Despite blowout loss, Notre Dame here to stay

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Despite blowout loss, Notre Dame here to stay

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Braxston Cave had a simple declaration to make as Notre Dame players came to grips with a 42-14 drubbing at the hands of Alabama.

"Notre Dame's back," Cave said. "Not how we wanted to (play) tonight, but we're back."

Being back doesn't mean being on Alabama's level, though. Plenty of Irish coaches and players talked about the gap between themselves and Alabama, which won its third championship in four seasons Monday night.

Auburn was the only team to break Alabama's stranglehold on the Coaches' Trophy since 2009. But two years after coaching Auburn to a BCS Championship win over Oregon, Gene Chizik was fired. After a meteoric rise, his program came crashing back to earth without its transcendent quarterback in Cam Newton.

That's one way to build a program, one which succeeds on the back of a star player. That's not how Brian Kelly has built Notre Dame. This is a program built to last, to succeed well into the future.

"We would certainly like to think we're not going to take a step backwards," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. "That doesn't mean we're going to play in the National Championship game every year, obviously that's very difficult. But the fact we can show up in the fall and that can be a realistic goal, we want to be in the BCS every year and hopefully get back to this game, and hopefully get back to this game where we play a lot better when we get here."

Manti Te'o is done at Notre Dame, as is the case for Cave, Tyler Eifert, Kapron Lewis-Moore and potentially Cierre Wood, who will decided whether to return for his senior season in a few days.

But Notre Dame has the nation's top-ranked recruiting class entering the program this year, a group stocked with the kind of "big skill" guys coach Brian Kelly and his coaching staff have targeted. Plus, Notre Dame will return plenty of talent, led by guys like offensive lineman Zack Martin, defensive end Stephon Tuitt and defensive tackle Louis Nix.

"We would certainly like to think we're not going to take a step backwards," Martin said. "That doesn't mean we're going to play in the National Championship game every year, obviously that's very difficult. But the fact we can show up in the fall and that can be a realistic goal, we want to be in the BCS every year and hopefully get back to this game, and hopefully get back to this game where we play a lot better when we get here. That's the goal, no doubt, at Notre Dame."

And, if you're looking for a positive from the BCS Championship, Everett Golson held serve, completing 21 of 36 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown against a defense that completely took away the threat of Notre Dame's running game.

"We got a lot of guys returning, a lot of guys who didn't play this year who can play," wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, who caught six passes for 115 yards against Alabama, said. "The future looks bright for us."

The clock is now ticking on the current BCS format, which will go away after next year's championship game. It'll be replaced by a four-team playoff, while Notre Dame has a tie-in with the Orange Bowl and a partnership with the ACC that'll assure the program won't be left behind. For all the consternation over Notre Dame's relevancy half a year ago, there's no questioning it now.

"When you start winning around here, you start to see what it does to the community, what it does to the fans and how it rejuvenates college football, and you realize that this program, this university means so much more," offensive lineman Chris Watt said. "And when Notre Dame's on top, college football's better."

For now, though, Notre Dame will go back to the drawing board. They now have a first-hand look at what the best college football program in the nation looks like -- and even before Monday's game, Kelly talked about getting Notre Dame to Alabama's level.

"Your program is defined in consistency, and Alabama is that model," Kelly said. "I concede to that. It's where we want to be."

No other team is there, though. Alabama is alone atop college football in terms of success as a program. Oregon is closer than anyone else, but Notre Dame is getting there.

Notre Dame couldn't make the giant leap to Alabama's level in South Florida. It'll take plenty of small steps, but this program is confident they'll get to that point.

"Obviously we didn't finish the way we wanted," Cave said, "but these guys coming back are going to be here to take the next step and finish the right way next year."

Notre Dame unveils 2016 Shamrock Series uniforms

Notre Dame unveils 2016 Shamrock Series uniforms

Notre Dame will wear green (and gold) for its Shamrock Series game against Army in November. 

The football program unveiled 2016's one-off Under Armour jerseys for the annual Irish showcase game on Thursday. The uniforms come on the heels of last year's all-green look for Notre Dame's game against Boston College at Fenway Park.

Take a look at the announcement video for this year's threads:

Here's some closer-up looks:

Notre Dame and Army kick off at the Alamodome in San Antonio at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Nov. 12. The Shamrock Series will take a one-year hiatus in 2017, with the neutral-site showcase game expected to return in 2018. 

