August 28, 2015 - Greg Gabriel
Can Notre Dame earn a Playoff spot in 2016?
There has been much discussion in the last few weeks as to whether or not Notre Dame should be forced to join a conference in football. As we all know, they have been an independent in football since they began playing football. They are one of the few truly national universities and as such they would like nothing better than to remain an independent. Last year in the first year of the college football playoff era, the four teams that made it into the playoffs all won a conference championship game in order to earn their way into the playoffs. The four schools were: Florida State, Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State. These schools all played a 12 game regular season schedule, plus a conference championship game. The Big 12 had a worthy champion last year in TCU but they were left out of the dance mainly because they didn’t play that 13th conference championships game. In my opinion, TCU got shafted last year and deserved to be in the playoffs. This year Notre Dame has a very strong team with 21 starters returning plus two players who were starters in 2013 but missed 2014. Their overall depth is as strong as any team in college football this year. Granted they don’t play in a conference, but they play 12 solid regular season games and have no FCS level cupcakes on their schedule. Looking at the playoff teams for last year, Alabama this year plays Middle Tennessee and Charleston Southern. Oregon plays Eastern Washington and Georgia State. Ohio State doesn’t play an FCS school but has games against Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Hawaii. Florida State plays Texas State and Tennessee – Chattanooga. Every practice these schools go through is tougher than those opponents. They should be penalized just for scheduling them. While Notre Dame doesn’t play a conference championship game, they do have a schedule that includes: Texas, Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, USC, Stanford, Pitt and Boston College. I agree that if they don’t go 12-0 or at worst 11-1 they shouldn’t be in the playoff conversation, but if they do have an unblemished record they have to be in the discussion! Looking at their team, they are strong at every position. The quarterback will be Malik Zaire who only has one start under his belt, but that was in their bowl game victory over LSU. In that game, Zaire completed 12 of 15 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 96 yards. While he isn’t the passer that Everett Golson was, he is more dangerous because of his elite running skills. Last year’s leading rusher returns in Tarean Folson who ran for 889 yards in 2014. Six of the top seven receivers from a year ago return including their leading receiver William Fuller who had 76 receptions and 15 touchdowns in 2014. The offensive line has four starters back, including Ronnie Stanley, who looks like a future first-round draft pick. On defense just about everyone returns with the main loss being nose tackle Jerron Jones who injured a knee earlier in camp. Defensive tackle Sheldon Day will be a very high NFL draft pick and may be the best 3-technique in the country. Linebacker just maybe the strongest positon on the team as five players who started games return led by All-American Jaylon Smith, who is one of the more athletic linebackers in the country. In the secondary three starters return, as well as KeiVarae Russell, who missed last year but started every game in 2012 and 2013. He is the most talented player in the secondary and one of the best corners in the country. Notre Dame will be a strong contender for playoff contention once the season begins next week. Like it or not, conference or no conference, my feeling is that if they go 12-0 they are in!