Irish challenged by changing landscape

  • Follow College

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- The last time Notre Dame claimed a national championship, this year's freshman class ... wasn't alive.

Back | Next
Coach Charlie Weis has gone 22-15 in three years at Notre Dame, which has struggled since its title run in 1988.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Coach Charlie Weis has gone 22-15 in three years at Notre Dame, which has struggled since its title run in 1988.

Such a statement once was unimaginable to Irish players and their fans. But it's true, for the first time since Knute Rockne roamed the sidelines.

The Irish haven't been champions since Lou Holtz led them to a title in 1988.

That's the longest drought in school history -- but it's not just the lack of championships. It's Notre Dame's inability to compete for titles. During the longest previous dry spell, which began with the 1949 championship and ended in 1966, the Irish finished in the top 10 seven times.

So why can't Notre Dame win like it used to?

There are a litany of standard responses about why. Some blame Notre Dame's high academic standards. Others cite the facilities. Others say Notre Dame's schedule as an independent is too tough. Last year, Notre Dame faced 10 bowl teams.

Notre Dame has taken steps to address some of those concerns. It built a 96,000-square-foot athletic complex with generous amenities three years ago, and this season players began practicing on two new artificial turf fields and another new grass field.

Before leaving for Duke in May, former athletic director Kevin White took steps to soften Notre Dame's schedule. The Irish open this year against San Diego State and next season start against Nevada and will play only four road games. Charlie Weis has recruited three consecutive top-10 classes, so academics don't appear to be the problem.

Observers, though, say there are other factors making it harder for Notre Dame to hit the heights it reached in the past.

Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief of Rivals.com, said the changing football landscape -- like the limiting of scholarships and greater TV coverage -- has hurt.

But Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst of CBS College Sports, believes Notre Dame's biggest problem has been its inability to attract game-breaking talent. "You have to have the great players," he said.

In 1990, Holtz recruited five future first-round NFL Draft picks in one recruiting class. In the 14 drafts since, Notre Dame has had a total of four first-round draft picks. During that same span, Miami has produced 33 first-round draft picks, Ohio State 25 and Southern Cal 17.

Holtz said the coach at Notre Dame must realize there are challenges.

"That's the way Notre Dame runs," he said. "That's what makes Notre Dame special."

Jack Swarbrick, who just started as athletic director full-time Aug. 18, said he knows of no reason why the Irish can't compete, although he does believe its academics gives the school a smaller margin of error than other places.

"That doesn't mean we can't win. We might not be in that game as often as somebody who doesn't face that. But it doesn't mean we can't be there," he said.

LUCK RUNS OUT

FALLING BEHIND: Since winning the national title in 1988, Notre Dame's winning percentage dropped from 75.7 percent to 73.9, falling behind Michigan (74.5).


GAINING FAST: The Irish remain second behind Michigan on the list of most victories with 824, but Texas is just four wins behind.


BAD NUMBERS: Since finishing the 1993 season ranked No. 2, the Irish have posted just two 10-win seasons and four losing seasons, and have lost an NCAA-record nine consecutive bowl games.


NOT NO. 1: Notre Dame hasn't been ranked No. 1 since its 41-39 loss to Boston College in the regular-season finale on Nov. 20, 1993. The longest previous stretch without being No. 1 at any point during a season was from a 27-14 loss to Purdue on Oct. 2, 1954, until after a 40-0 win over Navy on Oct. 31, 1964.


Search Augusta jobs