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Does Brian Kelly have Notre Dame on the verge of contending for a national title?
Notre Dame is 3-0 and ranked among the top 15 teams in the nation. After a win at Michigan State, the Irish are in position to make a run at a BCS bid. However, can the Irish start to think about a national title berth? A tough schedule that features games against Oklahoma, USC and Stanford will test this team, but does Notre Dame have the personnel to go 12-0?
Is Notre Dame a National Title Contender?
Coach Bill Mallory, former head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
I’ve got a son a Curt Mallory who is the secondary coach at Michigan. He feels they’re definitely improved from last year. And I’ve been watching them get better, too. They’ve been very good on defense. They’re more sound. They’re better balanced with the run and the pass. It’s more complete. They’re better against the run and the pass. I see more maturity there. To me it looks like a sounder defense. That was very evident last week. They really shut Michigan State down. Going into the season, we [the Legends Poll] felt Michigan State was the best team in the Big Ten. I would rank Notre Dame now around 15th in the country. I don’t feel that strong about being a top 10 team. They’re going with the young quarterback. That offense will get better as the season goes along. It’s a team that has to be watched. I’d think they have makings of being a very good football.
David Fox (@DavidFox615):
A BCS contender, maybe. A national championship contender, not yet. Don’t get me wrong, the Michigan State win was a notable feat -- no turnovers against that defense, holding the Spartans to a field goal on the road. But we still don’t know how Notre Dame will fare against an elite passer, not when the Irish has faced Caleb TerBush and Andrew Maxwell. Road trips to face Landry Jones and Matt Barkley are on a brutal schedule. The Michigan State win is to be applauded for sure, but it’s going to be tough to win many games if Notre Dame continues to convert only 1 of 14 third downs. There’s reason to be optimistic, but not enough to start feeling confident about a big bowl game, much less a national title.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall):
No, Notre Dame isn't a national title contender. At least, no yet. Quarterback play has been this team's undoing for years and I am not sure Brian Kelly has plugged that leak entirely. I'm a huge fan of Everett Golson and think he has a chance to be a perfect fit for Kelly's spread offense, but he will make a couple of key mistakes along the way because that is what freshman do. The defense is downright nasty and few teams will be able to run the ball against them, which gives ND an intriguing Xs and Os match-up against, say, an SEC champ. Or Oregon. But the schedule seems too difficult for the Irish to finish the season unblemished — something they would likely have to do to be in the national title game. Is Notre Dame back, however? It certainly seems that way.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven):
I don’t think Notre Dame is ready to challenge for a national title this season, but it can certainly make a BCS bowl. The Fighting Irish are clearly headed in the right direction, spearheaded by a defense that has allowed just 30 points through three games and is generating 3.7 sacks a game. Redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson will only get better with more playing time, especially as some of the young receivers in the program (DaVaris Daniels, Davonte’ Neal and Chris Brown) have a chance to pickup Brian Kelly’s system. While the early results for Notre Dame are promising, a schedule that features games against Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma and USC is simply too much to navigate for a national title this year. However, Kelly is the right coach and will have the Irish in the mix for an at-large BCS bid this year.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch):
No. The Fighting Irish are better than they were a year ago and are showing signs of returning to elite status, but I’m not ready to put them in national championship race. This team is still limited offensively — though Everett Golson is showing a lot of positive signs at quarterback — and the secondary will be an issue when Notre Dame meets a team with a legitimate passing attack. You have to be impressed with the Irish’s performance at Michigan State on Saturday night, but they are not quite ready to beat teams like Alabama, LSU or Oregon.
As long as the Fighting Irish keep winning, they will be in the discussion as a national title contender. Because of its schedule, Notre Dame is in the best position of any non-BCS conference school to crash the party, if you will, and steal a spot in the national championship game from an ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC school, although it will be difficult. That said, Notre Dame will certainly get plenty of opportunities to state its case. Starting with this Saturday's tilt with Michigan, Notre Dame has games remaining against teams from every BCS conference with the exception of the SEC. Besides the Wolverines, these games include road games at Oklahoma and USC, along with a home date against Stanford. Those are four opportunities at signature victories that the Irish must capitalize on if they want to remain in the discussion. If they can come up big when the spotlight is on, such as they did in beating Michigan State in East Lansing last Saturday night, both the voters and computers will have to give Brian Kelly's team its due. The onus, however, is also on the Fighting Irish, who can't afford any slip ups against its other remaining opponents, which include Miami (Fla.), Brigham Young and Pittsburgh. One of the unique things about college football, at least until the new playoff system starts in 2014, is that the regular season really does matter as it's No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the end. That's even more true for Notre Dame as the Irish don't have a conference championship game to support its win total or body of work when it comes to the BCS standings. If Notre Dame runs the table and finishes 12-0, I think it will be very difficult, but not impossible by any means as we have seen, to not present the Irish with a shot at their 14th national title.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):
I do not see Notre Dame as part of the BCS title conversation yet, but Brian Kelly does have the Fighting Irish program headed back towards elite status. The ND schedule still has many tough opponents, but Bob Diaco’s defense should keep the Irish in most games. However to put Notre Dame in the national championship hunt, I will need to see a little more explosiveness on offense and the secondary hold up against a solid passing attack. Redshirt freshman Everett Golson seems to be the answer at quarterback, but there is immense room for growth with both him and the receivers. Oklahoma and USC will challenge ND’s inexperienced corners, and the loss of senior safety Jamoris Slaughter is significant. Michigan and Stanford will also be challenging, but Notre Dame fans should be pleased with the current momentum after dominating Michigan State.
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