Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 26, 2019*

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

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54 OCT. 26, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED C oaching can be such a fickle pro- fession. Prior to the 2017 college foot- ball season, Athlon Sports did its rank- ings of all 130 Football Bowl Sub- division head coaches. Michigan's Jim Harbaugh was No. 3 — behind multi-national title winners Nick Sa- ban and Urban Meyer — while Notre Dame's Brian Kelly was only No. 25. Naturally, it was all a part of re- cency bias. In 2016, Harbaugh in just his sec- ond season at his alma mater was a controversial call away from up- setting Meyer's Buckeyes in Colum- bus, and earlier in the decade he took Stanford to its best finish (12-1) in 70 years and propelled the once moribund San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl. Also, in 2016 and 2017, the Wolverines under his direction signed back-to-back No. 4-ranked re- cruiting classes, per Rivals. Admittedly, I felt the same dread about Michigan rising once again to superpower status under Harbaugh as Wolverines faithful had when Lou Holtz was hired to be Notre Dame's head coach in 1986. Meanwhile, Kelly in his seventh season at Notre Dame floundered to an inexplicable 4-8 finish while finishing in the top 10 only once. Re- cruiting also was deemed as so-so by Fighting Irish standards, meaning just under top-10 status. Just two and a half seasons later, both coaches are viewed in some- what different contexts. Among 65 Power Five schools entering the weekend of Oct. 12, Notre Dame's five losses in that time trailed only Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma, the traditional top con- tenders for the four-team College Football Playoff that began in 2014. Kelly had a 12-0 regular season three times in the 10-year period from 2009 (at Cincinnati) through 2018, definitely earning him top-10 notice, and the tra- jectory of the operation has risen to a level where 10-victory seasons are now a valley instead of a peak. Meanwhile, Harbaugh now has become ridiculed as the coach "who can't win the big one," or at least Michigan's version of 1988-2000 Ohio State head coach John Cooper, who failed to defeat the Wolverines in his first six tries and finished 2-10-1 overall against them. Harbaugh's 0-4 mark against the Buckeyes is the albatross on his re- cord that was exacerbated last season with the loss to Notre Dame and then the 41-15 blowout defeat to Florida in the Peach Bowl — and then falling behind 35-0 at Wisconsin this season while getting steamrolled again. A graphic of his shortcomings in "big games," or versus teams in the top 10 at the time of the game (see chart on this page), has become pop- ular fodder to debunk any conversa- tion about him belonging among the coaching upper tier. Interestingly, Harbaugh's record in his first four seasons at Michigan from 2015-18 was 38-14 , slightly better than Kelly's 36-15 mark over that same span. Where they seem to be kindred coaching spirits is their defeats be- come much more magnified than vic- tories that are expected as a birthright. Prior to Harbaugh's arrival, the Wolverines had only one season of 10 or more wins in the seven campaigns from 2008-14. Under his guidance, U-M had three in his first four years, all top-15 finishes. However, when you own the highest winning percent- age in college football history, that is not the standard of success (even though his winning percentage of .737 going into the weekend of Oct. 12 is just slightly above the program norm). It is the same with Kelly. He's taken Notre Dame to its most prominence over the past 25 years — but an 0-3 record in major bowls or a hard- fought defeat such as this year 's 23-17 defeat at No. 3 Georgia tend to diminish the solid coaching equity that has been built. Rest assured that the loser in this year's Notre Dame-Michigan show- down will once again be labeled as "unable to win the big one." The winner will be feted temporarily — or at least until the next "real big one" comes along. Most of the time, big ones are al- ways the ones that are lost. ✦ The 'Big One' Bowl, For Now THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Running back Jafar Armstrong's two touchdowns helped Notre Dame to a 24-17 victory versus Michigan in the 2018 opener to begin the Irish playoff run and continue the Wolverines' slump in "big games." PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA MICHIGAN VS. TOP-10 TEAMS SINCE 2012 Year Opponent Result 2012 vs. No. 2 Alabama* L, 41-14 2012 at No. 4 Ohio State L, 26-21 2013 vs. No. 3 Ohio State L, 42-41 2014 at No. 8 Michigan State L, 35-11 2014 at No. 7 Ohio State L, 42-28 2015 vs. No. 7 Michigan State L, 27-23 2015 vs. No. 8 Ohio State L, 42-13 2016 vs. No. 8 Wisconsin W, 14-7 2016 at No. 2 Ohio State L, 30-27 (2OT) 2016 vs. No. 10 Florida State^ L, 33-32 2017 at No. 2 Penn State L, 42-13 2017 at No. 5 Wisconsin L, 24-10 2017 vs. No. 8 Ohio State L, 31-20 2018 at No. 10 Ohio State L, 62-39 2018 vs. No. 10 Florida# L, 41-15 Record: 1-14 * at Arlington, Texas; ^ Orange Bowl at Miami Gardens, Fla.; # Peach Bowl at Atlanta

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