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

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Page 38 of 55 OCT. 7, 2019 39 Two years earlier in 2006, the Fighting Irish for the first time began 12-game regular-season schedules on a yearly basis, and the realiza- tion crystallized that going through a 12-game gauntlet with only Power Five teams might not be conducive to championship aspirations. So in 2008 and 2009, Notre Dame opened their seasons against non- Power Five teams San Diego State and Nevada, respectively. By 2010, Mid-American Confer- ence winner Western Michigan was added, and in 2015 the Fighting Irish schedule began a string of what will now be annual one-game visits from teams in lower-level leagues. The MAC is especially convenient be- cause most of the schools are based in the Midwest as border states (Bowling Green is in Ohio), so travel is minimal for them and it is under- stood there will be no return game to their campus. The Mountain West also has be- come a convenient addition with past ties. Nevada visited for a sec- ond time in 2016 while coached by current Notre Dame special teams co- ordinator and recruiting coordinator Brian Polian, who was realistic going into the contest. The prime purpose was to pick up a $1 million payday for the school to make the trip. "If we were supposed to beat Notre Dame we wouldn't be in the Moun- tain West," Polian said after the 39-10 defeat in 2016. This year it was New Mexico, coached by former Irish head coach Bob Davie (1997-2001), who was un- able to make the trip because of a health setback. That contest also had a lopsided 66-14 result in favor of Notre Dame. The SEC in particular has made scheduling into an art form because of the potential of a 13th game with its conference title game. For example, Alabama this year strategically has New Mexico State and Western Carolina — the tune- up the week before facing Auburn — on its slate. Auburn likewise has Samford scheduled the week before Alabama, with Kent State earlier in the season. Georgia played Murray State and Arkansas State in the two games prior to hosting Notre Dame. Clem- son, which has been in the College Football Playoff four straight years and won two national titles, has Charlotte and Wofford on the slate. Thus, interspersing games against MAC or Mountain West foes is a first step to allaying some degree of dif- ficulty in a 12-game schedule. THE RETURN OF BRIAN VANGORDER The last time first-year Bowling Green defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was in Notre Dame Sta- dium, the Fighting Irish student body was calling for his ouster amidst a 38-35 loss at home to Duke on Sept. 24, 2016 to drop to 1-3. In those three defeats — all to teams that would finish with losing records — the Fighting Irish surrendered 124 points (41.33 per game). The next morning, it was an- nounced that VanGorder had been fired after a tumultuous ride that be- gan with his hiring in 2014 to replace 2010-13 defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who had accepted the head coaching job at Connecticut that lasted three seasons. Named the Frank Broyles Assistant Coach of the Year at the University of Georgia in 2003, VanGorder went to the NFL in 2007 but his career arc took a dramatic downturn this decade for schemes and teachings considered too complex for the college game. In his one season at Auburn (2012) the Tigers finished 0-8 in the SEC, with losses by scores such as 63-21 (Texas A&M), 38-0 (Georgia) and 49-0 (Alabama). His Notre Dame career peaked in game two with a 31-0 whitewash of Michigan, but the Irish finished the regular season 1-5 while permitting 40 points per game over the final seven regular season contests. A 10-3 record in 2015 helped mask defensive defi- ciencies (as did linebacker and Butkus Award winner Jaylon Smith) in 2015, but the problems were exposed again in 2016. With VanGorder as the defensive coordinator at Louisville last season, the 2-10 Cardinals lost their final nine games and permitted 66, 38, 56, 77, 54, 52 and 56 points in their last seven contests. Prior to its Sept. 28 bye, Bowling Green had yielded 49.7 points per game in its three losses to Kansas State, Louisiana Tech and Kent State. How fleeting past glory can be. STEPPING-STONE POSITION The MAC has been known as a launching pad for outstanding coach- ing careers — Miami (Ohio) even earning the Cradle of Coaches moni- ker — and in the 21st century Bowl- ing Green in particular has produced three-time national champion Urban Meyer (2001-02), Wake Forest's Dave Clawson (2009-13) and Syracuse's Dino Babers (2014-15). The Falcons also produced Don Nehlen (1968-76), whose 1988 West Virginia team played Notre Dame for the national title in 1988, and in 1993 manufactured another 11-0 regular season. First-year head coach Scot Loeffler, the offensive coordinator/quarter- backs coach at Boston College from 2016-18 who also worked with Van- Gorder at Auburn in 2012, has his own opportunity to thrive, although it will probably require a lot of pa- tience during a rebuilding phase. ✦ GAME PREVIEW: BOWLING GREEN Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's Bowling Green unit has allowed an average of 49.7 points in its three losses this year. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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