Not B1G 2012 // KH and Ted's Excellent E-mail Adventure: Notre Dame Here We Come!

Dust, Wind, Dude (via phoomd)

Bill: "The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing."
Ted: That's us, dude!
Bill: Yeah!

So Ted and I last took to doing a back and forth E-mail exchange to discuss the ridiculousness of one Bobby Petrino and the downfall of ethics in coaching. If you missed that piece, you missed out on about 4,000 words filled with Ted and I's infinite knowledge... Or perhaps you missed something similar to a young Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter exchange. Either way, I was sitting at my desk wondering how I would contribute to, "NOT B1G 2012 // The Part Where We Talk about TSISB" week and thought there would be no better way than breaking out some E-mails between the never short-on-words Ted Glover and the generally never short on words KennardHusker... What transpired was six days of E-mails, a shade under 5,000 words, tangents, a few jabs, and the realization that Notre Dame, while important, needs to get its act together. As always, our disclaimer is that this is ridiculously long. The "TL; DR" comment is unnecessary because we are just going to assume that most everyone thinks that. For everyone else, enjoy.

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KennardHusker:

So Ted, our assignment for the day is to figure out how to elevate Notre Dame back to glory. People like to knock Nebraska fans for cheering on their last National title in 1997, but at least we were in the discussion in 2001 (I mean, not really in contention, but we talked big). If you're a Notre Dame fan, you have to go back to 1988 since the last time they had a National Championship trophy and the last time they finished ranked is 2006. Since that title, the Domers have gone 6-11 in bowl games and it has been 6 years since Notre Dame has won more than 9 games in a season. Notre Dame also has a rocking awesome 0-3 BCS record with a 41-9 beatdown by Oregon State, 34-20 beatdown by Ohio State, and 41-14 beatdown by LSU. Man, it's been miserable being an Irish fan, huh?

Ted:

Yeah, it really has... so let's talk more about how bad Notre Dame has been before we talk about them being good again, because a) that's a lot more fun, b) it appeals to our audience more, and c) I don't know that Notre Dame will be good again for a long time. College football has seen an emergence of great coaches with great schemes over the last 15 years, but Notre Dame has swung and missed on every guy they've hired since Sweet Lou left. Davie. Willingham. Weis. Maybe Kelly. Those names just emerge from the lungs like a good case of whooping cough, don't they? They've hired a string of coaches that have been so mediocre that Minnesota now has a better staff than they do, and even with their annual run through the service academies and a historic down period for Michigan, they still can't get to 10 wins.

THAT'S Notre Dame football to everyone outside of South Bend.

Where did it all start to go wrong? I go back to the first game of the 1995 season, against then-lowly Northwestern. The Wildcats had been THE doormat for college football since pretty much forever, but Gary Barnett's team waltzed into Notre Dame Stadium and literally sent shockwaves throughout the college football world. Northwestern went on to the Rose Bowl that year, Notre Dame's aura of invincibility was snapped, and although Notre Dame fans think Jesus wept that day, most everyone else thinks those were tears of Joy.

So in a way, the reason Notre Dame has been lost in the wilderness for all these years is because of the B1G. You're welcome, college football world.

I'm sorry, what was your question again?

KennardHusker:

Ted, we're supposed to be nice to the Irish! Graham told us that we should be nice to the school that should be our conference brother. Instead of pointing out the coaches that didn't work out, you should point out the bullets they dodged by not hiring... you know like George O'Leary. Wait, they did hire him, and it didn't work out? Oh right, they didn't actually vet his education or football playing experience. So just for the record, Notre Dame's coaching since the now-senile Lou Holtz is as follows:

Bob Davie - Current New Mexico Lobo Coach
George O'Leary - Current UCF Coach
Tyrone Willingham - Not coaching and last coached Washington to a .229 winning percentage during his notorious tenure
Charlie Weis - Currently fat and getting propped up in Lawrence because anytime you can get a flameout ND coach in Kansas, you do it, right? Right? Wait, no... no you don't.
Brian Kelly - Currently an angrier man than Bo Pelini and lets not give him a pass on the fact that he is still responsible for a student's accidental death (don't think that won't come up when the time comes to let him go)

Yeesh. Maybe we just spend the next 4,000 words on this coaching dumpster fire...

Wait, remember what Graham said... (Mumbles silently to self, "Be nice. Be nice. Be nice. Be nice.)

