Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2019

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

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46 DECEMBER 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED I t seemed apropos during the Notre Dame-Stanford game that my reflection on the 2019 Fighting Irish foot- ball season brought former Cardinal head coach Dennis Green (1989-91) to mind. While with the NFL's Ari- zona Cardinals, Green had his famous "They are who we thought they were!" rant in 2006 after blowing a 20-point lead in a 24-23 loss to the Chicago Bears. That is the best way we can sum up the 2019 foot- ball team through its 10-2 regular season journey: They were who we thought they were in the preseason. Whether that is a plus or mi- nus can be left to your own judgment and standards. • In the preseason, our be- lief was this is a quality, top- eight to top-15, 10-2 program — and it is. The operation and infrastructure have evolved the past three years to the point where 10 wins in the regular season are no longer the ceiling, but more like the floor. Notre Dame isn't in the top tier with about a group of five or six, but it is in that next class. • They would beat the teams they're supposed to defeat — and the major- ity of them were double-digit under- dogs or just outmatched physically. • They would lose to the teams most everyone expects them to lose to — which in this season's case were road games at Georgia and Michigan. The difference was that whereas the Irish earned national respect for "coming close" in the 23-17 loss to the Bulldogs, they received even more ridicule for once again soiling the bed on a major stage during the 45-14 defeat versus the Wolverines. • Beyond superpower Clemson, the ACC is weak and in a down cy- cle, which further fuels the "Notre Dame hasn't beat anybody really good" discourse. It doesn't help that Stanford is coming back to its football mean, while USC continues to under- achieve from its historical norm. The 2019 campaign was virtually identical to the 10-2 regular seasons in 2006 and 2015. In 2006, with senior quarterback Brady Quinn at the helm, Notre Dame had several thrilling comeback wins against Georgia Tech, Michigan State and UCLA, but those three foes were a combined 20-19. The lone victory against a ranked team was Penn State, which finished No. 25. The two marquee regular- season games were blowout losses to Michigan (47-21) and USC (44-24). Even head coach Charlie Weis admit- ted there was a "meh" feeling to the campaign. Likewise in 2015, the Irish finished the regular season 10-2, with their showcase victory occurring against a Navy team that finished No. 19. USC was down again, so the two most an- ticipated outings were trips to Clem- son and Stanford (just like this year to Georgia and Michigan), with both resulting in defeat. Both the 2006 and 2015 seasons would have been viewed with more affinity if the underdog Irish could have defeated LSU in the 2007 Sugar Bowl or Ohio State in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. Unfortunately, in both cases Notre Dame in a grand stage setting again was disposed of 41-14 by the Tigers and 44-28 by the Buckeyes. They ended up being who people thought they were: status quo. The cy- cle of "haven't we been here before?" was perpetuated. There will be no such sig- nificant stage in this year 's postseason game which, unless there is some outside help, appeared destined for the Camping World Bowl Dec. 28, or maybe versus a more ho-hum Group of Five opponent in the Cotton Bowl. It's likely the Irish would be the favorite to win against whomever and record their first ever 11-2 outcome. With a new decade on the horizon, let's look at this one step further. Even after the Michigan debacle this October, it was easy to predict there was nobody better than the Irish on Notre Dame's five- game November slate. That doesn't mean an upset couldn't occur on the right day — and almost did versus Virginia Tech — but I didn't think it would. Now I am looking at next Septem- ber and October, and my sentiment is the same. Navy (neutral), Arkansas (home), Western Michigan (home) and Wake Forest (neutral) won't upset the Irish in September. They are outmatched. Wisconsin (neutral), Stanford (home), at Pitt and Duke (home) will provide some good tests, but Notre Dame now wins these kind of games. The Nov. 7, 2020 showdown with Clemson will be the most an- ticipated home game with College Football Playoff/national title hopes since USC 2005, and Notre Dame just might have a 14-game winning streak by then. Will that finally be the game where Notre Dame wins "when it is not supposed to"? Sooner or later, the Irish need to become more than who we thought they were in such settings. The next decade is as good as any to start. ✦ They Were Who We Thought They Were THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at The 2019 Notre Dame team was projected in most circles to have a 10-2 regu- lar season, with road games at Georgia and Michigan the most likely losses, and that's how the season did indeed transpire. PHOTO BY KEN WARD/WARD PHOTOGRAPHY GROUP

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