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."

Bill Connelly: Notre Dame can be a playoff contender in 2016

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Bill Connelly: Notre Dame can be a playoff contender in 2016

SB Nation's Bill Connelly is one of the foremost experts on college football analytics out there today -- you'll see plenty of his numbers on this site -- so when he writes about Notre Dame, you pay attention. 

And in his 2016 preview of Notre Dame, Bill C. has quite an optimistic outlook. 

Still, Notre Dame features more exciting sophomores and juniors than almost any team in the country: quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, running back Josh Adams, tight end Alizé Jones, safety Drue Tranquill, etc. If Kelly can keep his troops rallied, Notre Dame will have a serious shot at a Playoff bid, especially considering the schedule might ease up. And if the defense plays to its recruiting rankings, this team's ceiling is as high as anyone's outside of Tuscaloosa.

Give the whole preview a read, since it's packed full of good information and numbers about what Notre Dame did last year and where it's going this fall. A few thoughts on it:

-- Somewhat surprising in Bill's numbers was that Notre Dame's defense had the same S&P+ rank (57) in the first quarter as it did in the fourth quarter. Slow starts were a major problem for this group last year, one that Brian VanGorder & Co. circled as in desperate need of a fix. The fourth quarter mediocrity, though, probably was brought down by foot-off-the-gas efforts at the end of the Georgia Tech and Boston College games. 

-- How does a run defense that ranked 56th in S&P+ get better when it loses so many key pieces from 2015? Bill leans heavily on the four-star recruiting rankings of guys like Nyles Morgan, Te'von Coney and Jerry Tillery, and doesn't see the Irish run defense getting any worse. But without Sheldon Day, Romeo Okwara, Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith, it probably won't get any better. 

-- Bill's evaluation of the offense is pretty much on point. There's a lot missing from last year's group, but Notre Dame was extremely successful in replacing its starting quarterback and running back after the first two weeks of last season. Wide receiver coach Mike Denbrock and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand have proven themselves more than capable of developing players over the last few years, too, so even with so many new faces in those groups, it's fair to trust both will continue to be productive. 

-- Now for the fun stuff. Bill's schedule breakdown is what really stands out about this preview in that Notre Dame's lowest win probability in its first 11 games is 59 percent (Week 1 at Texas). Home games against Michigan State and Stanford and a road trip to N.C. State are all in the 60-65 percent range, and Syracuse, Miami and Virginia Tech are between 70-75 percent. If Notre Dame is able to win close games against lesser opponents -- as it consistently did last year -- it very well could roll into Los Angeles 11-0. And while right now Bill only gives Notre Dame a 41 percent chance of beating USC, that's about as ideal a formula as Brian Kelly could follow to make the College Football Playoff. 

-- No matter how you view Bill's optimism about Notre Dame's offense/defense/special teams, expected regressions from Michigan State and Stanford and a schedule that only has three true road games does set up well. The onus will be on Irish coaches and players to avoid an offensive regression, improve the defense and do what last year's team could've done with this schedule -- and very well could've meant making the College Football Playoff. 

Looking at what QB recruit Phil Jurkovec could bring to Notre Dame

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Looking at what QB recruit Phil Jurkovec could bring to Notre Dame

Notre Dame got its guy on Monday when four-star dual-threat quarterback Phil Jurkovec verbally committed to Brian Kelly & Co. 

The Gibsonia, Pa. native is one of the more highly-touted recruits in the class of 2018 and follows Notre Dame's one-quarterback-a-year trend that's been in place since Everett Golson signed in 2011. Since then, Notre Dame has signed one quarterback every recruiting cycle, from Golson to Gunner Kiel to Malik Zaire to DeShone Kizer to Brandon Wimbush to Ian Book. Four-star dual-threat quarterback Avery Davis is a verbal commit for the class of 2017, and then there's Jurkovec on track to follow in 2018. 

For more perspective on Jurkovec -- who he is, what Notre Dame's chances of keeping him are, and how he fits in Kelly and Mike Sanford's plan -- J.B. Long and I talked with Irish Illustrated recruiting reporter Jake Brown on the Still Independent Podcast. Give it a listen:

 

Notre Dame-Texas to kick off in primetime Sept. 4

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Notre Dame-Texas to kick off in primetime Sept. 4

Notre Dame's Sept. 4 season opener against the Texas Longhorns in Austin will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC, ESPN announced Tuesday. 

Last month, Notre Dame and Texas announced the game would be moved to Sunday from its original Saturday, Sept. 3 scheduled date. It's the only college football game scheduled on Sep. 4, which is one week before the NFL takes over Sundays. 

With the Texas start time announcement and last week's reveal of kickoff times for home games and the Shamrock Series, only three Notre Dame games have TBA kickoffs: Oct. 1 at Syracuse (at MetLife Stadium), Oct. 8 at North Carolina State and Nov. 26 at USC. 

Notre Dame throttled Texas, 38-3, in South Bend to open the 2015 season. That game also kicked off at 7:30 p.m. ET.