Notre Dame And The College Football Tier Rankings
There is constant conversation about the tiers of college football, and among Notre Dame faithful, where the Fighting Irish rank among those tiers. Fox Sports host Colin Cowherd recently gave his views on the issue, and his breakdown certainly provided a good laugh.
The tier system isn’t universal, and everyone has their own standards. For me, I like to look at it in five-year blocks. Here’s my tier rankings:
Tier one is the truly elite programs, the schools that have won titles and are consistently in title contention. Over the last five teams there are only two that fit that mold, Clemson and Alabama.
Tier two are teams that are consistent title contenders, teams that recruit at a high level and teams that have won big games over the last five years. There are only four programs in that category (Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma, Georgia).
Tier three are strong programs, but programs that aren’t quite there yet. It can be for a number of reasons. Programs in tier three are close to jumping into the top two tiers, but they haven’t done it yet on the field. Some are up-and-coming programs, others are steady programs that just can’t get over the hump.
LSU, for example, would have been a tier three team in 2019; they were good, but they weren’t on the level as other program. After finishing as a Top 10 team in 2019, LSU went out and won a national title last season, which jumped them into tier two. They would have to string together a couple more strong seasons to jump into tier one.
So what about Notre Dame?
Notre Dame was a tier two program for me going into 2019, but the 11-2 record actually dropped the Irish out of tier two. Notre Dame has been consistent in the last four seasons, with the 2016 season being the exception, but the Irish have gone 33-6 since that anomaly of a season.
Among the teams broken down for this ranking, Notre Dame ranked ninth in win percentage, tied for ninth in total wins and tied for fifth in 10+ win seasons. Notre Dame is one of just two tier three teams to have a College Football Playoff berth under their belt (Washington).
The issue for Notre Dame, and what keeps it from being in tier two, is their inability to win big games. LSU won more than twice as many games against Top 10 teams (finished) in 2019 (five) than Notre Dame has won in Brian Kelly’s entire tenure (two).
Notre Dame has not defeated a Top 10 team since 2013, and it’s 0-6 against Top 10 teams during the five-year stretch examined in this breakdown. The Irish are just 4-8 against teams that finished ranked in the Top 15 during that five year stretch, which includes three-straight losses against such teams.
Losses to Georgia and the blowout loss to Michigan knocked Notre Dame out of tier two. It’s hard to justify a program being a borderline title contender when it has shown an inability to beat anyone else that’s a title contender. Notre Dame’s “best win” in the last five years is a 2017 victory over a USC team that went 11-3, ranked 12th and lost to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl that season.
The good news is Notre Dame is the top team in tier three in my opinion. Penn State and Florida are certainly charging hard, but their lack of a playoff appearance keeps them behind the Irish. The other bit of good news is Notre Dame will get another chance to earn the kind of victory that could thrust it into tier two.
Another playoff berth in 2020 will vault the Irish back into tier two. An 11-win, non-playoff season with a victory over Clemson would also put the Irish back into tier two territory.
Notre Dame’s recruiting concerns in the 2020 (defense) and 2021 classes are also cause for concern, but the current staff has done a good job taking lower ranked players and getting them to perform. If Notre Dame wants to take the next step, and jump into tier two or three, it needs to start recruiting better and win some games that truly matter.
Be sure to stay locked into Irish Breakdown all the time!