PODCAST: Notre Dame And College Football's Tier System

Bryan Driskell

Irish Breakdown football analyst Vince DeDario and publisher Bryan Driskell break down the college football tiers system, and where Notre Dame fits in the analysis.

The show is based around an article from Irish Breakdown that took the top programs in the country and broke them into three tiers. You can read that article HERE.

At the beginning, Driskell explains his tier system and why Notre Dame ranks in the third tier. The Irish Breakdown staff then discusses whether or not that's a fair ranking before diving into a discussion about where other programs like Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Florida and others should rank among the nation's top programs.

Following that analysis, DeDario provides his own criteria for how tiers should be developed, where Notre Dame ranks (it's different than Driskell's ranking) and where other programs should rank. DeDario actually has a four-tier system in which the Irish are a tier two program.

The pair gets into a hypothetical situation revolving around what Notre Dame must do to move up, and what risks there are in moving down. There is also a lengthy discussion about where Michigan should rank in DeDario's four-tier system. 

Check it out!

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Comments (10)
No. 1-5

I have several thoughts on this podcast. The first is how I think about the top 3 tiers of college football teams. The second is pertaining specifically to ND. Because of this I will break them into two comments.

When I think about the top three tiers in college football, I have a completely different take on it I think than @Bryan Driskell, I base my evaluation on the eye test with a strong dose of recency bias. Let me give you an example.

When I think of tier 1 teams, I am thinking who is going to win or at least play for the national championship. So last year going into the season I would have thought that it was either going to be Clemson or Alabama that's my tier 1 teams based on their current teams, trends, etc. If you thought LSU would have had a chance to play for the championship you might have considered them a tier-1 team, however, based on recent success, I think most people would have had a hard time putting LSU on the level of Clemson and Alabama. So for me, tier 1 teams are those two teams. Several years I would have put Ohio State as a borderline top tier team, because I would have thought they had a chance to win it all.

When I think of tier two teams I'm not thinking about who's going to play in the championship or who's going to win the championship, I'm thinking about who is going to the playoffs. These teams could win it all if things broke perfectly, but its not expected for them to win it all, but they definitely deserve a playoff bid. When I think of recent tier 2 team I am thinking of Oklahoma, Georgia, Notre Dame a couple of years, LSU last year and maybe a couple other teams in different years. Those are your tier two teams at least the way I'm looking at it. So if you are going to look at a ranking, tier one is probably your top two teams, and tier 2 is probably teams ranked anywhere from 3 to 6, but more so who are the next 2-4 most likely to make the playoffs after the tier 1 teams.. Not because the team is ranked in the top 6, but because these are the most likely playoff teams, the ones everyone is arguing about, so in 2018 people were talking about Michigan, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame all of those would have kind of been top two tier teams. Now last year Notre Dame was not a tier 2 team because nobody was consider them for the playoff after the Michigan blowout, but beginning of the season you probably have them as a borderline tier 2 team. Had they beat Michigan you would have been correct as they would have been in the discussion for the playoffs. Again the way I'm looking at a tier 2 team is who has a legit chance for the playoffs.

Tier 3 teams are generally the teams that round out the rest of the top 10ish college football programs. Since everybody is going to have a difference of opinion, this could expand up to 12 maybe 13 teams but realistically we're talking about the top 10-12 teams in college football. And if you're not ranked in the top 10ish, you don't have a real chance for national championship and you don't belong to the top 3 tiers in my opinion. Tier 3 teams are teams that are on the outside looking in at the playoffs, teams like Michigan, Washington, West Virginia, etc. These teams don't really have a chance to win it all, aren't quite playoff teams, but very, very solid teams. Penn State, maybe Wisconsin several years. You know Wisconsin isn't beating OSU, but they are the best or near the best of the rest, of the teams left out of the college football playoffs.


In regards to Notre Dame as a tier 2 program.

I think when we look at Notre Dame over the last several years, especially starting in 2017 and then looking at 2018 and 2019, every single one of those years I went into it looking at Notre Dame as though they had a chance to play in the playoffs. That was based on how they were playing, based on their coaching, etc. Right now, I'm having a hard time imagining them as a tier 2 team, as Brian said in the podcast, but I think for different stated reasons. Let me explain.