Aaaaaand we're back. What I would like to do is figure out if it's possible for the Irish to return to the Glory Days of Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz. Honestly, shouldn't we be able to figure out a plan where a school with unlimited resources and unreasonable expectations (no, I'm not talking about Nebraska, so don't even go there) gets on a roll and does something its history would be proud of. I mean, if I am looking at the Notre Dame program, there really should be no reasonable way I am not seeing a major bowl berth at least once every presidential cycle. There really are no good excuses for the Irish left. With their advantages, they should always be a part of the BCS conversation, and yet, they aren't. How ridiculous is that?

So here's what I think. A reasonable expectation with the fairly good recruits the Irish hypnotize onto campus via Touchdown Jesus and about a million Hail Mary's, I think it's fair that in the next five years, Irish fans should expect one major bowl berth. Is that too much to ask for? While the Champs Sports Bowl is a nice way to end a season, they should be aiming for the BCS or Major Bowls/Playoffs, right? Of course, if I were a betting man (and betting was, you know, legal and all), I'm not coming anywhere near that bet. Still, there just doesn't seem to be a reason we can't at least postulate this happening. So here are my questions to you, how far off am I on what college football should expect from the Irish? How far off from that goal is this current team? Furthermore, is Brian Kelly the man to make this happen?

Ted:

How far off are you? At least in terms of what college football fans expect from Notre Dame, not that far at all, at least I don't think so. Notre Dame is still a brand name, and a good coach can still recruit there.

How far off are you on what Notre Dame fans think? Well, that's another story entirely. Sometimes, they make Ohio State and Nebraska fans look reasonable in their expectations.

You know, I joked earlier about when the downfall of Notre Dame began, and that was (mostly) a tongue in cheek jab to our South Bend friends. But I'm not all that far off time wise, because when you go through that list of coaches, you've hit on one of the main issues that strike at the core of Notre Dame's problem--coaching. They've had terrible coaching since Sweet Lou left. None of those guys can coach...well, none of those guys can coach at a pressure cooker like Notre Dame. But then when you look at a guy like Brian Kelly, you think he might be the guy. He's the only one with an impressive head coaching resume prior to coming to South Bend, he can recruit, yet...Notre Dame has had back to back 8-5 seasons, and you could argue Brian Kelly's Golden Domers took a step back in 2011. So I don't know that they're progressing, and this could very well be a make or break season for Kelly as the Notre Dame coach. Why do they continually struggle?

Well, I have a couple theories. For one, I think Notre Dame tends to get the benefit of being Notre Dame on the recruiting trail. Assigning talent levels to 18 year old kids is a tricky business, and I think Notre Dame's talent (and this goes for every big time school, not just them) gets a bit over rated. For example, a kid that gets recruited by Minnesota and Indiana probably isn't rated very high, but if schools like Alabama and OSU start taking interest, the 'star rating' probably goes up as well.

But to me, the biggest inherent advantages Notre Dame used to have are gone. As an independent back in the 60's, 70's, and even in to the 80's, not being tied to conference play was huge for them. They could schedule whoever they wanted, and having a schedule that took them coast to coast gave them visibility that very few other teams got. Now, with the advent of technology, that advantage is gone, and you could argue not being in a conference hurts them. With the advent of the B1G network and the other conferences scramble to match that success, everyone is on TV, everyone gets as much exposure as Notre Dame, and 18 year old kids don't appreciate history when they're looking at a school to play for.

When I was growing up, Notre Dame was a national power, but I'm in my 40's. I really want to know what the 20-somethings think about the Irish. Am I right on their recruiting advantage being gone? Does your generation think of them in terms of a national, powerful program, and is staying Independent a realistic option for them now that we're moving towards a playoff?

KennardHusker:

I don't now what my generation, in the macro sense, thinks about the Irish because a) I live in Nebraska where you either like Nebraska or are scorned (not far from the truth) and b) I'm part of the same generation that thinks Oregon's unis are cool and it makes sense for Boise State to be in the Big East. Let's just say we are generally not traditionalists. Still, you do bring up a good point, does Notre Dame still have a recruiting edge? The point of this piece is to determine how we actually think Notre Dame rises to prominence again, and as everyone moves south (you know, towards the ridiculous heat and growing number of natural disaster possibilities) you gotta think that a kid has to think to himself, "Hmmmmm... Do I want to spend the next four years of my life in South Bend, Indiana or would I rather go somewhere with a beach? You know, for obvious reasons and all."

