Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2021

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

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Page 43 of 47

44 JANUARY 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI S ometime around the 1970s, for- mer Notre Dame men's bas- ketball coach Digger Phelps (1971-91) referred to the Fight- ing Irish as "the greatest underdog school in the country." No rebuttal to that affirmation was forthcoming because of an astound- ing 23-year stretch from Jan. 1, 1971 through Nov. 13, 1993 that saw the Notre Dame football and men's bas- ketball teams combine for 16 wins — eight apiece — against No. 1-ranked squads in at least one of the two wire-service polls (Associated Press or United Press International). It became almost like a ritual, if not viewed as a birthright. It took 27 more years before the football team again pulled off one of those "Notre Dame moments" when it vanquished No. 1 Clemson 47-40 in double overtime this past Nov. 7. However, when Clemson avenged that defeat with a 34-10 triumph in the ACC Championship Dec. 19, the storyline soon returned to how Notre Dame no longer thrives in the under- dog role. Consequently, the Fighting Irish were installed as a 20-point under- dog against Alabama in this year 's College Football Playoff semifinal on Jan. 1. It was the highest point spread in the seven-year history of the CFP. The previous standard was the 2018 Orange Bowl, when the Crim- son Tide was favored by 14.5 points over Oklahoma, but did not cover the spread in a 45-34 victory. Earlier that same day, Clemson was an 11.5-point favorite over the Irish and recorded a 30-3 victory prior to also demolishing Alabama 44-16 for the national title. Among the 14 CFP games, only four had a team favored by double digits, and Notre Dame was that un- derdog in two of them. In the 2013 BCS National Cham- pionship Game, even though No. 1 Notre Dame was 12-0 and allow- ing only 10.3 points per game, the 12-1 Crimson Tide were installed as a 9.5-point favorite. As much as the Irish tried to use the "disrespect card," Alabama displayed its dominance, taking a 28-0 lead by halftime that soon stretched to 35-0 before putting it in cruise control in the 42-14 victory. However, the 20-point spread for this year's Rose Bowl between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Notre Dame seemed preposterous on the surface. Who could have ever envisioned the day that a No. 4-ranked Fighting Irish team would be an underdog by almost three touchdowns? DEFINING AN 'UPSET' WIN Until 1996, the Notre Dame foot- ball media guide, published by the university, used to highlight what it defined as a "major upset" in school history with a "U" next to the score. The first such "U" was the 11-3 victory at Michigan in 1909. It was the Wolverines who first instructed Notre Dame students how the game was played during an 1887 debut, and it took nine tries and 22 years before the Fighting Irish finally de- feated Michigan. That victory was more provincial, and it was four years later that Notre Dame recorded its second "U" with a stunning 35-13 defeat of eastern power Army that began to put the small Catholic school on the college football map. Overall, from 1909 through 1994, there were 19 games that the media guide defined as upset victories by Notre Dame. The final one was a 30-22 victory at No. 6 LSU in 1984. There were two factors to define it an upset. One was that it was a road game against an unbeaten (5-0-1) Tigers team. The other was that under fourth-year head coach Gerry Faust, the Irish were reeling. They had lost three straight games at home (a first in 28 years) to drop to 3-4, and now they were entering "Death Valley." The nation was then stunned when the Irish pulled off the 30-22 victory in Baton Rouge, and that next week Faust graced the front cover of Sports Illustrated because of that conquest. Two years earlier in 1982, Faust and Co. had defeated No. 1-ranked Pitt on the road (31-16) for what be- came labeled another "U." In fact, in Faust's five seasons from 1981-85 in which he was only 30-26-1, he was credited with as many up- The first official upset in Notre Dame football history was the 11-3 victory at Michigan in 1909. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Upsetting times Defining an unexpected win is based mainly on Notre Dame's own standing

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