[SHOP: Buy a 2016 Shamrock Series jersey]

Ranking Notre Dame's schedule: The four toughest games

Ranking Notre Dame's schedule: The four toughest games

We’ve covered four games Notre Dame should have no excuse not to win and four that could blossom into tricky trap games this fall. If all goes well, though, those eight games won’t decide Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff fate. 

That’s where these last four games in our schedule ranking come into play. If Notre Dame goes 8-0 against those opponents it’ll be heavily favored against, it can realistically go 3-1 against these four teams and have a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Of course, winning all four of these games would all but assure the Irish a spot in college football’s Final Four on New Year’s Eve. 

4. Texas (Sept. 4 in Austin, Texas)

The Longhorns are the biggest wild card on Notre Dame’s 2016 schedule. This wasn’t a good team last year — they ranked 68th in F/+ and went 5-7 — but there is so, so much talent at Charlie Strong’s disposal. Sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson is a star in the making and both sides of the ball are littered with former blue-chip recruits. But this has been the narrative around Texas for the last four or five years — there’s talent, but when will that produce the kind of win totals those in Austin expect? 

The biggest immediate question to be answered is who Texas’ starting quarterback will be on this season-opening Sunday night at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. All signs seem to be pointing to true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele — the son of former Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Steve Buechele — and if it is him, he’ll be an unknown for both teams. Texas can’t predict how he’ll handle the pressure of a nationally-televised primetime game, and Notre Dame won’t have much film on him. 

And there’s also the nebulous revenge factor that comes from Notre Dame’s 38-3 stomping of Texas in last year’s season opener. This seems like a game in which it wouldn’t be surprising to see Notre Dame to again win handily or for an ascending Longhorns side to give the Irish a tough evening. 

3. Michigan State (Sept. 17 in South Bend)

The first of two primetime kickoffs at Notre Dame Stadium this fall comes against last year’s College Football Playoff No. 4 seed, but one that loses star players across the field. Quarterback Connor Cook, offensive linemen Jack Allen and Jack Conklin and defensive end Shilique Calhoun all have to be replaced, as well as plenty of other key contributors. 

Michigan State’s quarterback will probably be Tyler O’Connor, though they’ll rely heavily on running back L.J Scott to power the offense. With an inexperienced quarterback and plenty of youth at wide receiver, Notre Dame may look to sell out to stop the run and make the Spartans’ passing game beat them. 

While there’s some uncertainty that has to be worked through in East Lansing, it’d be foolish to expect anything less than a strong Mark Dantonio side to arrive in South Bend. The Spartans have won at least 11 games in five of the last six years and have finished in the AP top six in each of the last three years. 

2. Stanford (Oct. 15 in South Bend)

The good news for Notre Dame, oddly, may be that quarterback Kevin Hogan doesn’t return while Heisman finalist running back Christian McCaffrey is back. Notre Dame set out to mute McCaffrey last year in California, and it worked — he only rushed for 94 yards on 27 carries and didn’t score a touchdown — but in that vacuum, Hogan threw as many touchdowns as incompletion (four) in a two-point Irish loss. 

Hogan’s replacement, Keller Chryst, has already drawn comparisons to former Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck. We’ll probably know by mid-October if that’s fair or not, but as long as McCaffrey is there and Stanford continues to develop strong offensive lines, this team should glide to another top-10 or top-20 season. 

Much like Dantonio and Michigan State, it’s reasonable to expect David Shaw’s Stanford teams to be among the best Notre Dame will play every year. And each of the last four Notre Dame-Stanford games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Don’t expect anything different this fall. 

1. USC (Nov. 26 in Los Angeles)

There isn’t much separating the difficulty levels of the Stanford and USC games, but because Notre Dame gets the talented, explosive Trojans on the road, it gets the top spot. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree’ Jackson are back, as are a dynamic pair of running backs in Justin Davis and Ronald Jones. Max Browne will slide in for Cody Kessler at quarterback and finally has developed a good offensive line (Phil Steele ranks it as the best group nationally). 

USC’s front seven does have some holes, but its defensive backs — led by cornerbacks Jackson and Iman Marshall — should buoy Clancy Pendergast's group. 

Unlike Stanford and Michigan State, though, USC hasn’t been stable since the end of the Pete Carroll era. Will Clay Helton prove to be exactly what USC needed or an uninspired hire by one of college football’s elite programs? With this being the last game of the season, it wouldn’t be surprising for Notre Dame to roll into Los Angeles to face a middling Pac-12 side or one competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But if USC’s offense comes together and its defense can hold serve, this’ll be the most difficult game on Notre Dame’s schedule.  

