Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2019

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

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46 FEBRUARY 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T he data goes beyond harsh: In the quarter- century from 1994-2018, Notre Dame is 0-8 in the major bowl/College Football Playoff environment — and lost those contests by an average of 20.8 points. Such futility just six years ago was defined as "Clemson- ing," because from approxi- mately the early 1990s until the end of the 2013 football season, that derisive appella- tion was defined in the urban dictionary as "the act of failing miserably on a grand athletic stage, or when the stakes are high." Consequently, it wouldn't be a surprise if "Notredameing" be- comes a new word coined in the col- lege football lexicon. The Irish have experienced an as- tounding major bowl turnaround over two 25-year cycles. In the first from 1969 (when Notre Dame first decided to rescind its 44- year non-bowl policy) through 1993, the Fighting Irish were the king of the major bowl scene. They won 10 of them — more than any other school — with seven coming against unbeaten and/or No. 1-ranked teams. That helped result in three national titles and three other near misses. That second 25-year cycle from 1994- 2018 was quite the opposite. With that said, to now engage in the "See, I told you Notre Dame wasn't one of the four best teams" in 2018 is misguided as well. College football is not about one game, unlike the NFL where teams with four, five or six defeats can win the championship, and the same in col- lege basketball. In college football the entire regular season is its own entity of a season-long playoff for the right to go to the Final Four. To finish 12-0 versus a true Football Bowl Subdivision slate laden with Power Five opposition is a special feat that merits huge plaudits for the staff and players. And if not Notre Dame, who should have been the "other" team? Georgia? You mean the team that lost by 20 points to LSU? The Bulldogs did make the playoff! Despite that three-touchdown loss to LSU, they still advanced to the "Elite Eight" with a shot at the Final Four if they could defeat Alabama in the SEC title game. The Bulldogs were valiant in the effort … but lost. Isn't "survive and advance" the essence of playoffs? Like Georgia football in 2018, Notre Dame men's basketball was marvelous in the 2015 Elite Eight before losing by one point to unbeaten and No. 1 Ken- tucky. The Irish didn't advance either because of that defeat. Neither should Georgia with a second loss when it was presented with its chance. Do the "best four" teams always make the Final Four in men's basket- ball? Absolutely not, which is how a George Mason, Virginia Common- wealth and Butler, plus dozens of other non-No. 1 seeds, advance that far in given years. The "best four" often don't even make the Sweet 16. Ohio State? You mean the same Buckeyes that lost by 29 points to a Purdue team that incurred seven de- feats and trailed 56-7 at halftime of its bowl game? Off games happen to everyone. For OSU, it was during the playoff-mode of the regular season. For Notre Dame, it was in the actual playoff, and against a much more formidable foe. Let's not be unmindful that in its most recent playoff appearance in 2016, the Buck- eyes lost 31-0 to Clemson … and then last year also lost to Iowa by 31. Bottom line: Notre Dame earned the right to be in the four-team CFP based on the "regular- season playoff," and need not apologize to anyone. What also is evident is that college football parity remains a myth (as it has throughout much of history). Alabama currently has a dynasty, with Clemson the main challenger. Georgia, with its recent re- cruiting prowess and on-field success, is the closest, with Ohio State and Oklahoma, to joining the top duo in the years to come. Look for the Irish this Sept. 21 to be a simi- lar huge underdog at Georgia as they were versus Clemson. What Notre Dame has done the past four years is at least put itself in position to be a more stable top-10 program. However, it probably won't achieve championship status until it reels in recruiting classes more fre- quently in the top-five range rather than top 10-15 — augmented, natu- rally, by strong coaching, motivation, infrastructure and scheduling. Even with four straight No. 1 classes from 1987-90 and a top head coach in Lou Holtz, the Irish managed "only" one title. Achieving it with top-10 to top-15 classes makes it less probable. Our "From The Web" forum on page 5 expounds on this. The consistent 11th to 13th-ranked hauls make Notre Dame competitive, a top-10 program, but the top three or four bring in two or three game changers each season, particularly at the glamour positions of quarterback, running back and re- ceiver, plus defensive line. The easiest positions to recruit for the Irish are offensive line and tight end, but top-50 caliber recruits every- where is where the Alabamas, Clem- sons and Georgias now trod. Until similar advancement is achieved — without significantly com- promising the school, a tricky aspect — the next 25-year major bowl/CFP cycle might remain closer to 1994-2018 than 1969-93. ✦ Final Steps Toward Title Remain Steepest THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Brian Kelly has had three undefeated regular seasons since 2009, but Dabo Swinney has four straight College Football Playoff runs and a national title. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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