The Irish got in a shootout Sunday night in Austin and lost in double overtime.
It happens. This is not the beginning of the end.
That’s not to gloss over some pretty poor coaching decisions: rotating QBs didn’t work––to put it mildly––the key 3rd and 12 play call, the wasted challenge on an obviously dropped INT; those are the ones the come to mind offhand, but there are probably others (We’ll save BVG, the defense, and the targeting non-call for another day). Kelly had a bad night. That happens too.
As I wrote about in the Texas scouting report, the Longhorns are a very talented team. Talented enough to beat Notre Dame. They proved that on the field Sunday night. Shane Buechele paired with Sterlin Gilbert and a talented, if inconsistent, O-line are going to win a lot of games in the coming years. The skill position players are there too: Foreman and Burt have legitimate game-breaking ability.
But any notion that the best of Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame teams are already history is ignoring the substantial evidence that Notre Dame is functioning at highest level since the Holtz era. The Irish recruiting classes for 2017 (6th) and 2018 (2nd) are shaping up to be historically good. Kelly’s teams are winning games at a 69.6% clip. That substantially higher than Charlie Weis (56.5%), Ty Willingham (58.3%) or Bob Davie (58.3%). And, not insignificantly, Kelly has coached Notre Dame to a National Championship game in his tenure.
This isn’t late era Mark Richt at Georgia; this is a program in its prime. Kelly has Notre Dame performing at a very high level while playing a national schedule, with rigorous admissions and academic standards. The depth chart is improving year-over-year, and as of late, the Irish are only losing to really good teams –– which is what I think this year’s Texas team will be in the final accounting.
If we use the Holtz era teams as the benchmark for Notre Dame’s success, Kelly’s teams are underperforming by about 5% in terms of win percentage. If however, you adjust for the significant changes in the college football landscape since the late ‘80’s, a semi-Independent, top-rated academic school wanting to graduate players, with a very limited natural recruiting base, winning basically 70% of it’s games is probably as good as it’s going to get for Notre Dame.
That might be hard for people who envision an Alabama type run of dominance in the future, but that’s message board fodder anyhow. Just remember, Notre Dame had a 3 win season within the decade.