Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 27, 2020

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

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Page 38 of 55 NOV. 27, 2020 39 Nick Saban (Alabama), Dabo Swin- ney (Clemson) and Ed Orgeron (LSU) are the only ones at their current schools, while Brown (Texas in 2005), Kansas' Les Miles (LSU in 2007) and Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher (Florida State in 2013) achieved it elsewhere. Back when Brian Kelly was hired as Notre Dame's head coach in 2010, the coach he reminded us most of was Brown — and the two currently have the most head coaching experi- ence in college football (see Gimme Five on page 12). Both are renowned as personable program builders who also are very polished with the me- dia, with Brown serving as a studio analyst at ABC from 2014-18. In his first seven years at Texas from 1998-2004, Brown rebuilt the Long- horns into a consistent top-five to top- 15 program but was castigated as the coach who "can't win the big one" (especially versus Oklahoma), until capturing the national title in 2005 to end a 36-year drought in Austin. Kelly has done similar work at Notre Dame, especially the last four years, and won a "big one" Nov. 7 versus No. 1 Clemson, putting the Irish into the national title picture for at least the third time in the last nine seasons. Is the best still to come from Kelly? Brown also led Texas to the 2009 national title game before losing to Alabama. The Longhorns needed a last-second field goal in the Big 12 championship game to knock out Kel- ly's 12-0 Cincinnati team from playing for the national championship that season. Shortly thereafter, Kelly ac- cepted the Notre Dame position. Kelly's upward mobility to Notre Dame coincided with Brown's down- ward trend at Texas from 2010-13 when his teams finished 5-7, 8-5, 9-4 and 8-5 before resigning. Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2018, Brown returned to coaching in 2019 at North Caro- lina, where he flourished from 1988- 97 and steered the Tar Heels to con- secutive top-10 finishes his last two seasons before taking the Texas job. He also lauded Notre Dame joining the ACC full-time in football for at least the 2020 season. "It's great for them this year and it's great for us," Brown said this August. "Because they needed some extra help in scheduling, and anytime you add Notre Dame to your league it's a great brand, they do it right, they play by the rules, they're a great team. "Brian Kelly does a tremendous job, he's a friend of mine, so this is a win-win. They will also bring some TV money it sounds like into the league. All of us are needing that right now." Just like North Carolina needed Brown again. EXTENDED BOWL-LIKE PREPARATION Thanksgiving weekend almost an- nually signaled the end of the foot- ball regular season at Notre Dame, usually with a trip to California. This year amid COVID-19 and as a temporary full-time member of the ACC, it's not even close. Regular- season contests remain versus Syra- cuse at home (Dec. 5) and at Wake Forest (Dec. 12), plus a likely berth in the ACC championship game versus Clemson Dec. 19 at Charlotte, N.C. In years past that would have been unheard of. Since 1981, Notre Dame's lone regular-season outings in De- cember were at Syracuse in 2003 and at Purdue in 2001, the latter on Dec. 1 due to the postponement of the Sept. 15 game because of the 9/11 tragedy. COVID-19 forced the alteration of schedules, including academically. Notre Dame's first semester con- cluded with final exams Nov. 20, and the second semester won't commence until the first week of February. So from Nov. 21 through Dec. 19, it's akin to a month-long, extended bowl preparation period for Notre Dame in what amounts to a four- game playoff to vie for a chance at the four-team College Football Play- off that begins Jan. 1. ✦ GAME PREVIEW: NORTH CAROLINA Mack Brown is one of only six active head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision that have won a national title at this level. He achieved the feat at Texas in 2005, in between his two stints at UNC. PHOTO BY ROBERT WILLETT/COURTESY NORTH CAROLINA Predictions Todd Burlage: Notre Dame 41, North Carolina 30 Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has been masterful at beating opponents off a bye week. Seven 2019 opponents played the Irish after a bye and Kelly beat all seven. The elite Tar Heels offense — even off a bye week — won't hide a lousy UNC defense. Patrick Engel: Notre Dame 41, North Carolina 28 The Tar Heels have a balanced and explosive offense no one has slowed this year, ranking among the best in yards per play and scoring at least four touchdowns in all but one game. Notre Dame's defense will be playing damage control. But that's more than North Carolina's defense can say it has done this year. It allowed 18 plays of at least 30 yards in seven games and a pedestrian 5.52 yards per play. Andrew Mentock: Notre Dame 45, North Carolina 30 Early in the game, Notre Dame's suffocating defense is able to shut down North Carolina's run and apply pressure to quarterback Sam Howell whenever he drops back. This allows the Irish to get out to a big lead and never look back. Mike Singer: Notre Dame 38, North Carolina 27 This should be a highly entertaining matchup and a tough road environment. But the Irish are the more talented team, especially on the defensive side, and will be up for this game. Lou Somogyi: Notre Dame 37, North Carolina 28 The Tar Heels offense will give a Clemson-like test, and perhaps even scare, but Notre Dame's ball- control forte, combined with a few home-run balls, will give it a third straight perfect November — not achieved since 1947-49.

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