Ranking Notre Dame's schedule: The four toughest games

Ranking Notre Dame's schedule: The four toughest games

We’ve covered four games Notre Dame should have no excuse not to win and four that could blossom into tricky trap games this fall. If all goes well, though, those eight games won’t decide Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff fate. 

That’s where these last four games in our schedule ranking come into play. If Notre Dame goes 8-0 against those opponents it’ll be heavily favored against, it can realistically go 3-1 against these four teams and have a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Of course, winning all four of these games would all but assure the Irish a spot in college football’s Final Four on New Year’s Eve. 

4. Texas (Sept. 4 in Austin, Texas)

The Longhorns are the biggest wild card on Notre Dame’s 2016 schedule. This wasn’t a good team last year — they ranked 68th in F/+ and went 5-7 — but there is so, so much talent at Charlie Strong’s disposal. Sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson is a star in the making and both sides of the ball are littered with former blue-chip recruits. But this has been the narrative around Texas for the last four or five years — there’s talent, but when will that produce the kind of win totals those in Austin expect? 

The biggest immediate question to be answered is who Texas’ starting quarterback will be on this season-opening Sunday night at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. All signs seem to be pointing to true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele — the son of former Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Steve Buechele — and if it is him, he’ll be an unknown for both teams. Texas can’t predict how he’ll handle the pressure of a nationally-televised primetime game, and Notre Dame won’t have much film on him. 

And there’s also the nebulous revenge factor that comes from Notre Dame’s 38-3 stomping of Texas in last year’s season opener. This seems like a game in which it wouldn’t be surprising to see Notre Dame to again win handily or for an ascending Longhorns side to give the Irish a tough evening. 

3. Michigan State (Sept. 17 in South Bend)

The first of two primetime kickoffs at Notre Dame Stadium this fall comes against last year’s College Football Playoff No. 4 seed, but one that loses star players across the field. Quarterback Connor Cook, offensive linemen Jack Allen and Jack Conklin and defensive end Shilique Calhoun all have to be replaced, as well as plenty of other key contributors. 

Michigan State’s quarterback will probably be Tyler O’Connor, though they’ll rely heavily on running back L.J Scott to power the offense. With an inexperienced quarterback and plenty of youth at wide receiver, Notre Dame may look to sell out to stop the run and make the Spartans’ passing game beat them. 

While there’s some uncertainty that has to be worked through in East Lansing, it’d be foolish to expect anything less than a strong Mark Dantonio side to arrive in South Bend. The Spartans have won at least 11 games in five of the last six years and have finished in the AP top six in each of the last three years. 

2. Stanford (Oct. 15 in South Bend)

The good news for Notre Dame, oddly, may be that quarterback Kevin Hogan doesn’t return while Heisman finalist running back Christian McCaffrey is back. Notre Dame set out to mute McCaffrey last year in California, and it worked — he only rushed for 94 yards on 27 carries and didn’t score a touchdown — but in that vacuum, Hogan threw as many touchdowns as incompletion (four) in a two-point Irish loss. 

Hogan’s replacement, Keller Chryst, has already drawn comparisons to former Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck. We’ll probably know by mid-October if that’s fair or not, but as long as McCaffrey is there and Stanford continues to develop strong offensive lines, this team should glide to another top-10 or top-20 season. 

Much like Dantonio and Michigan State, it’s reasonable to expect David Shaw’s Stanford teams to be among the best Notre Dame will play every year. And each of the last four Notre Dame-Stanford games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Don’t expect anything different this fall. 

1. USC (Nov. 26 in Los Angeles)

There isn’t much separating the difficulty levels of the Stanford and USC games, but because Notre Dame gets the talented, explosive Trojans on the road, it gets the top spot. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree’ Jackson are back, as are a dynamic pair of running backs in Justin Davis and Ronald Jones. Max Browne will slide in for Cody Kessler at quarterback and finally has developed a good offensive line (Phil Steele ranks it as the best group nationally). 

USC’s front seven does have some holes, but its defensive backs — led by cornerbacks Jackson and Iman Marshall — should buoy Clancy Pendergast's group. 

Unlike Stanford and Michigan State, though, USC hasn’t been stable since the end of the Pete Carroll era. Will Clay Helton prove to be exactly what USC needed or an uninspired hire by one of college football’s elite programs? With this being the last game of the season, it wouldn’t be surprising for Notre Dame to roll into Los Angeles to face a middling Pac-12 side or one competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But if USC’s offense comes together and its defense can hold serve, this’ll be the most difficult game on Notre Dame’s schedule.