Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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6 SEPT. 17, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T here were certain harbingers that 2018 would be a good season for the Notre Dame football team. We would define that as at least a top‑10 finish as a team, which would be only the third time the past 25 years. • First and foremost was the re‑ turning talent and experience, espe‑ cially on defense, from a team that finished 10‑3. • Second would be its remarkable history in years where horse racing has a Triple Crown winner, as it did this year with Justify. The previous 12 years where there was such an achievement the Fight‑ ing Irish were 107‑11‑5 (.890) with eight unbeaten and/or national ti‑ tles, and never finishing lower than No. 11. • Third, in years ending with 8, the Irish also have the fewest losses (19) since the Associated Press poll's advent in 1936, and it's the lone num‑ bered year where Notre Dame did not finish with a record of .500 or less. • Most important and relevant of all is defeating the University of Michigan, which the Irish did Sept. 1 to open the campaign. A triumph against the Wolverines doesn't necessarily guarantee pros‑ perity, but it usually helps avoid ca‑ lamity with a disappointing to dis‑ mal outcome. It would be inaccurate to state that vanquishing Michigan is an auto‑ matic ticket to a prosperous result. Prior to this year, three of the last five times the Fighting Irish defeated the Wolverines the final records were 8‑5 (2014), 7‑6 (2008) and 6‑6 (2004), the latter resulting in the ouster of head coach Tyrone Willingham. The "other two" in those five conquests of Michigan resulted in the only two top‑10 finishes by the Irish the past 24 years: No. 9 in 2005 (17‑10) and No. 4 in 2012 (13‑6). By the way, both happened to be defensive‑dominated battles that re‑ sulted in seven‑point triumphs — just like the 24‑17 victory this season in Notre Dame Stadium. Entering the opener this month, the Notre Dame‑Michigan series since its renewal in 1978 had been dead even with a 15‑15‑1 outcome in the 31 meetings. Interesting to note is that Michigan often has still had very good seasons despite losing to Notre Dame, with either Big Ten titles plus Rose Bowl wins in 1980 and 1988 (the only two under head coach Bo Schembechler), or league titles and major bowl ap‑ pearances in years such as 1989, 1990, 1998, 2002 and 2004. Part of this dynamic probably can be attributed to Michigan's confer‑ ence status. A defeat to Notre Dame still does not affect a primary aspira‑ tion, which is winning the Big Ten. It's been a stark contrast for Notre Dame. Because the game is usually early, if not the opener, there is no greater buzz kill for the operation than losing to the Wolverines. In the 15 years since 1978 where the Irish lost to Michigan the Irish winning percentage totaled out to .555 — with 11 seasons of at least five losses and seven at .500 or worse. The lone top‑10 finish was way back in 1978, when quarterback Joe Mon‑ tana and the troops rallied from an 0‑2 start following a national title to finish 9‑3 and No. 7 in the AP rank‑ ings (No. 6 in the coaches' poll). Meanwhile, in the 16 years where Notre Dame won or tied Michigan since 1978, the overall winning per‑ centage was .751, with eight top‑10 finishes. The early first impression is this year 's triumph against the Wolver‑ ines has a better likelihood of follow‑ ing the 2005 and 2012 top‑10 path than not. An even better portent of excel‑ lence for Notre Dame is when it man‑ ages to defeat both Michigan and USC in the same campaign. In the 31 attempts since 1978, that has oc‑ curred only six times — and just once since 1994 (the 12‑1 finish in 2012). The last five times that occurred from 1988‑2012, Notre Dame's regu‑ lar‑season record was 53‑4 (.930 win‑ ning percentage), and all five times the Irish were vying for the national title in a major January bowl game. ✦ UNDER THE DOME SETTING THE MOOD The win over Michigan doesn't guarantee a great season … but it helps a lot In 2005 and 2012, a Michigan conquest was part of a top-10 finish for Notre Dame. The Irish hope a season-opening victory over the Wolverines can be a similar omen this fall. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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