Notre Dame Football Monday Musings: Are the Irish Serious Title Contenders?

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01: Brandon Wimbush
ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01: Brandon Wimbush /

The time of year has come for fan bases ripe with optimism to ask their favorite question: Is my favorite college football team a National Championship contender? What are the chances for Notre Dame football?

After a 4-8 season that nearly got Brian Kelly fired, the Notre Dame football team went on an improbable run in 2017. Though the Irish limped to the finish line in 2017, there is cause for optimism at the start of 2018.

The Irish return plenty from a season that came up just short. They also add a plethora of young talent to fill in holes from last season. In short, the Irish have plenty of room for optimism. But is that optimism well-founded?

Do the Irish have what it takes to become a National Championship contender?

Before attempting to answer the question, it is important to establish a definition of what constitutes a title contender. For all intents and purposes, the Irish contended last season. In fact, there have been multiple times that the Irish have been in contention, but came up just short. It’s a fate that the Irish know all too well.

For the Irish, “contention” can only have one definition: A place in the College Football Playoff. For the Irish, the only way they can be considered a contender is a seat at the table of the playoff.

The answer to the overwhelming question is difficult to answer, mostly because the answer isn’t black and white. The most honest answer to the question is this: The Irish have a tremendously challenging uphill climb if they want to make the College Football Playoff.

Reasons for optimism

As mentioned, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. A talented roster is reason number one that the Irish can compete. The Irish return nine starters on a defense that took great strides under Mike Elko and Clark Lea intends to pick up where Elko left off.

Adding to the mix, the Irish added freshmen safeties Houston Griffith and Derrik Allen, while Navy transfer Alohi Gillman gains eligibility after sitting out last season. These safeties will help bolster a position group that was Notre Dame’s weakest last season.

On offense, Brandon Wimbush returns to lead an offense that showed signs of explosiveness last season. Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool, Alize Mack, Chris Finke, and a large array of complimentary receivers provide the Irish with a vast array of playmakers an offense needs to be successful. With Wimbush’s confidence soaring, Notre Dame’s passing attack could take off next season.

What’s working against the Irish?

But it’s not just talent that helps a team to get to the biggest stage. To win a National Championship, teams must combine talent with good fortune. With the way this season has been planned, the Irish will have to be very fortunate.

The truth is this: The Irish have done themselves no favors in their pursuit of a title berth.

Notre Dame’s schedule is an absolute gauntlet, highlighted by games against Michigan, Stanford, at Virginia Tech, Florida State, and at Southern California. On top of that, in their final five games, the Irish play only one true home game. The other home game is their Shamrock Series game against Syracuse. That game will be played in New York City at Yankee Stadium.

Notre Dame has traditionally always had a difficult strength of schedule. In 2018, they made an already-difficult schedule nearly impossible with their travel schedule. After the Irish faltered under more favorable circumstances in 2017, it’s hard not to anticipate a similar fate in 2018.

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The 2018 regular season will be a constant battle. It will pit the immense talent of the roster against the unfavorable circumstances of the schedule. Will Notre dame be able to balance the two? If so, they may find themselves contending into the early stages of 2018. If the schedule become to overwhelming and they falter, Irish fans may face disappointment once again.