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What’s the missing piece needed for Notre Dame to win a national championship?

What do the teams that won a national title in the 2010’s have that Notre Dame doesn’t?

Welcome to the 2020s — the roaring 20s if you will. As to what this new decade will bring matters not. The only thing that concerns me is if the Notre Dame Fighting Irish win their first National Title since 1993*. Using the data of the previous decade, I have concluded there is but one thing that has kept the Irish from claiming a national title.

No, it isn’t recruiting 15 five star kids via a bag man (though that couldn’t hurt). Clemson won a national title in 2016 despite having a lower average class recruiting ranking (11.8) than Notre Dame (10.2) in a five year cycle. In fact, Clemson had more 3 stars starting on their 2015 runner-up team than Notre Dame did.

It’s certainly not the defense. Under Clark Lea, the Irish have been among the nations best, finishing 12th and 13th in points per game. No, what they have lacked is a truly elite player at either running back, wide receiver or quarterback. A dominant skill position player is the only thing holding the Irish back. In simple terms, Notre Dame needs a skill position player that will be drafted in the top 10 of the NFL draft in order to win a national title. The sad reality is, they haven’t had a skill position player drafted in the top 10 since the 1993 draft, when Rick Mirer went #2 and Jerome Bettis went #10.

If the adage is defense wins championships, why are the last nine national champions averaging 40.7 points per game? In the title game alone, the winning team has averaged scoring 31.1 points during the 2010s. These skill players are serving as the difference.

NCAA FOOTBALL: JAN 09 CFP National Championship - Clemson v Alabama
I want one.
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • 2010 Auburn Tigers - Cam Newton QB 1st pick of 2011 draft
  • 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide- Trent Richardson RB 3rd pick of 2012 draft
  • 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide - Amari Cooper WR 4th pick of 2015 draft
  • 2013 Florida State Seminoles - Jameis Winston QB 1st pick of 2015 draft
  • 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes - Ezekiel Elliott RB 4th pick of the 2016 draft
  • 2015 Alabama Crimson Tide - While starting WR Calvin Ridley went #26 in the 2018 draft and though Derrick Henry won the Heisman, they do not fit the criteria.
  • 2016 Clemson - Mike Williams WR 7th pick of the 2017 draft (Should be noted Deshaun Watson went #12)
  • 2017 Alabama Crimson Tide - The jury is still out with a trio of freshman receivers; Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy, combined to account for 90 of the 187 passing yards and 2 TDS in the championship game. Oh and Tua Tagovailoa coming in at halftime to win the game. Most have Tua pegged to the Dolphin’s at 5 and Judy as a top 10 pick.
  • 2018 Clemson - Once again, it’s too early but you can say with pretty good certainty that Trevor Lawrence is going to be the first pick when he decides to go to the NFL. Justyn Ross is kinda good as well.
  • 2019 LSU Tigers and Clemson Tigers are both loaded with future top 10 skill position players, so whether Lawrence or Burrow gets it done on January 13th, it will make 9 of 10.
College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - LSU v Oklahoma
Greatest college football quarterback of all time.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

So do the Irish have anyone who could fit that criteria? Unless Ian Book turns in a season on the level of Joe Burrow’s fifth year, that player likely didn’t see a snap last year. Thus, I believe the player who might end up as top 10 pick hasn’t yet enrolled in class. Of course I’m talking about 2020 incoming freshmen; RB Chris Tyree, WR Jordan Johnson and TE Michael Mayer. Each member of these Notre Dame version of “the triplets” is a top 50 players in the class.

“But Brendan! Freshmen don’t start on offense for Brian Kelly,” you might say. To that I would like to submit to the jury the number of top 50 recruits on offense that Brian Kelly has had as a freshmen in his 10 years as head coach.

Gunner’s number couldn’t be more apt.

This is truly unprecedented ground for Brian Kelly and I do not believe you can look to Kelly’s past reluctance to use freshmen on offense. (Though I would like to point out Kelly did split snaps with Robert Hainsey at RT when he was a freshman). The fact that these three players are freshmen, does not alter my narrative at all — rather it may strengthen it. You need only look to last year to see the type of impact a freshman receiver of Jordan Johnson's acumen can have.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Cotton Bowl-Notre Dame vs Clemson Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Justyn Ross was the #47 player overall in the 2019 class, he torched the Fightin Irish in the playoff semi’s last year with statline of 148yds 2TDs and then followed it up with 153yds and a touchdown in the championship game against Alabama.

