Inside College Football: Why the hype for Notre Dame is dead before the season

Is Notre Dame hype dead?

We used to be able to set our watch lists by the overabundance of everything Irish. Some of the love was deserved. Some of it wasn't it. The fun part: The issue itself was always a talking point.

It was part of the fabric of college football. No one got hurt unless you count the odd pulled groin by the leprechaun mascot. The players were nice. The coaches always seemed colorful. And there was no shortage of romanticized history.

In particular, pollsters (and bowl executives) always seemed to give ND the benefit of the doubt. From 1964-2006, the Irish were ranked in the top two at some point in a season 15 times. Compare that to defending champion Clemson, where that has occurred four times in the program's history.

But when the Associated Press Top 25 poll is released Aug. 21, the Irish are likely to be unranked in the preseason for the seventh time in the past 14 years.

That has never happened at Notre Dame.

Worse than that, there's no buzz, none of that typical hype this preseason. All of it circles back to the actual football. The Irish are trying rebound from their second-worst record (4-8) since 1963.

About the worst thing a program can do in this viral culture is drop out of the national conversation.

There aren't many acceptable excuses for Notre Dame not being in that conversation.

Academics? Stanford's David Shaw told me last year his program has a pool of 50 players -- 5-0! -- to recruit from when junior grades come out each June.

Shaw has averaged more than nine wins in his seven seasons at Stanford.

Exposure? Certainly not. It has been more than a quarter century since Notre Dame became the first -- and to date still only -- football program with its own broadcast television network. (The floundering Longhorn Network is on cable.)

If the average 17-year-old five-star recruit scoured the internet for ND info this week, the biggest news he was likely to find was criticism of Brian Kelly's media policy.

Don't report injuries for the Gipper doesn't have the same ring.

"That's a good question," 247Sports director of scouting Barton Simmons said, considering the modern recruiting impact of Notre Dame. "I think it's still a school that carries a lot of weight.

"To guys that are looking for tradition and academics, it's still a big-time school. But Notre Dame is at a point that it is a heavy [recruiting] underdog when it is up against programs like Ohio State, Clemson and Florida State."

Notre Dame recruiting hasn't been bad by any means, but it usually flies in a higher atmosphere with those super powers. The Irish have only one top 10 class since 2011, according to 247Sports.

"I don't know if they have a head coach who lives and breathes recruiting," Simmons said. "When you're trying to go against those elite programs, you need a coach who lives and breaths recruiting.

"It used to be Notre Dame was one of the brand programs. Everybody is on television [now]. Everybody has exposure. But I think they can get back to being a powerhouse."

The game's power brokers seemed to begin questioning ND's hallowed status in 2006. That year, the BCS commissioners narrowed Notre Dame's automatic qualification for a BCS bowl from a top-10 finish to top eight.

The Irish then began the 2012 season as the only BCS-level program without a bowl tie-in. An appearance in the BCS title game that year obscured that fact.

But in the College Football Playoff era, the school had to half-join the ACC in football to have access to that conference's bowls. In that era that began in 2014, ND has the same access as fellow independents BYU, Army and Massachusetts. That is, playoff or bust.

In fact, Navy -- losers of 76 of 90 games to the Irish in the one-sided series -- technically has more access to the system than the Irish. The Midshipmen can grab an automatic New Year's Six bowl berth by being the highest ranked Group of Five champion. (Navy joined the American in 2015.)

Notre Dame can play in a maximum of two Orange Bowls over the 12-year term of the CFP contract, but is not guaranteed any appearances in the game during that stretch.

As for the NFL, ND failed to produce a first-round pick for the second time in three years. The last time that happened was 2011.

The highest-drafted quarterback of Kelly's career (DeShone Kizer) wasn't good enough to start the 2016 season. In the depths of that 4-8 season, Kelly said he was "disappointed" by a vote of confidence from athletic director Jack Swarbrick


To get to a major bowl this season, Kelly now has to pull off the near-impossible in terms of Notre Dame history. The Irish would have to win at least 10 to be in consideration for a New Year's Six bowl. Such a six-game improvement from one year to the next would equal the second largest in ND history.

The best one-season rebound? That was accomplished by the revered Ara Parseghian who took ND from 2-7 to 9-1 in 1964. That season basically began the modern renaissance of Notre Dame football.

That's when the hype never seemed to leave us. Notre Dame is still believed to be the only team unranked at the beginning of the season in AP history to lose its opener and be ranked the next week (1986). From 1998-2013, the Irish were one of only 15 teams to play for a national championship.


A small victory might be Notre Dame at least receiving votes in the AP Top 25 later this month. The Street & Smith preseason magazine named ND the most overrated team in the country in 2017.

Notre Dame is a proud, historic college football institution. Its hype, though, might be officially dead.

The Pirate at Ole Miss

Mike Leach's candidacy at embattled Ole Miss got a boost this week.

Wait, who said Leach was a candidate at Mississippi? OK, it's speculative but so is every candidate until we actually know the NCAA sanctions. 

But one source from the region called and began to rattle off why Washington State's coach would be a good fit in Oxford.

  • Like Hugh Freeze, Leach is expert at developing quarterbacks. Washington State's Luke Falk is the game's leading returning passer from 2016 (4,468 yards).
  • Leach runs basically the same spread, up-tempo offense as Freeze. Or the other way around. Freeze imitated Leach and might not even know it.
  • Leach, 56, was installing the Air Raid at Oklahoma for the first time in 1999, the same year Freeze was at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis.
  • Leach might be available. There is the thought he has maxed out in Pullman where the Cougars have won 17 games -- once again, in Pullman -- the past two seasons.
  • At a school that values its SEC relevance above everything else -- see the current NCAA investigation -- Leach might be the perfect guy to keep Ole Miss winning and viral on a regular basis.
  • You don't need to be told the man can coach.

The Ole Miss candidates-go-round will change 100 times before it's settled. Stay tuned but don't dismiss this possibility.

Quick Hits

  • There has to be a law against commitment hype videos. This is one of the worst.
  • An administrative scandal at USC that has reached the highest levels of power at the school has been compared to the Steve Sarkisian fiasco.
  • I'm told the finalists for the third season of Netflix's "Last Chance U" in 2018 are incumbent East Mississippi Community College, Garden City (Kan.) Community College and Independence [Kan.] Community College.
  • In same month, a blockbuster behind-the-scenes look at the Baylor scandal is released, the NCAA is mandating coaches, players and administrators get annual sexual violence prevention education. What took so long?

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CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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