Notre Dame fell to NC State in very wet conditions in Raleigh on Saturday. Now, the Fighting Irish are 2-4 and in danger of missing the postseason.
Once considered a College Football Playoff contender heading into the 2016 campaign, Notre Dame could be on the outside looking in when the postseason rolls around later this year. It’s not out of the question the Fighting Irish actually finish the 2016 college football season with a losing record.
Brian Kelly’s squad began the new season ranked No. 10 in the country, and the schedule set up well enough—solid opponents for strength purposes with some of the tougher contests in South Bend—that many college football observers considered Notre Dame as a legitimate threat to make a CFP semifinal game.
Then, the season actually began.
The Irish lost their opener at Texas when Kelly inexplicably played quarterback roulette despite DeShone Kizer performing outstanding as the starter. Even with that setback, though, Notre Dame had designs on running the table and making things difficult for the selection committee at the end of the year.
However, defensive deficiencies—among other issues—have sent the Irish into a downward spiral that may not end anytime soon.
Despite relieving defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder of his duties, the lack of a pass rush and an inexperienced secondary have been too much to overcome for Notre Dame. Even the talented offense has stubbed its collective toes at key moments throughout the year.
The latest disaster occurred in Raleigh on Saturday, as the Irish and NC State played in horrible conditions due to the effects of Hurricane Matthew. Notre Dame lost, 10-3, in a game that really should not have been played because of the heavy rains making the field a virtual swimming pool. Still, the conditions were the same for both teams, and Dave Doeren’s squad proved it is the better outfit right now.
The Fighting Irish managed 113 yards of total offense, and it now sits at 2-4, which puts its postseason in serious jeopardy.
Despite being at home, there is a chance Notre Dame is an underdog in each of its remaining games in South Bend against Stanford, Miami and Virginia Tech. Games at neutral sites against Navy and Army also loom. Keep in mind the Midshipmen just knocked off Houston, which had its sights on crashing the College Football Playoff party despite being a Group of Five team. So a game against a service academy is no longer a guaranteed win. Throw in the regular-season finale at USC, and there’s not a lot to be excited about if you’re an Irish fan expecting a bowl game berth.
A 5-7 season is very possible. And while a school can go to a postseason game with that mark under certain conditions, would Notre Dame “lower” itself to that standard?
One thing is for certain: This young team could use the extra 15 practices that playing in a bowl game would entail.
In addition to the setbacks against Texas and NC State, the Irish have lost to three-loss squads in Michigan State and Duke in South Bend. Their lone wins are against Nevada and Syracuse. That’s not exactly what many Irish fans had in mind coming off of a 10-win season.
Notre Dame could endure its fifth losing campaign since 1999, which would certainly get fans talking about Kelly and what exactly what went wrong this season. Kelly’s contract was extended through 2021, and athletic director Jack Swarbrick has seen his head coach take the school to a BCS title game. It’s not so much a hot-seat discussion in South Bend. Rather, the issue is how to go about fixing a team that has a potential first-round NFL quarterback yet has been unable to beat opponents with less talent.
If Kelly and his staff don’t come up with some quick fixes, staying home for the holidays is a distinct possibility for this team.