Regardless of age, now that every single freaking game is on TV (or so it seems) doesn't that at least make you second guess going to Notre Dame now. Add to the fact that every school is a path to the NFL and education is definitely a secondary if not tertiary goal these days, you have a lot of problems in getting non-legacy kids to want to be part of the Notre Dame tradition. That leads me to the second part of your question, and something that we are both probably a lot more confident in discussing -- Conference affiliation. Look, at this point, I am not convinced Notre Dame ever joins the Big Ten. Even if we go to the unholy alliance that are superconferences, it does not behoove Notre Dame to join a place that pools conference money and looks down on the Big East. If I was the Irish, I would be looking squarely at the Big XII and its wonderful set of, "You make money and we give you more!" rules. After all, if you want to keep being a part of this big picture thing we call College Football, you're going to need to play by the rules of the institutions - namely conferences.

Still, I think maybe we're getting off on tangents and are missing the point. I mean, we've established these kids these days go if they think it helps them, recruiting is great, they need to be making major bowls, and conference affiliation is great. With all that said, is there really any way Notre Dame restores the glory days? Has time truly passed them by? Does anyone care?

Ted:

You know, this recruiting advantage/disadvantage just seems like it's over analyzed to the point of ridiculous. I think this population shift to the South is a load of crap, to be quite honest. That's nothing more than people looking for excuses as to why the SEC has been kicking the Big 10's ass in recruiting for the last 5 or 6 years. Kids will play for a good coach that can maximize their ability, and if they have dreams of an NFL career, they'll go to a place that gives them an advantage to get there, regardless of where that school is. The problem these past 5 or 6 years wasn't this shifting demographic BS, it was Tim Brewster, Ron Zook, and a cavalcade of coaching ass in the B1G that was one part buffoonery and one part idiocy. Look at how the coaching has improved, and look how recruiting has improved accordingly. And the same holds true for the Irish, for the most part.

No, time hasn't passed them by. Notre Dame fan likes to use excuses like "our academic standards are too tough", "we can't compete with the climate of the South", blah blah blah. No, the fact of the matter is Notre Dame has hired shitty coaches for 20 years, and those coaches can't tell an X from an O, or a one star clubfoot from a 4 star speedster.

Notre Dame is still an advantage. Maybe not among the 20 somethings, but the guys making decisions in the NFL, for the most part, are closer to my age and still hold the Notre Dame brand in high regard. They still put a lot of guys in the NFL, and let's face it, some of those guys get extra looks because they went to Notre Dame, not some Div II school. All they need is a guy that can recruit well, and turn that raw talent into wins on the field. Boom, glory days restored. Brian Kelly has a track record of doing that, and he currently has the third ranked recruiting class for 2013, according to scout.com.

But is Brian Kelly going to get the time to turn the ship around? Every single coaching hire since Lou Holtz has been a disaster for the Irish, and Charlie Weis apparently ate his schematic advantage on his way to Lawrence via Gainseville. Notre Dame fans are notoriously impatient, and whoever the coach is immediately gets put on the hot seat from the moment they get hired.

Kelly has gone 8-5 in each of his first two seasons, with two middling bowl appearances. This season, Notre Dame has one of the most difficult schedules in college football, and you can argue that they might have a tough time getting to 6 wins, much less 8.

Kelly's sideline antics and relative meh results have people grumbling, and if he goes 6-6, is that the excuse the anti-Kelly faction can use to oust him, or will he get one more year?

KennardHusker:

Someone needs to PhotoShop a picture of Charles Weis eating his offensive playbook. That would be flat out fantastic. Anyhow, this is really where the rubber meets the road, huh? Will Kelly get the requisite time to actually make something good things happen? I'd like to say yes, but doesn't evidence say no?

Look, the bottom line is that while I don't think the Irish schedule is the greatest thing since sliced bread, it is definitely difficult. No matter what happens with the team getting better, the opposition will also continue to get better and the record may not reflect forward progress. In many schools, that's way okay but we've already talked about this earlier. Domers are notoriously crazy. I mean, Nebraska did fire a 9 win coach, and I think Notre Dame boosters are much crazier than Nebraska boosters.

