Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2020

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

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54 JANUARY 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED A ll that was missing for me dur- ing the College Football Play- off selection show Dec. 7 was blues legend B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone" as background music. Specifically, the thrill of New Year's Day, which for 30 years used to be College Football's Holy Day of Obligation, and a domain of pride for the Fighting Irish. Don't get me wrong, the College Football Playoff that began in 2014 has gotten it right with regard to giv- ing the four best teams from a regular season the opportunity to prove them- selves on the field as to who is best. Unfortunately, it has also marginal- ized what used to be known as the "major" bowls. Tradition still leads them to be called "New Year's Six" bowls, even though four of the six are not even played on Jan. 1. New Year 's Day used to be the crescendo culmination of the sport, when many times two and even three different bowls on that day helped determine a national champion. My introduction to the sport oc- curred on Jan. 1, 1971. On that day, No. 6 Notre Dame ended No. 1 Texas' 30-game winning streak in the Cotton Bowl. That meant all No. 2 Ohio State had to do afterwards was defeat Pac-8 champion Stanford in the Rose Bowl to win the title — but Stanford pulled the 27-17 upset. That meant that No. 3 Nebraska that night could win its first national title by toppling SEC champ LSU in the Orange Bowl — but found itself trailing 12-10 in the fourth quarter. That meant Notre Dame could leap- frog all the way from No. 6 to No. 1 (because it had defeated LSU during the regular season). Alas, the Corn- huskers ended up winning, but what a dramatic day and way to cap a season. That changed in 1998 with the for- mation of the BCS Championship, and especially in 2014 with the ad- vent of the CFP. Particularly disappointing is the expanded tie-ins to these ma- jors, where a Memphis-Penn State matchup in the Cotton doesn't stir much excitement. Playing in the Or- ange Bowl because of the tie-in factor is a four-loss Virginia outfit. In days of yore it would have been unfathomable for a 10-2 Notre Dame team to not be in a major bowl, never mind get matched with a 7-5 and un- ranked unit, but times change. Here is my own "Final Four" regarding this new system and how it affects the Fighting Irish. 1. The New "New Year's Day" In College Football Is The First Week- end of December This is when the conference cham- pionship games take place — mul- tiple matchups that have an impact on who reaches the four-team CFP that begins later that month. Without a full-time league affilia- tion, Notre Dame is left out of that early December party unless it fin- ishes the regular season 12-0. It's almost like when the Irish vol- untarily did not go to bowl games from 1925-68 because it was not nec- essary — until it became so in 1969 when the Associated Press poll de- cided to wait until after the bowls to vote on a champion. Consequently, will there be more groundswell in the coming decade for the Irish to join the ACC full time? 2. Why Is An Eight-Team Playoff Necessary? There is some belief this will be in- evitable in the next decade, but I fail to see why. The current conference play- offs serve as the eight-team playoff. Had one-loss Georgia upset LSU in the SEC title game and if one-loss Baylor had defeated Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship contest (while Georgia lost), the opportunity was there. Win and you generally ad- vance; lose and you are out. It's not double-elimination. That's the purpose of the regular season. You start going to eight- or 16-team playoff formats, then the regular season and conference playoffs can become as diminished as the major bowl games have now. 3. Once Were Kings In the 24 years from 1970-93, Notre Dame won the most major bowls (10), with seven of them against un- beaten and/or No. 1 teams. It hasn't won a single one since then, but it's also reached a point where the potential matchups with a Virginia (Orange) or a Memphis (Cot- ton) this year in a major would not have been as needle-moving either. 4. More Difficult Than Ever To Win A Title Ranked No. 5 in 1977 with a 10-1 regular season record, Notre Dame was still matched with 11-0 and No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Could that happen today in a four- team playoff where conference cham- pions are more favored? Back then, the major conference winners along with Texas (Southwest) were No. 2 Oklahoma (Big Eight), No. 3 Alabama (SEC) and No. 4 Michigan (Big Ten). Would committee members have left Notre Dame out in the cold back then? In 1988, instead of playing relatively outmatched and No. 3 West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl in a winner-take- all game, today the No. 1 Irish would have had to play No. 2 Miami again in the playoff format — if it could first get by No. 4 Florida State in the semifinal. Change is inevitable, but I am no longer bowled over by the bowl scene as I used to be. ✦ R.I.P. New Year's Day Notre Dame Drama THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at The Irish earned a spot in the College Football Playoff with a 12-0 mark last year, but making it in the future with even just one loss seems less likely. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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