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Is Notre Dame Elite? Yes...But Also No, Here's Why

By: Patrick Byrne | Writer | Twitter: @PatrickByrneIT

Photo Courtesy: Associated Press


I was recently having a conversation with my brother, an equally die hard Notre Dame fan, on whether Notre Dame could be considered one of the elite teams in college football. Mind you, this has nothing to do with the brand itself, there can be no doubt that Notre Dame continues to be an elite (if not THE elite) brand in the sport. You need only look to the chatter of conference realignment, ticket prices of away games in other stadiums, etc. The brand cannot be questioned, but I'm talking about the team itself. What makes a college football team elite and what doesn't? To me, there are 3 components to whether a team can be considered elite:

  1. Brand

  2. Wins/Losses

  3. National Championships

Let's take a look at each one as they relate to Notre Dame so we can make a determination on whether the Irish are considered an elite team by the rest of college football fans.


Brand

You either love them or hate them, that's always been the calling card for Notre Dame. This remains true today. i will say the hatred has subsided a bit due to the fact the Irish haven't done anything "relevant" over the past 25+ years, but it's still alive and well, I have enough mental scarring to prove it.


As mentioned above, the Notre Dame brand is unlike any other in college football. All Irish fans will tell you this, which may explain the hatred part. What other team could partially join a conference, help lay the groundwork for playoff expansion and be the poster child for independence while all other teams are scrambling for conference positioning? Notre Dame provided the foundation for other teams to follow regarding TV coverage while remaining steadfast to their beliefs that student athletes should actually be educated at the school they attend. Again, what other school would have this much pull, power or ability? There isn't one, which brings us back to the love them or hate them discussion. If you're a Notre Dame fan, you revel in all of the things I've just mentioned. If you're not, you hate them for it. There is no in-between.

Final Answer: Elite


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Wins/Losses

If you had asked me this question 30 years ago, I would've waffled considering the 90's and early 2000's produced 5 seasons of 10 or more wins with 9 consecutive bowl losses sprinkled in for good measure (thank you Jimmy Clausen, we'll always have the Hawaii Bowl). Take a look at how far the Irish have come in the last 30 years:


ND Football Overall Record:

- 1992 - 2002: 79-38-2/66% win percentage/2 losing seasons

- 2003 - 2011: 62-50/55% win percentage/2 losing seasons

- 2012 - 2022: 106-35/75% win percentage/1 losing season


Now, what does this tell us? It tells me we should all still be thanking Brian Kelly for restoring the program and ensuring we didn't go the way of Nebraska or Miami. I realize that's hard to swallow, but he is the reason we're even having the conversation of whether Notre Dame is elite or not. Looking at the numbers, it's hard to define Notre Dame as an elite program based on wins and losses. Sure, they've joined the conversation over the past 10-12 years and for that we're all grateful, but the reality is, they haven't been able to win a playoff game let alone win a national championship. This view also reminds me of how dismal the seasons were from 1994 - 2009. Let's look at some of the "highlights" or low lights:


- 1994: Fiesta Bowl loss to FSU (after finishing the season 6-4-1)

- 2000: Demolished 41-9 in Fiesta Bowl vs. Oregon State

- 2003: Gator Bowl loss to NC State (28-3)

- 2006: Crushed in Sugar Bowl by LSU, 41-14

- 9 seasons with 5 or more losses

- Highest end of season ranking: 9 (2005)

- Top ten finishes: 1


Photo Courtesy: One Foot Down


Wow, that was not a fun trip down memory lane. I'm not trying to depress you out there Mr or Mrs Irish fan, I'm simply attempting to explain how far down we were and how far we've come. Compare what I have above to the years 2010 - 2022:


- 2012: National Championship loss to Alabama, 42-12

- 2018: Playoff loss to Clemson, 30-3

- 2020: Playoff loss to Alabama, 31-14

- Highest end of season ranking: 4 (2012)

- Top ten finishes: 4


I realize the national championship and playoff losses still sting; however, the positives far outweigh the negatives during this time frame, especially considering all 3 losses were to the eventual national champion. The coaches and administration have done a great job getting Notre Dame back on solid football over the past 12+ years, but without a playoff or New Years Six bowl win in their pocket, it's hard to make an argument that Notre Dame is an elite team.

Final Answer: Not Elite


National Championships

In order to be considered elite in any sport, you have to win it all. Unfortunately, Notre Dame hasn't been able to win that elusive national championship and the odds are stacked against them in the future given the current NIL rules and ability for already great teams to reload via the transfer portal. It doesn't mean Notre Dame can't win it all, it's simply harder now then ever before. Consider the teams that have won a national championship since 2000:


- Alabama (6)

- Georgia (2)

- Clemson (2)

- Ohio State (2)

- Florida (2)

- USC (1 outright, 1 shared)

- LSU (2 outright, 1 shared)

- Texas (1)

- FSU (1)

- Auburn (1)

- Oklahoma (1)

- Miami (1)


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You of course cannot question Alabama as the best team of the past 20+ years, they're perhaps the best dynasty in the history of the sport. Georgia is closing in on them while Clemson has fallen off a bit over the past few years. There's of course a reason Brian Kelly left for LSU given their ability to win the title while Southern Cal had their success in the early 2000s. It's always amazing to me that Ohio State has "only" won 2 national championships given their ability to recruit and the amount of money and resources they spend on their program, while Oklahoma won theirs in Bob Stoops' second year.


So, where does this leave Notre Dame? Out of luck unfortunately in this conversation. Even Miami, Texas, Auburn and FSU, none of which i would consider elite at the moment, have national championships. We already knew the answer to this question before I started. Notre Dame cannot be considered one of the elite teams in college football without a national championship under their belt. Even if they had 1, given their success over the past 10+ years, I could make an argument for their inclusion. Without it, I'd have to say no.

Final Answer: Not Elite


There we have it. In 2 of the categories, Notre Dame is not an elite team in college football? Depressed? Don't be. We're in the same category as most other fans in the sport. The difference is, the brand is alive and well and the Irish have found their winning ways over the past 10-12 years. Enjoy it, because as we've established looking back at the mid 90s and early 2000s, it could be a whole lot worse. Yes, a loss to Marshall last year stung, but not nearly as much as a 3-9 year or getting blown out by Oregon State in the Insight.Com Bowl. Rest assured Irish fan, Marcus Freeman has your back, he has the energy, enthusiasm and relationship skills to bring that elusive national championship home to South Bend.


Then, and only then, can Notre Dame join the ranks of the elite for more than simply the pretty logo on their jerseys.

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