To be elite you must do something or gain an accomplishment that proves such a description. In the realm of college football a program can win their conference, win a BCS bowl game or the no-brainer, win a national championship.
Well, Notre Dame can't win a conference championship, they've never won a BCS bowl game and haven't won a national championship since 1988.
The blue blood programs of college football have earned their generous share of goodwill when it comes to their status. Past dominance and feats of greatness allow for dry times to be weathered, but at some point a program has to reassert itself and actually win something of substance.
Notre Dame has not.
In fact, one could argue that the last truly great team to take the field in South Bend was all the way back in 1993, the year they upset then No.1 Florida State at home.
One could argue that Florida State is in the same boat as Notre Dame, but they at least secured an ACC title in the past six years.
Since that 1993 season, Notre Dame has only won 10 games twice and are an abysmal 2-10 in bowl games.
They are on their fifth head coach with one of them, George O'Leary, never even seeing the sidelines. You can make that six if you count Kent Baer who took over as the interim coach after Tyrone Willingham was fired for the 2004 Insight Bowl.
Notre Dame has been declared "back" a few times in this era. There was the 8-0 start under Willingham and the smoke-and-mirror seasons in the first two years under Charlie Weis.
Brian Kelly has yet to find that moment.
If you are under the age of 30, you only really know Notre Dame as a mediocre football program. My brother is a high school teacher and the students in his classes are perplexed as to why Notre Dame is on TV each and every week, especially since they have never won anything in their lifetime.
The Fighting Irish's greatest accomplishment over the last decade is almost beating USC at home in 2005.
Each time they've punched their "old money" card to secure a BCS berth it has ended in embarrassment at the hands of Oregon State, Ohio State, and LSU.
You can't doubt Notre Dame's historical roots and the width of their fanbase, which is evident by NBC's willingness to fork over money to hold onto an inferior television product.
Still, time catches up with everyone and if the Irish continue to champion teams that can only get to eight or nine wins on a good year then eventually they will be forgotten.
This institution has nothing to fall back on. There's no conference title to hang their hat on, no exciting conference championship game for a coach to feature in recruiting. Add all of that to the stringent academic requirements, the northern location and lack of success, how can anyone expect the Irish to compete with the dominant programs of today?
The flip side to that is if Notre Dame is able to make a splash somehow, their program can easily be resurrected due their traditional roots.
The question is, can they make that happen?