2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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2 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW C onstructing a pre- v i ew m a g a z i n e like this without regularly injecting the "C" word — COVID-19 or coronavirus — was an interesting challenge. Whether it was pre- viewing the opposition (if the games were going to be played at all), look- ing toward the future or assessing the current po- sition groups, the global pa ndem ic rema i ns a specter that looms over the 2020 season. This too shall pass s o m e d ay, h o p ef u l ly sooner than later. W hat does remain in the advent of a new decade in the 2020s is Notre Dame continu- ing the momentum built on the past three years while establishing itself in the second tier, top-six to top-15 grouping of college football. Per Wikipedia, the 33-6 mark the past three years enabled the Fighting Irish to finish No. 14 overall in the current 130-team Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) with a .713 winning percentage (92-37) for the 2010-19 decade that was completed. It was just behind Oklahoma State's .715 (93-37) while ahead of No. 15 Michigan State's .697 (92-40). And no, I am not tak- ing into account 21 "vacated" victories from 2012-13, which is another column for an- other time. It was a decade of making inroads from the 2000-09 debacle when Notre Dame was 70-52 — No. 40 in the FBS with three losing seasons, two .500 finishes and no campaign with less than three defeats. Believe it or not, the winning percentage from the 2010-19 decade was even better than the entire 1990s (.703, No. 13 overall) and 1980s (.658, No. 30), a time we reflect back on as "the glory days." But that's because after about seven years of tumult and setbacks, the 1988 national title (the most recent at the school) provided the ultimate rapture. If a Notre Dame follower had a choice between having a 10-year period with a .650 winning percentage overall but one national title, or a .850 winning percentage with no championship, my guess is the former would be the popular choice. Just one title carries through a lifetime. Many times through the years I've stated that one doesn't truly become the Notre Dame head coach until an 11-2 record (or 9-2 back in the day) is perceived more as unfulfilling or frustrating than celebratory. Brian Kelly has been reaching that point the past several years, which is a positive. Tremendous advances within the infra- structure, from training table/nutrition to sports science technology occurred during the past decade, and Notre Dame became a more willing participant in the arms race that is college football. The "C" word there under the leadership of director of athletics Jack Swarbrick was "commitment" in resources and finances. The 2020s now turn to other C words such as "consistent contention," and then the ultimate: championship. By the time the calendar flips to 2030, will there be a new national title banner hanging inside Notre Dame Stadium? Can Notre Dame ever again win a football national title in a landscape that has been altered in recent decades, with a greater bent toward the South? While the progress from the past three years has been encouraging, still looming as the negative is the inability to break through with needle-moving victories that elevate Notre Dame beyond the top-six to top-15 stature that it shares or rotates with schools such as Oregon, Florida, Penn State, Michi- gan, Auburn, Wisconsin and Texas, plus oth- ers that have their moments here and there, e.g., F lor id a St at e winning the 2013 na- tional title, Michigan State advancing to the College Football Play- off in 2015, Washing- ton doing the same in 2016, TCU going 13-0 in 2010, etc. … The Fighting Irish have evolved into a ver y good footba ll program the past three years, but still aspir- ing for that first-tier level that in the 70 seasons from 1919-88 was credited with 13 national titles, or one per every five to six years. A prime example is comparing the 33-6 mark from 2017-19 with the other time Notre Dame won 33 games over three years — 33-4 from 1988-90. During that three-year cycle in 1988-90, the Fighting Irish recorded an astounding 10 victories against teams that finished in the Associated Press top 10. Conversely, the 2017-19 Notre Dame units have zero such conquests. The lone 2019 victory versus a team that finished ranked was versus No. 20 Navy, a valiant unit that is perennially outmatched by the Irish in overall football skill level. This is not to mitigate the fine achieve- ments since 2017, but to bring to light just how much consistent excellence and domi- nance is required to elevate to the first tier. Reigning national champ LSU posted five such wins in 2019 versus the teams that fin- ished No. 2, No. 4, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8, plus a 23-20 victory over Auburn, which placed No. 14. Notre Dame has recruited at a consistent top-10 to top-15 level and developed its tal- ent, but can it ever again more consistently bring in top-five hauls that Kelly stated in December he believes are more possible? The overall operation is in a better place entering 2020 than it was in 2010. Where will it go from here, or by 2030? Such an inquiry looms even more over the long run. ✦ MOVING FORWARD IN 2020, AND BEYOND THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Notre Dame enters the new decade fully committed in its pursuit of "consistent contention" and is looking to break through the upper echelon of college football to reach its ultimate goal: a national championship. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at lsomogyi@blueandgold.com

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