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One Step Away: Where Notre Dame Sits on the College Football Powerhouse Tier List

By Liam Farrell|Senior Staff Writer|Twitter/X: @LiamFarrell_IT


Via Notre Dame Athletics


The college football world is ever-changing. College football relies on recruiting and reloading, as much as anything else, and through this much turmoil, it is difficult to reach the top of the college football world. There seems to be evident tiers within the game we all love, and Notre Dame is one of those programs that sits on a bubble between two tiers. Through the Brian Kelly years, it was evident that Notre Dame could not hang with the biggest giants in the college football world. It has been discussed in the past that the Fighting Irish were a quarterback away from reaching the upper echelon of college football programs; and in his short tenure, Marcus Freeman has fulfilled this weakness through high school and transfer portal recruiting. Let's break down where the Fighting Irish sit within the college football hierarchy.


Truly Dominant

Via ESPN


In today's college football world, there are only three truly dominant teams that have had sustained success over an extended period of time. The first team, who has ruled over college football for the past two years, is the Georgia Bulldogs. Kirby Smart had revolutionized the Georgia program and has given life back into a team that hadn't seen a national championship since 1980. Georgia has been dominant in all facets, having it's last regular season loss occur in 2020 against Florida. In nearly three calendar years, the Georgia Bulldogs haven't lost a regular season game. This is an unprecedented accomplishment that puts them at the top of any college football program in our current world today.


The next program that lays at the top of the pyramid is the Alabama Crimson Tide. While Alabama has had some down years of late, it should be noted that a two loss season is considered the "end of the world" for Crimson Tide fans. Nick Saban has built the biggest dynasty in college football history, and Alabama is the top tier program for sending athletes to the NFL. The most impressive thing about Coach Saban's success is the coaching carousel that occurs within the Crimson Tide facility every single year. Despite having 9 offensive coordinators over his years at Alabama, Nick Saban has produced extreme success, in addition to having his assistant coaches using Bama as a stepping stone. Some assistant coaches to Saban at Alabama include current Georgia head coach, Kirby Smart, Ole Miss HC, Lane Kiffin, Texas HC, Steve Sarkisian, and New York Giants HC, Brian Daboll. This, in turn, cements Alabama's dominant status.


The last program that has reached the truly dominant is the Ohio State Buckeyes. Ryan Day had arguably the easiest job in college football as Urban Meyer left him with an extremely polished college football program. Even with their past troubles with Michigan, which might be mitigated after the Michigan spying investigation, Ohio State is still as dominant of a program as it comes. Ohio State is the hub for the best wide receivers in all of college football, producing the talents of Marvin Harrison Jr, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. The Ohio State air raid attack is the best in college football, and on a yearly basis at the end of the season, the Buckeyes will be around, if not, in the Top 4.


Elite

Via NBC


Yes, let me save you the scrolling and put Notre Dame on top of the elite level teams, where they belong. The Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame returned the Fighting Irish to national attention, displaying three undefeated regular seasons that placed the Irish in the BCS Championship and College Football Playoff. If you take away the 2016 and 2022 seasons for Notre Dame, their win percentage is Top 7 in all of college football during those times. The narrative that Notre Dame can't win the big game is also slowly but surely changing with coach Marcus Freeman, who is getting it done on the recruiting trail as well. The talent gap was always something noticeable when Notre Dame faced off against other elite or dominant level teams; however, this gap has shrunk exponentially during Freeman's two years being the Fighting Irish head coach. As Freeman gains more experienced being a head coach, I expect the Irish to continue to vault in the direction of the program as a whole.


The next team that belongs in the elite level discussion is the Michigan Wolverines. The Wolverines are much like the Irish in the fact that they have proven to maintain regular season success, but struggle in the big game. Normally, the big game is against Ohio State, which has resulted in back-to-back Michigan victories, a truly unprecedented feat that hadn't been accomplished since 1999-2000. However, after beating their arch-nemesis, Michigan has struggled in the College Football playoff, first by getting absolutely boat raced by Georgia, and then losing to arguably one of the worst teams to ever make the CFP in TCU. Michigan's program has a good direction, and this year could potentially be the one that has Jim Harbaugh hoisting a national championship, but, Michigan is not close to being one of the dominant teams in college football. Nonetheless, the program is in a current investigation and their recent success may also be completely wiped from the history books, but that is yet to be seen.


