If you wish to know why Notre Dame won't make the College Football Playoff, you're at the right spot. Come to think of it, there are just as many reasons why the Fighting Irish will join college football's Final Four along the way to their 12th national championship.
I'll explain in a moment, but allow me to vent.
Here we are, three days after that double-overtime nightmare in Austin, Tex., and I still feel like I was crushed by a 249-pound quarterback in something called an "18 Wheeler" package. Such thoughts linger when you're born and raised in Notre Dame's home of South Bend, Ind., and you've had the football demons rip your heart out. Texas contributed to Notre Dame's 50-47 loss Sunday night during the season opener for both teams. It's just that the Irish were ranked 10th, and the Longhorns weren't anywhere in the polls.
Not only that, but for those of us who bleed blue and gold, we've seen this horror story involving the Irish too many times through the decades. Here's a quick list, spanning from my youth to the present ...
In November 1974, Notre Dame led 24-0 before halftime at USC.
Final score: Notre Dame 24, USC 55.
Then came that ugly run for the Irish during the early 1990s. Inside the final minute of the 1991 Orange Bowl, Raghib "Rocket" Ismail returned a punt 90-something yards for a game-winning touchdown, but there was a flag for a Notre Dame clip that never happened (at least that's my story, and I'm sticking to it). In November 1991, the Irish blew a 24-point lead at home to Tennessee. Although they had a chance to recover down the stretch, their potential game-winning field goal was blocked by the posterior of a Vols defender. In October 1992, Notre Dame saw a 16-point advantage become a 33-16 loss to visiting Stanford, and Cardinal coach Bill Walsh, who wasn't exactly fond of his counterpart, Lou Holtz, or Irish lore, told me afterward, "And just think: I may have used the same toilet as Knute Rockne."
You remember Boston College. The Irish watched a potential national championship vanish in November 1993 at Notre Dame Stadium on an Eagles' game-winning field goal ... toward Touchdown Jesus!
Twelve years later, there was the hideous (and illegal) Bush Push for USC in South Bend. Two years ago, the Irish shocked Florida State in Tallahassee with a splendid pass at the end, but the play was negated by the referees for a pick that's rarely called. No, never called.
Now you can add the victory for Notre Dame that was, then wasn't, then was, then wasn't, then was and then wasn't after Tyrone Swoopes entered as that huge and unstoppable Texas QB down the stretch.
But back to what I promised you.
Why Notre Dame won't make the College Football Playoff
The Irish lack their traditional schedule.
What's traditional for the Irish? Well, not this. Instead of their normal string of heavyweights, they play host to Nevada next week (yawn). They've also met sometimes good but often shaky Navy every year since 1927, and now they've enhanced their salute to the military academies by adding Army, owners of two winning seasons in the past 20 years. Not the best look if you're an independent seeking to impress the picky members of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Plus, the Irish's agreement to face ACC teams each year doesn't include Clemson or Florida State this time. Instead, the Irish have Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina State, Miami and Virginia Tech.
Translated: The Irish don't have many opportunities left this season for impressive victories beyond Michigan State and Stanford.
Worse, for Notre Dame, Power Five members have often reached the CFP or its past equivalents with one loss by winning their conference.
Notre Dame has no conference.
The Brian VanGorder Watch.
Soon after VanGorder became Notre Dame's defensive coordinator in 2014, folks were already wondering when he would leave. Irish defenders have struggled since his arrival, which means the following is worthy of a shrug: They were shredded by Texas for 517 yards with much help from Shane Buechele, the Longhorns' first true freshman quarterback to start a game since World War II. Texas managed four touchdown drives of 75 yards or more, and Notre Dame's secondary in particular was clueless.
You know, again.
If you have two starting quarterbacks, you have none.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly mentioned before the season that both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire were among the elite playmakers on his roster. For that reason, he said he would use both quarterbacks.
Uh-oh. Kelly started Kizer against Texas, and then he sent Zaire out there to begin the second half. In the end, Kizer proved what I wrote in this space before spring practices, and that is he should start, period. He generated six touchdowns along the way to leading Notre Dame's frantic comeback from a 17-point deficit to near victory in double overtime. Even so, the foundation remains for a quarterback controversy that could divide the Irish locker room.
If nothing else, juggling quarterbacks can do what it did Sunday: kill the momentum of the hot guy. Kizer was sizzling after pushing Notre Dame in a hurry into the end zone on the game's opening drive. If Kizer isn't replaced by Zaire on the Irish's next series (three and out), maybe they score again. Maybe they take the juice out of the record crowd. Maybe they force Buechele to panic after remembering he's only a freshman starting his first game.
Maybe Kelly blew it.
Here's a definite: The continuation of Kelly having two starting quarterbacks during games will blow out Notre Dame's season.
Why Notre Dame will make the College Football Playoff
The schedule is splendid.
Yeah, yeah, I know what I wrote earlier, but it's like this: Courtesy of Notre Dame's favorable schedule, they can run the table. Which means, depending on how they accomplish that feat, their 11-1 finish could trump that of others, even conference winners. The Irish play only two "true" road games the rest of the way. One is at mediocre N.C. State, and the other is at still-rebuilding USC. They play their biggest games inside Notre Dame Stadium against Michigan State and Stanford. In addition, if Miami continues its signs of a renaissance under new coach Mark Richt, that helps the Irish. That is, if Notre Dame beats the Hurricanes during another game in South Bend.
There is also the Texas factor. The Longhorns were picked by many before the season as a surprise team. Actually, they look like the real thing. If Notre Dame goes 11-1, its one loss would be on the road in double overtime in a hostile environment against a Texas bunch that finished pretty good or better.
Forget about Kelly's two-quarterback madness. Barring injury, Kizer is Notre Dame's starter for now and forever. I mean, he began his collegiate career last season at Virginia, where he relieved an injured Zaire and threw a game-winning bomb. During his next 10 starts to finish the regular season in 2015, Kizer lost just twice, and that was by two points each at Clemson and Stanford, both powerhouses. The Texas game only made Kizer more of a potential Notre Dame legend. He can beat you with his ability to throw deep or to float passes into the hands of receivers, and he can shock you with his clutch running. He never gets rattled.
As a result, neither do his teammates.
Speaking of talent, it's everywhere.
Notre Dame is blessed with a slew of gifted playmakers on both sides of the ball, starting with Kizer and continuing with Torii Hunter, the wide receiver who has lots of help from his younger teammates. Like sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver who came out of nowhere to flip himself into the end zone against Texas on one hand. Elsewhere, running backs Tarean Folston and Josh Adams are spectacular. On defense, you'll find defensive lineman Isaac Rochell transferring his highly active 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds someday from Notre Dame to the NFL. The same goes for middle linebacker Nyles Morgan, who joined Rochell among the few bright spots during the Irish's defensive storm against Texas. On special teams, P.J. Sanders is superb on punt and kickoff returns. Even though Justin Yoon had a field goal blocked against Texas, he remains among the most consistent kickers in the country, and Tyler Newsome is a punter who often helps the Irish dominate field position.
Will Notre Dame make the College Football Playoff?
As I hear "The Notre Dame Victory March" as a dirge in my head, I see the Irish losing once more this season.
End of story.