Discover BCS National Championship - Notre Dame v Alabama Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

I cited Amari Cooper above. Cooper was just a true freshman when he was icing the game in Miami against the Irish with a pair of touchdowns. Would they have beaten ND without him? Yes, absolutely, but without Cooper catching a 45 yard touchdown in the SEC Championship , that ended up being the game winner, the Irish would have been playing Georgia. Calvin Ridley was a true freshman on the 2015 Alabama squad and lead the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

With the departures of Chase Claypool, Chris Finke, and the unlikely status of Javon McKinley; there will be an opportunity to play his way onto the field. Braden Lenzy figures, based on his snaps toward the end of the season, to factor into the starting lineup but there is still much we need to see from Kevin Austin (suspended in 2019) and Lawrence Keys III. Can someone with the body control, height and hands to make plays like the one below, find 20 meaningful balls thrown his way in 2020?

When it comes to running backs, this is the position that historically has had the most impact freshmen. In terms of title teams from the last decade, Michael Dyer was the #8 player in the 2010 class and as a freshmen he lead the Auburn Tigers in rushing yards during the season and set up the game winning score in the 2010 title game. But even expounding outside title winners, to assert that a freshman cannot come in and have an immediate impact is an absurd notion. I went back and looked a true freshmen in finished in the top 25 in yards per attempt (with qualifying numbers of course) over the last 3 years:

  • 2019- Jerrion Ealy(Ol’ Miss) finished 13th with 6.94ypc(104 - 722yd)
  • 2018- Pooka Williams(Kansas) finished 20th with 6.99ypc(161-1125yd)
  • 2017- D’Andre Swift(Georgia) finished 10th with 7.63ypc(81-618yd)
    J.K. Dobbins(Ohio State) finished 14th with 7.23ypc(194-1403yd)
    Travis Etienne(Clemson) finished 16th with 7.16ypc(107-766yd)
    Jonathan Taylor(Wisconsin) finished 25th with 6.61ypc(299-1977yd)
Ohio State v Indiana
The most electric freshman running back of the decade.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

While I admit, using yards per attempt is fairly hackneyed, it does provide a decent show of the impact freshmen running backs have had in recent years. If Brian Kelly and the new OC can’t figure out a way to utilize this for 7-10 touches a game, then I am at a loss:

Do I think that Chris Tyree is going to turn in a JK Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor or Saquon Barkley(182 - 1076yd) freshman season? I don’t think so. He’d need to come into fall camp about 10-15 good pounds heavier (needs to weight at least 190) to handle that kind of work load.

Rivals recruiting director Mike Farrell said during the UA All-American game that Chris Tyree was going to be an immediate impact player for Notre Dame, and that’s good enough for me. He has legit 4.2-4.3 speed, top end foot work to make people miss but not afraid to lower a shoulder into a hole. If Purdue could put a 175lb Rondale Moore on the field in 2018 for over 1600 all purpose yards and Louisville can put Tutu Atwell, who might weight 155lbs soaking wet with a pocket full of nickels, then I don’t see how size is should be a deterrent.

One last note, according to ESPN Chris Tyree is clocked with a 40 time of 4.23, he won Virginia state 55m dash with a time of 6.30seconds.

The difference between Chris Tyree’s 40 time of 4.23 and Braden Lenzy’s 40 time of 4.40 is .17. That’s the the same difference as Lenzy and Drue Tranquill’s 40 time of 4.57.

I would be remiss to not mention the third caballero, incoming tight end Michael Mayer. There are some members of the One Foot Down staff who think the world of young Mr. Mayer:

On the national stage, Mayer has done nothing but impress experts. He was almost universally lauded as the most impressive player during “The Opening” over the summer and was equally dominant during the All-American Bowl lead-up and game. Carter Karels, the recruiting insider for the South Bend Tribune and gas station food aficionado, believes Mayer is going to come in and instantly compete for starting time.

Kentucky’s Mr. Football has seemingly all the tangibles to be the next great tight end at Notre Dame, and with Cole Kmet’s departure to the NFL, he likely has the greatest chance to see meaningful regular snaps of the three. Could his impact be dominant enough to impact the Irish offense like other two could? If he were to replicate Kyle Rudolph’s 2008 freshman campaign of 29 catches for 340yds and 2TD, then absolutely.

Notre Dame v Michigan State
Kyle Rudolph was unfair.
Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

A lot of the success Notre Dame does or doesn’t have next year is going to be dependent on coaching decisions Brian Kelly makes pertaining to the offensive coordinator. The continued dominance of Clark Lea’s defense and maturation of the young secondary will also be key. But let it be known that for the Irish to make it back to the playoffs AND win a game — they are going to need to get one of the skill position players on their roster to play at an elite level. The question will be, is that player going to be on a flight to Dublin come August?


Will Notre Dame feature an elite skill position player in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Yes, and he’s already on campus.
    (205 votes)
  • 51%
    Yes, but he won’t be here till the fall.
    (398 votes)
  • 12%
    (93 votes)
  • 9%
    When does Tyler Buchner enroll?
    (70 votes)
766 votes total Vote Now

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