As much as the next one pains me to say, LSU definitely belongs in the elite level for college football teams. Even though the 2019 superteam may be in the distant past, LSU is still a nationally elite level program. With head coach Brian Kelly, the LSU Tigers are in a good direction, while still struggling to win big games, which all Notre Dame fans know is Brian Kelly's Achilles heel. However, the truth of the matter is that Brian Kelly wins the games he is supposed to win, and if he can produce double-digit win seasons in the SEC, along with beating Alabama in back-to-back years, there is a lot to be excited for if you are a Bayou Bengals fan.


The last elite team may be in fact back, and yes, it is the Texas Longhorns. Texas has seen great recruiting results with new head coach Steve Sarkisian, and the Longhorns have built a great reputation within the transfer portal as well. It should be interesting to see in the coming years how the transition will be for Texas into the SEC, but the Longhorns are primed to compete on all levels. They displayed the past two seasons with their games against Alabama that they can hang with the best in college football, and with Sarkisian's generational mind, Texas has returned to elite status within college football.


Really Good

Via ESPN


At the top of the really good list is a team that is trying to return to their elite status, and that is the Florida State Seminoles. After the Willie Taggert experiment didn't go Florida State's way, they have hit the jackpot with new coach Mike Norvell, who was extended through the 2029 season. Norvell, who is beloved in Tallahassee for his extreme attention to detail and offensive mind, has also been destroying other Florida schools in recruiting. Mario Cristobal was hired by Miami to continue his success on the recruiting trail in South Florida, and Norvell even recently flipped a 5 star defensive end originally committed to the U. With exceptional recruiting efforts and success on the field, Florida State is trying to put the past losing seasons behind them and return to national relevance.


Returning to national relevance can also be said about the next team on my list: the USC Trojans. Lincoln Riley is a genius, and all Fighting Irish fans were crying for Clay Helton to be back after the Trojans beat the Irish at the end of the 2022 season. However, Riley just cannot produce in the big games for a multitude of reasons. Against Utah last year, Alex Grinch and the defense couldn't find any answers to Cam Rising who eliminated the Trojans from the CFP. This year, his probable last year with superstar Caleb Williams, Riley and the notorious Trojans' offense got outclassed by Al Golden and the Notre Dame defense. Even with all of the acquisitions in the transfer portal, USC is still a couple steps away from making it back into supreme success. It should be interesting to see how long Riley stays in Southern California, as well, and if he leaves, how will the program respond to such a loss.


The last team I am putting in this ranking for consistent success over the last couple seasons is the Oregon Ducks. I love Dan Lanning and all he is doing in Eugene. He is similar to Marcus Freeman in finding his routine in being a head coach, but is an excellent recruiter and all of his players love him. Lanning has the Ducks a couple steps away from being a true college football playoff team, but he still has to learn how to coach. He took all blame for the Washington loss by electing to go for it on 4th down late in the game that gifted the explosive Washington offense great field position. If Lanning can continue to stay hot on the recruiting trail, then the Oregon Ducks can get back to being the elite program Chip Kelly had them in a decade ago.


The Wrap-Up

Via Sports Illustrated


This is ultimately the end of my tier list for the powerhouses in college football. Nonetheless, I will note two teams that many people may think I forgot, and that is Penn State and Clemson. I believe Penn State is the ultimate, on the brink of being good, program in college football. Every year, Penn State will be hyped up to produce, but ultimately they never do. James Franklin is 1-9 all time against Ohio State, and I can't remember the last time Penn State won a big game. To me, Penn State is what everyone else sees Notre Dame as, a overrated team that can never get it done in the big moment. The Nittany Lions haven't had a team reach the College Football Playoff, and in my opinion, this puts them in the rest tier. For Clemson, this might be the end of the Dabo Sweeney era. The Tigers have lost the defensive backbone in Brett Venables, and in turn, the Tigers have truly suffered. Venables departure to Oklahoma also had the Sooners knocking on the door of returning to being a notable college football program. What schools do you think I missed? Where did I go wrong? Please let me know in the comments below.

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