Going with my understanding of what a top-tier one program is, that team is going to either be the champion or will be playing for the championship. In order to do that you are going to have to have a very good to elite coaching staff and quarterback play. in 2017 Notre Dame got a very good coaching effort as well as pretty decent quarterback play for most of the year. In 2018 Notre Dame had a very good coaching staff and very good quarterback play and was a tier 2 team in just about everyone's opinion. However in 2019, Notre Dame's coaching staff was not as good and neither was our quarterback play, and as a result they were not a tier 2 team, and many people are having a hard time projecting them being better in 2020 than they were in 2019, and for good reason. I think in many people's opinion, the ND coaching staff took a step back and I think that most people don't believe that their quarterback play will take a step forward in 2020.

And this is the real reason that Notre Dame is not a tier-1 program right now, because of these two things holding them back. In 2015 Notre Dame's coaching staff was being held back by their defensive coordinator and in 2016 they had a terrible year from a coaching staff perspective as well as quarterback play. In 2017 their staff was much better, but they still had several weak points and in 2018 their offensive line coaching took a step back they still had struggles at running back and quarterback coaching as well, as in my opinion wide receiver, and we could even argue tight end coaching. In 2020 all of those concerns remain except for cornerback coaching in my opinion. BK's staff is going in the wrong direction.

It is a concerning thing to consider the regression of the coaching staff and in 2021 I would assume even the quarterback play will be taking a step backwards as well, although BK does have good luck with first-year starters, so maybe not. But this is, in my opinion, the biggest thing keeping Notre Dame from being a consistent tier 2 or a tier-1 school, they have too many holes in their coaching staff and they are not getting nearly the quarterback play that they need to on a consistent basis in order to be considered one of the truly elite teams in college football.


I was pretty surprised at people being upset about Oklahoma being in Tier 2, I never thought that was really in question...


Excellent podcast guys! I really did like the 'four tier' approach you talked about by the end of the discussion, definitely keep that for next year. I also liked discussion about the teams in a tier below the Irish, it helped to give me an idea who some of the up and coming teams may be.

It's funny, I was chomping at the bit the whole time, because I think Notre Dame and Michigan are very, very close as programs. You didn't talk about Michigan until the end of the discussion, but explained that the difference was the Irish playoff appearance.

I still remember a long time ago Bryan said that Michigan fans can be 'insufferable', and that is so true (I can't STAND the Wolverines), but the programs are neck - and - neck in my book.


Coach, this was a great podcast and discussion. However, I cannot believe the blunder you made in making this list. You have truly disappointed me as both a ND fan and a general college football fan (I hope you can read the mild sarcasm here).

You really have Penn State on the same level al ND the last 5 years??? I understand you looked at their record and saw they have won many games, but let us take a look at their schedule a bit closer. Many PSU fans will state they play a very difficult schedule every year.

However, during the time frame you analyzed, PSU's non-conference schedule, the games they chose to play & not the games scheduled for them by the Big 10, have included Pitt, Akron, Idaho, Kent State, Georgia State, Buffalo, App State, and Temple. Only one of those teams is power 5. PSU is too chicken to schedule a real team for non-conference, so they schedule 3 cupcake wins. By comparison, Ohio State has recently played a home & home with Oklahoma, and will, in the coming years, play a home & home with ND.

But PSU plays such a difficult Big 10 schedule! They need some warmup games! Let's forget for a moment that PSU's Big 10 rivals still schedule real teams in non-conference. Sure, they have to play Ohio State in their division. And sure, Michigan is a solid team. Those are two games PSU might lose most years. However, their division also includes Rutgers, Maryland, and Indiana. Another 3 automatic wins (plus 3 automatic wins from non-conference). Then, for cross division games, they also get to play the likes of Illinois, Purdue, and Northwestern.

After a deeper dive, we can see PSU is a paper tiger program, padding their record with wins vs cupcake teams simply because they play Ohio State every year. If ND played this schedule, would they win 10-11 games every year? I should hope so.