Stanford (Nov. 30) in the season finale to get to 11-1, that would likely send the Irish back to the CFP.
If the Irish lose those big road games and settle around 9-3, the fan base would once again feel deflated.
With Alabama and Clemson reloading, Notre Dame is staring at another decade going by without a national championship. Is that a Fighting Irish problem or a regional issue?
What is a reasonable expectation for a traditional Midwest power program? Ohio State is the only Midwest program with a national championship in each of the last two decades. In the 1990s, only Michigan pulled it off.
Yet, this is still Notre Dame, where there is no place for logic or acceptance. Simply showing up on stage every couple of years will never be enough, even though it probably should be.