Why Notre Dame might have the most delusional fan base in college football

It’s no secret that it’s been a tough season at Notre Dame. After winning 10 games last year and going to the Fiesta Bowl, the Irish aren’t just struggling this year, they’re downright awful. Notre Dame is just 3-6, with losses to some of college football’s most disappointing teams, including Michigan State (2-7), Texas (5-4) and NC State (4-5).

So yeah, it’s bad. And the fan base is starting to get reckless, with one writing into Stewart Mandel’s mailbag and complaining this week about the state of the program, highlighting the “pitiful, seven-year performance of Brian Kelly.”

Well, FS1’s Colin Cowherd saw the complaint and wasn’t a fan, breaking down the argument on “The Herd” Thursday (the video is above).

“Of all the fan bases though, I think Notre Dame is just the most delusional. How many coaches do you need to see struggle to realize maybe it’s harder to win there?

“I saw Stewart Mandel, FOXSports.com, had an article, and somebody wrote in and said ‘I’m an alum and I’m overly invested. We have zero major bowl wins, blowout losses in two appearances.'

“You know why Notre Dame has bowl losses? Because Notre Dame gets into bowl games they don’t deserve to be in. Against Alabama, against Ohio State, they get smoked. Because everyone knows that if you invite Notre Dame, you get a good TV rating, and their fans come from across the country and fill your stadium. You [Notre Dame] are getting in better bowls than you deserve to get into.”

Whether the Irish have the most delusional fan base or not – that’s Colin’s opinion, not mine – the point that expectations might be a little out of line in South Bend seem 100 percent fair.

After all, college football has evolved a lot over the last 30 years or so since the Irish were last competing regularly for national championships under Lou Holtz. And the Irish no longer hold many of the advantages they once had.

Back in the day, Notre Dame was the only team in the country to have all their games nationally televised. In 2016, while no one else quite has the same TV deal as the Irish do, just about everyone has all their games broadcast on national TV. You don’t need to play at Notre Dame to be watched all over the country. You can do it everywhere from Rutgers to Washington State. The academic advantage that was once huge for Notre Dame has since been mitigated by others like Stanford, Vanderbilt and Northwestern improving as well.

Add it all up, and it’s time for Notre Dame fans to get a grip, according to Cowherd:

“Just say it out loud with Notre Dame. Academics, isolated, cold weather, religious overtones … It’s a hard place socially. It’s not cool like Ann Arbor. It’s not a city like Columbus. It’s academic. It’s religious. It’s hard to get in. It’s hard to stay in.”

He continued, using those factors to explain the Irish’s dip on the field.

“Notre Dame doesn’t have a single elite, NFL cornerback. They don’t have a single, elite NFL pass rusher. They don’t have a single, elite NFL running back. They don’t have a single, elite NFL quarterback. They don’t have a single, elite NFL linebacker. Their best player in the NFL is a guard, the most unathletic position in football — Zach Martin, Dallas Cowboys.”

“I have nothing against Notre Dame, but if you put them in the SEC, you put them in the Big Ten, they’re a four or five loss team.”

The only thing I’d really disagree with is the last part. The Irish have had talent over the last few years, even if they haven’t quite had the depth that other college football powers have had. Jaylon Smith would have been a first-round pick at linebacker last year had he not gotten hurt, and running back C.J. Prosise is, at the very least, seeing the field in Seattle after leaving Notre Dame last year. Again, the Irish aren’t Alabama. But few are.

I do agree with Colin on a few key points, mainly that Notre Dame isn’t an easy place to win. And fans should be grateful for coach Brian Kelly, rather than looking for a  way to get rid of him.

This is a guy who has twice had the Irish in the thick of the national championship conversation (2013 and 2016) and had injuries not ravaged the Irish a season ago, they very well could have ended up in the playoff. Kelly is a good coach, but Notre Dame simply isn’t a school that is positioned to compete for national titles every year.

That’s also why the idea of even discussing the possibility of removing him is just plain dumb. Who will Notre Dame get that is better than him? Who will they get who guarantees more wins or shows an ability to recruit better? To Colin’s point, who out there will understand the unique culture around the Irish program?

Nick Sabans and Jim Harbaughs don’t grow on trees, and frankly, Notre Dame is lucky to have Brian Kelly.