Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 12, 2019

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

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54 OCT. 12, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED N otre Dame legend Ara Parseghian (1964-74) once told me that when he was a young coach starting out, it wasn't easy to accept four things beyond his control. First was the weather — in spite of the popular "Ara, stop the rain!" chants from the stu- dent body. Two was officiating, three was turnovers or "funny bounces," and finally four was injuries. In 2019, another "uncontrol- lable" to add is schedules and how they are perceived. In March 2017 when the 2019 Notre Dame slate was first unveiled, the reaction among many Fighting Irish faithful was one of horror: Louisville, Georgia, Michigan and Stanford all on the road, plus USC and Virginia Tech at home. At the time it seemed insane, and even Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick admitted there were certain aspects beyond his control when it came to piecing together the schedule. At the time, there also was a differ- ent context. Notre Dame was coming off a 4-8 season and the Brian Kelly era appeared to be on the brink of col- lapsing. Meanwhile: • Louisville was a top-20 operation under Bobby Petrino that just pro- duced a Heisman Trophy winner (La- mar Jackson). • Michigan head coach Jim Har- baugh was deemed nearly in the same company as Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, having made Stanford a top- 10 program, taking the moribund San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl and losing on a controversial call at Ohio State in 2016 that could have resulted in a berth to the four-team College Football Playoff (CFP) in just his sec- ond year at his alma mater. • USC had just finished No. 3 in the country under head coach Clay Helton, secured a top-five recruiting class — and was in the process of ink- ing the No. 3 class with five five-star prospects. • Virginia Tech first-year head coach Justin Fuente won the Coastal Division of the ACC, defeated the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium and was considered perhaps a highly promis- ing figure for the school to look at once Kelly was jettisoned. • Stanford had just defeated Notre Dame for the sixth time in eight years and had become a top-10 fixture while averaging 11 wins per season from 2010-16, first under Harbaugh and now successor David Shaw. So lo and behold, here we are in the middle of the 2019 football campaign with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish again in the top 10 — and the big- gest misgiving about their chances of returning to the CFP is (and I para- phrase): "the schedule is not good enough and has no wins on it in the future that move the needle." Really? Who could have or would have predicted this prior to 2017, when the sky was falling and the walls were caving in on the Irish? Whereas Kelly and Co., have achieved a significant about-face since 2017, so many of the 2019 opponents (other than Georgia) have had a dra- matic reversal in their own fortunes. Petrino, once considered one of the 10 best coaches in the game — he had led both Louisville (2006) and Arkan- sas (2011) to top-five finishes — was ousted in the midst of a 2-10 melt- down last year. Helton is deemed a dead coach walking at USC, while Fuente is not only coming off a losing season in 2018 that in- cluded a loss to Old Dominion, but he began 0-2 this year in the ACC — including a hu- miliating 45-10 loss at home to Duke. Michigan's Harbaugh is now ridiculed as the coach who "can't win the big one," sport- ing a 1-10 record versus top- 10 foes, most recently falling behind 35-0 at Wisconsin after getting outscored 103-54 in the last two games of 2018. Shaw likely has peaked at Stanford, which could be head- ing for its first losing season since 2008, while its 2018 re- cruiting class was ranked 57th. There are at least two morals to the story. One, when people say "Notre Dame doesn't play anybody," that in many ways is a compliment to it returning to a level where it needs to be. Prior to Parseghian's arrival in 1964, Notre Dame lost four straight to Northwestern (coached by Par- seghian), eight in a row to Michigan State, five of six to Purdue, four of six to Pitt and three of four to Navy. Thus, the schedules were labeled "too hard." When they started beating them routinely under Parseghian, then they were deemed "too easy." Two, judging schedules too far in advance can be an exercise in futility. I had the Irish finishing 10-2 in 2019 (loss at Georgia, and then 1-1 in the USC/Michigan matchups this month), and then winning a major/ Big Six bowl (either Cotton or Or- ange this year) for the first time in 26 years for its first-ever 11-2 finish. It is out of my control, but more important is the Fighting Irish re- gaining control as a consistent con- tender. That way, the schedule al- ways will look and seem easier. ✦ Schedules Always Look Easier When You're Better THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at USC's current struggles are a prime reason why judging schedules too far in advance can be an exercise in futility. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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