There was Bob Davie. There was Tyrone Willingham. There was Charlie Weis.
Before Brian Kelly, there were two decades separating Notre Dame from national championship contention.
Since 2012, the Fighting Irish have had three perfect regular seasons. The past four years (43-8) are as good as any such stretch the storied program has produced in six decades. They are one of five teams to make multiple appearances in the College Football Playoff.
Under Kelly, Notre Dame is the best team in the country — unless it is playing the top teams in the country.
“We’re knocking at the door every year,” Kelly said. “I don’t know why this narrative continues to pop up when we’re always in the game. No, we haven’t won a national championship. That’s correct. I’m not changing the record. But we are there every single year and we are grinding it out just like everybody else. And only one team gets to celebrate at the end of the year.”
That hasn’t been Notre Dame since 1988.
Under Kelly, the Fighting Irish have gone 1-6 against top-five opponents. Even the program’s lone such victory — a double-overtime home win over Clemson this season — was essentially negated when Trevor Lawrence returned for the rematch and led a blowout win over Notre Dame in the ACC Championship.
When No. 4 Notre Dame (10-1) arrives to the relocated Rose Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, it returns to the scene of its 30-3 playoff loss to Clemson two years ago. When the Fighting Irish line up on the field, they will see No. 1 Alabama (11-0) and Nick Saban, who embarrassed Kelly with a 42-14 national title game beatdown in their most recent encounter in 2013.
“Even after going undefeated that year, we lost in the national championship game, and we were looked at as not a very good football team,” Kelly said.
The same legacy could attach itself to Kelly’s current team, which is the biggest underdog (20 points) of the playoff era.
After building a dynasty with defense — and missing the playoff for the first time last year — Saban now has the most explosive offense of his career. The Crimson Tide have Heisman finalists in quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver DeVonta Smith, as well as fifth-place finisher Najee Harris at running back.
They average nearly 50 points per game. They win by an average of more than 30 points per game. They score before they enter the stadium.
“It’s almost like you’re not really playing the guys that Alabama has. It’s almost like you’re playing a franchise,” said Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame’s All-American linebacker. “You want to face the team that’s the best. If you say you’re the best, you want to go against the best.
“I think the number one thing is when you are getting ready for a game like this is to not focus on Alabama. You watch too much film, you’re like, ‘Hey, these dudes are amazing.’ ”
Chasing a record-setting seventh national title, Saban’s greatest concern is that his players think the same thing.
“I always tell our players that they really shouldn’t listen to what people say externally and really stay focused on what you have to do internally to be able to play your best football,” Saban said Thursday. “What other people think and say really doesn’t have anything to do with the outcome of the game. So we want to stay focused on the things that we have to do to get the proper outcome for our team, but with great respect for the team that we have to play.
“What you’ve done in the past doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going to happen in the future.”
#Notre #Dame #finally #break #College #Football #Playoff