And now we are about to come back full circle. What do we do with the Irish? It's hard to be the head guy at a school like South Bend. You may have unlimited resources, but the general expectations are that you make a BCS Bowl every year and Kelly has not done that yet. Is that fair? No, not at all. In fact, I'm not sure it's fair to expect a BCS Bowl berth more than once a four year cycle. Still, boosters don't want to go hang out at the Champs Sports Bowl. It's not fun, it's not Irish history, and it's definitely not going to cut it once the Playoffs come about. So do I think Brian Kelly really gets a shot at finishing what he started? No. No I don't. One blowout loss to USC or Oklahoma, or even much more damning, Purdue, we're going to have all hell break out (Bring the popcorn, turn on NDNation, and laugh). Kelly might have a team that is Top 1/4 of any other major conference, but if he doesn't succeed with what is in front of him, it's all on his sholders. I'm sure that crazy Irish Catholic SOB has a few blood pressure meds he relies on in the offseason.

Anyhow, I'm not 100% sure we have a lot of legitimate thoughts here. Graham and Jon should really have vetted us a bit more before they gave us free reign to post articles. Oh well. Any final thoughts on Notre Dame? Maybe give us some parting words of wisdom before I try to wrap this all up? Predictions on Notre Dame 2012? The return of glory? Lots of stuff to figure out, right?

Ted:

Well, before we end this, there's one more question I want to ask, because you brought up something about the BCS cycle I want to delve into. But before we do, let's talk about expectations, because you're right about Notre Dame impatience--if Kelly goes 8-5 or worse, and he keeps having all those off the field distractions, it might be difficult for him to survive. I think he survives one more year, but I could be persuaded that he could get the boot.

But this is where I think Notre Dame might have an inroad back to a more than once in a four year BCS cycle, and that's by joining a conference. Now, I know most of the ND folks out there are in the process of warding off a brain aneurism with that last statement, but let's face it, Irish faithful--Independence, which you cling to like a life preserver in a shipwreck, is dragging you down at this point. When the new selection committee starts doling out playoff spots, and the bowls are left to pick up the scraps, you're going to have a hard time getting a seat at the table if you haven't won a conference and gone through a conference championship game, or won 10 or 11 games in a tough conference. While we applaud your noble endeavor of putting the Service Academies on national TV every year, the fact of the matter is most years, your schedule doesn't measure up to the major conferences.

So, it seems to me that at some point, the football program will have to align with someone, and if I was them, I'd go to the Big East. There's really no one in the Big East that gives them serious competition, and they're aligned with them in every other sport. If they jump to the Big East, does that make them more of a serious player for the BCS/playoffs/whatever the hell it is we're going to? Or would some other conference be the smart play for them? If so, who? Or is independence something Notre Dame will never give up?

KennardHusker:

The B-East, huh? Well, I see where you're coming from, but since all of these conversations start and end with $$, is that really a destination the Irish of Notre Dame want to be? See, I know that Notre Dame puts eyeballs on television sets and butts in seats. Nobody doubts the importance of them to College Football history, and we all know that at the end of the day, they're going to make things right one day. Still, are you serious? The Big East? That's pretty much a half step above the dying Mountain West, and even that half step is arguable.

You do bring up a good point about all of the other sports including the Olympic Sports and Basketball. Maybe that alliance is a good way for them to bring a proposal to the table that says, "Look guys, we're going to still have our own network, make whatever money we can with or without you, and take a bigger slice of the pie because you suck." I still don't think that the money there touches what they could potentially make in the Big XII.

"But, but, but... TEXA$ $UCKS!!! RAWRRRRRR!!!"(HEAD ASPLODES!!!)

Glad I got that out of my system. See, the Big XII was actually a very good deal for Nebraska. I know that the Big Ten is definitely the long term stable relationship, but everyone up in arms over the Longhorns and their dealings with Nebraska need to take a chill pill (and call 1990 for their pop culture dialect back). If I am Jack Swarbrick, I am thinking that I'll go to the non-even revenue pooling conference where I can both generate obscene amounts of money and then take a little bit more back because there are other obscene amounts of money being generated. I can also keep my own network, go toe to toe politically with anyone, and probably still sneak into a playoffs more often than not. Because of a Round Robin (or even divisional setup), I am able to ditch my rivalry ties with some of the crazy difficult schools on the schedule and replace it with my good friend Charles. Even Basketball maintains its powerhouse status in a top-heavy situation that will look similar to Missouri and Texas A&M mold... only with name recognition.

