Notre Dame football has one of the biggest national brands in the country. But Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples pumped the breaks Monday about placing the same expectations on the Fighting Irish as Alabama, Ohio State and other national brands.
In his latest mailbag story at Sports Illustrated, Staples argued it’s ‘unrealistic’ to expect Notre Dame to win 10 games each and every season.
“If you’re a Notre Dame fan and you’re requiring at least 10 wins a season to be pleased with your football program, you are setting yourself up for disappointment,” he wrote.
Staples went on to explain that although the Irish have the big national brand, recruiting is so much easier when there are more recruits within driving distance of campus. He argued Notre Dame doesn’t have that advantage.
While the 4–8 record Notre Dame posted in 2016 is unacceptable under any circumstances, the difficulty of the job relative to the Alabamas, Ohio States and Clemsons should provide a slight grading curve. I realize this is an ironic choice of words because Notre Dame’s classroom grading policies, stricter honor code and lack of an Underwater Basketweaving major* are some of the reasons why it’s tougher to win there than it is at the schools mentioned above. Another major reason is a lack of a local recruiting base. No program has a stronger national reach than Notre Dame, but that still doesn’t make recruiting nationally easy. It’s still much easier to have hundreds of quality prospects within driving distance.
*I’m not sure how we managed to settle on “Underwater Basketweaving” as code for an easy major. Weaving baskets while underwater sounds quite difficult.
A reasonable expectation for Notre Dame is a season approaching double-digit wins in most years with the occasional run at playoff contention. That means a four-year mark that looks something like this: 9–4, 10–3, 8–5, 11–2. Ten wins every season is unreasonable at most places. Alabama and Ohio State might be the only places that can reasonably expect it no matter the coach. Georgia and Clemson may be on the way to joining that group. Florida State, Penn State and USC could play their way back onto that list. But it will always be a short list. And given the way college football has changed over the past 30 years, Notre Dame doesn’t belong on it.
One of the keys to happiness in college football is understanding the realistic expectations for your favorite program. For Notre Dame, a minimum of 10 wins a season is an unfair standard.
If those are the expectations, then coach Brian Kelly and the Irish are doing quite well. With the exception of the 4-8 season in 2016, Notre Dame has won at least eight games every season under Kelly since he took over in 2010. This past season was the third time in the last eight years the Irish reached double-digit wins.
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