Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2020

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

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Page 53 of 55

54 SEPT. 19, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED F or decades I have stated that one truly isn't the Notre Dame head coach until 9-2 is viewed as a valley rather than a peak. Over the past three years, Brian Kelly has achieved that pa- rameter, which is why anything worse than a 10-1 regular sea- son in 2020, all matters relatively equal and all games played, will be viewed with frustration. The consensus opinion in col- lege football, including yours truly, is Notre Dame and Clem- son will meet twice this year: during the regular season at Notre Dame on Nov. 7, and then in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C., to be played either Dec. 12 or Dec. 19. "Worst case" for this 2020 outfit should be 9-2. Most analysts of the sport might be suspecting a loss to Clemson (although three of CBS Sports' national seven-man panel are picking a Notre Dame victory in No- vember, among others) and maybe an "upset special" — which Notre Dame has avoided three consecutive years — somewhere else. To have a second upset elsewhere would be an underachieving cam- paign against what I believe is one of the two or three most favorable schedules I've seen in 50 years of fol- lowing the program. One can't ask for too much better wading into a season than opening with a pair of 5-7 and 4-8 teams from last season (Duke and South Florida) at home before closing September with a Wake Forest outfit that plays beyond its means but does not nearly recruit at Notre Dame's level (plus its best player, wide receiver Sage Sur- ratt, is sitting out the year to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft). After that there is an Oct. 3 bye. The Florida State, Louisville, Pittsburgh trio from Oct. 10-24 is tricky, but there are several other favorable factors here. Unlike Wake Forest, FSU does re- cruit at Notre Dame's level but the program's infrastructure has been a grease fire the past three years with an 18-20 mark, and it finished under .500 each of the past two years. Louisville has one of the league's better offenses and Pitt maybe the top defense, but both have been lack- ing on the other side of the ball to be a complete team. Where Notre Dame has particularly excelled the past three years is getting up for what the nation viewed as po- tential "trap" or letdown games. • In 2017, it was a ranked North Carolina State team the week after the Irish had crushed USC — yet Notre Dame won 35-14. • In 2018, it went on the road to play ranked Syracuse the week be- tween Florida State and USC — and Notre Dame played its best game of the year in a 36-3 demolition. • In 2019, some popular opin- ions held that the 10-2 Irish weren't thrilled to be at the Camping World Bowl versus unranked Iowa State and a letdown was imminent — but instead Kelly's crew dominated while cruising to a 33-9 conquest. There will be at least one white knuckler among those three games from Oct. 10-24 that will come down to the final series. Pitt is the first choice prob- ably from a national perspec- tive because it is on the road and its history versus the Irish — so count on Notre Dame to be alert for that one the way it was versus Iowa State. Florida State might be the most dangerous one if new head coach Mike Norvell can assemble an offensive line to jump-start that side of the ball. Here is an amazing stat: Since the advent of the Associated Press poll in 1936, Notre Dame has had only one four-year graduating class in which the football team never had a blem- ish versus an unranked team: 1944-47 (in 1948, Notre Dame salvaged a 14- 14 tie at unranked USC). This year could mark only the second time that has occurred. The 24-game winning streak versus un- ranked opposition is currently sec- ond only to Alabama, which has not had such a setback since 2007. It is also only five back from the school- record 29 from 1990-94 — and could be eclipsed this year. If we're going to say Notre Dame is "due" to be upset by someone this year, then it's also way "overdue" to topple a Clemson at least once this year. That would have to balance out. At North Carolina the Friday af- ter Thanksgiving presents a stiff challenge as well, but first-semester classes will have ended by then for the Irish the week after a bye. With the talent assembled, winning ways established and experience un- matched (see pages 52-53), champi- onship expectations should carry at least into mid-December. ✦ Championship Expectations Are At A Peak THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Head coaches Brian Kelly of Notre Dame and Dabo Swinney of Clemson could meet a second time in December if all goes as planned. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA 2020 ACC PRESEASON POLL Rk. School (First-Place Votes) Total Points 1. Clemson (132)* 2,008 2. Notre Dame (2) 1,824 3. North Carolina 1,682 4. Louisville 1,434 5. Virginia Tech 1,318 6. Miami 1,280 7. Florida State 1,177 8. Pitt 1,132 9. Virginia 994 10. Wake Forest 659 11. NC State 634 12. Duke 618 13. Boston College 532 14. Syracuse 449 15. Georgia Tech 339 * Picked to win ACC championship game

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