Notre Dame football taking steps to battle SEC


South Bend Tribune


Competing with the Southeastern Conference is paramount for the growth — and ultimate stability — of the Notre Dame football program.

Brian Kelly is aware of that college football fact of life.

All the Irish coach has to do is figure out how to make that happen.

Kelly and his staff took a major step toward that end when word trickled out of Atlanta last week that the Irish coaches were planning on teaming with current Georgia State head coach — and former Notre Dame assistant — Trent Miles (under Tyrone Willingham) in a 2015 summer camp.

Gotta love loopholes in the laundry list of all those NCAA rules.

That’s one way to get a foothold south of the Mason-Dixon Line. If there’s a problem getting the cream of that athletic crop to come to South Bend for a look, it’s time to take the show on the road.

Supplying Notre Dame coaches for the Georgia State camp is a very creative way to get the message to the masses with a southern twang, y’all.

As can be imagined, the SEC coaches are pretty honked off. A bunch of darn Yankees are trying to infiltrate the Motherland and poach talent.

An insecure lot, these guys.

The gold standard in the game for the past several years, why would they even bat an eye at a such a remote northern outpost as Notre Dame trying this desperate ploy? Instead of crying foul, why not just bust out the swagger and say, “Bring it on, baby?”

What’s there to be concerned about?

Other than Miles torching a whole lot of bridges to the SEC, which probably never existed anyway, the positives for him and the Irish are plenty. Get a first-hand look at the best of the best from the Atlanta area and points nearby. Some may realize they aren’t in the same athletic stratosphere as those coveted by the Irish, but Georgia State might be a perfect fit.

Win. Win.

Now, if that can only translate on the field.

Locating and developing a relationship with the athletes is a nice place to start. Transforming a program into one that can compete on a regular basis is quite another.

The arrival of artificial turf at Notre Dame Stadium will, at least, make the Irish look faster. Impressions and perceptions can be the foundation for change. Maybe a little smoke and mirrors. Even if the 40 times aren’t faster, they may look better doing it.

With limited spots on the schedule available, there needs to be an effort to schedule SEC teams — and not just bottom feeders like Kentucky, Arkansas, and either of the Mississippis.

Word that scheduling discussions between Notre Dame and Georgia are on the “front burner” is proof positive that the Irish have a plan to establish themselves as a competitive force with anyone in the game.

Since Ara Parseghian took over the Notre Dame helm in 1964, the Irish have played 36 games against SEC teams (Missouri and Texas A&M didn’t count because they weren’t in the league at the time). Seven of those were in bowl games.

The Irish are 22-14 (61 percent) in those games, 3-4 in postseason contests.

Not counting Willingham, who was 1-0 (beating Tennessee in 2004), any idea which coach has the best winning percentage against the SEC? C’mon, think.

Let’s see, there are three Hall of Famers – Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz. It’s gotta be one of them, right? Ara gets the nod at 3-1 (75 percent). Holtz was 5-3 (63 percent) as well as Devine. But, what didn’t add up was that Gerry Faust was 4-2 (67 percent) during his era or errors.

That may have been a time before the SEC was the SEC.

Kelly got an up-close-and-personal lesson on the best the SEC has to offer when Alabama upstaged the Irish in January, 2013. Since then, it’s been a game of catch-up.

On paper, the Irish have an offense that could probably hold its own among the SEC elite. The defense, at least 90 or so days before the opening kickoff, seems as though it would struggle in the Sun Belt.

The goal right now is to be able to compete.

The next step is to win.

Al Lesar: 574-235-6318

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly shakes hands with Alabama coach Nick Saban after the BCS National Championship game Jan. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)