There just does not seem to be any way that is not a good deal for him. I mean, hell, I still do not understand how Nebraska did not leverage its power more often. If rumors of Missouri to the Big Ten don't get floated back in the day, I'm reading Corn Nation and watching the Huskers Sports Network exclusively brought to you by ESPN. I'm much happier in the Big Ten though. For all of the sports and for the academic pushes this has forced, this has been a great move, but don't think for a second that it was the only longterm money gain opportunity. The Big XII has a lot of power still and Notre Dame would, "Move the Needle," immensely. Now, do I really think this is happening? No, not even a little bit. And why? Because if there is one thing that has been proven through all of this conference realignment, playoff push, NCAA Violations Generation BS, etc., it's that Notre Dame values Independence like Pearlman values bowls. Sometimes it doesn't make sense, but you gotta give them props for sticking to their guns.

Finally, as for the playoffs, do we really have any clue what conference alignment is going to mean for this committee? Just because a team is in the SEC or the B1G, the Big XII or the Pac 12, does that make them any more desirable? Furthermore, with the Irish being the essential test case for SoS equalling getting in with losses vs. undefeated teams getting in with a crappy schedule, isn't their an argument to keep playing the marquee games? I've whined some this week about Notre Dame getting a little too much push for a difficult slate because I think their version of body bag games are just as bad, but not as noticeable (Wake Forest hasn't been good for a while people). In a conference, the margin for error for the Domers becomes that much more difficult. Until the selection committee puts the vice on the Irish, I just don't see it mattering... and their BCS deal is still so sweet that it is unfathomable that they are not continuously in a BCS Bowl. Seriously, how bad did Weis suck!

Of course, maybe I'm reading all of College Football wrong. I have in the past, and I certainly could be now. Thoughts? Complaints? Time to call the Irish the stereotyped Red-headed Stepchild that it is? Ball is in your court my friend...

Ted:

We're this far in, and red headed stepchild is the best insult we can muster at this point? We're as terrible as Charlie's schematic advantage.

Yeah, the Big XII is probably the best long term solution for ND, unless the B1G becomes an option down the road. At this point, I think the B1G ship has sailed for Notre Dame, at least for the time being. At least from a long term money perspective. If ND doesn't step up their on the field results, I can see a scenario where NBC doesn't renew their contract, or gives them a lowball offer. If that happens, they'll be between a rock and a hard place, and will almost be forced to align with a conference.

The Big East would be easiest logistically, since all their other sports except hockey and football are already there. But you make a good case for maximizing their profit with the Big XII.

But all that's years down the road. I suppose we should wrap this up. You asked me for a prediction, so I'm going to go with 9-4, and a bowl win. Too outlandish?

KennardHusker:

You know what, I think that's as fair an assessment as possible. I think the Domers lose to Oklahoma, USC, Michigan or Michigan State (although not both), and then somebody absolutely out of left field like BYU. The thing is, I don't see this Notre Dame team winning a bowl game either finishing the Irish with another 8-5 record. Sadly, we started this out (kinda) trying to figure out if we could come up with a way where the Fighting Irish actually come back to prominence. This just does not seem like it's going to happen. After E-mailing back and forth for the better part of a week, the best I can come up with is that Notre Dame is still fairly important, and moreso in their own world. They have a recruiting name that rivals any blue blood in America. They have a difficult schedule, although it's definitely all on their own doing. And... they probably are underachieving for the foreseeable future.

So here's my closing thoughts, and feel free to level anything else we missed. Notre Dame, while pretentious and self-serving unlike any school in America including Texas, is a school that should be striving to be included and yet they value independence and classic rivalries over stability. Football has continued to change for the better part of the last four decades and the Gold helmets just don't seem to get it anymore. Sadly, their will be a day when that has to be put on trial as either a boon or a bust to the university and to football as a whole. There are so many wide ranging topics that we have not even begun to touch on, and that is a testament to the brand that is Notre Dame, but I also think that is going to be their undoing. You can't be a linchpin forever and as we have discovered, the competition for Notre Dame isn't getting any easier.

Ted:

Well said, Kennard. As long as Notre Dame has that fat TV contract with NBC, they're going to be a player, but that isn't going to last forever. If Notre Dame can't climb back up the mountain, they're not going to keep getting their own TV deal. And with this new playoff format just around the corner, those two things may force Notre Dame's hand into conference affiliation, which would be for the good of the school. Yet they are the ones that are most vociferously against that. Independence, which is something that Notre Dame clings to like Gollum to the Ring, might be the one thing that keeps them from ever getting back to the national stage on a permanent level, and it's something that the Domers would have done to themselves.

Somewhere, Martin Luther approves.

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