Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 11, 2021

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

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54 SEPT. 11, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED S ometimes it's just better to stay home. Take Brian Kelly in 2003, for instance. He was coming off a perfect 14-0 season and an NCAA Division II national championship. Nothing could derail his Grand Valley State Lakers. Well, almost nothing — except a casino. The Lakers stayed in Reno before the season opener at UC Davis. Kelly real- ized that was a mistake before the game even kicked off. "It really wasn't a great move," Kelly said. "Not everybody made bed check. I wasn't too happy about it. I sat some guys in the first half, and we didn't play very well. "I learned my lessons. Don't stay at a casino. And if you're going to do that, make sure you have a more veteran foot- ball team." Kelly's team still won, but only by a 9-6 margin. It was by far the team's worst performance of the season — in- cluding a 34-20 loss to Saginaw State. At least the Lakers scored a couple touchdowns in that game. Grand Valley State ultimately won its second national title in a row, and Kelly was rewarded with the head coaching gig at Division I Central Michigan as a result. Six years later he'd end up at Notre Dame. The casino episode didn't doom his coaching career, but it did show him one thing — there's no place like home. That brings us to 2021. The Fighting Irish will play in the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium seven times this season. No, the top team in the coun- try isn't scheduled to come to South Bend like Clemson did last year. But this could still end up being the best home slate of games Notre Dame has had in quite some time. Cincinnati, USC and North Carolina all were ranked firmly inside the top 25 to begin the year. In fact, they were all top 15 teams according to the Associated Press Poll. If they stay ranked at the time they play Notre Dame, then Kelly will wel- come a trio of ranked teams to Notre Dame Stadium for just the second time in his 12-year tenure. The only other time it has happened was in 2017. Notre Dame lost to No. 15 Georgia but col- lected victories over No. 11 USC and No. 14 North Carolina State. You've got to go all the way back to the Lou Holtz era — 1992 — to find the last time a quartet of ranked foes tried to take down the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. Holtz went 2-1-1 in those games in a season that ended with a 28-3 Cot- ton Bowl rout of No. 4 Texas A&M. Yes, the last time four ranked teams came to South Bend, college football games could still end in ties. Something substantial and flat out unlikely would have to happen for one of Notre Dame's other opponents to en- ter the rankings and make it four ranked games at Notre Dame Stadium this season. Let's just put it this way; it's more likely for one of the three teams ranked in the preseason to fall out of the rank- ings than it is for Purdue, Navy or Geor- gia Tech to enter them by the time they travel to South Bend. Even so, Kelly and company will still likely have a shot to accomplish some- thing that hasn't happened at Notre Dame since 1980 according to Sports Reference — the Irish beating three ranked opponents at home in the same season. That's right. Holtz never did that. None of the coaches who have come af- ter him have either. Dan Devine did it 41 years ago by beating No. 9 Purdue, No. 14 Michigan and No. 13 Miami in three of the first four games of a 9-2-1 season that concluded with a 17-10 loss to No. 1 Georgia, that year's national champion. If you're seated in Notre Dame Sta- dium this weekend against Toledo, just think about the history that could be made there by the end of October. A feat four decades in the making could potentially be at stake. And given the Irish already have won a program-record 24-straight games at Notre Dame Stadium dating back to 2017, it could very well happen. There won't be a casino to get in the way of Kelly's team's performance, either. Four Winds is off limits to players on the eve of game days, I'm sure. After all, sometimes it's just better to stay home. ✦ GOLDEN GAMUT TYLER HORKA The Irish will likely host three top-25 teams this season for the second time since 2017, including USC. The last time Notre Dame beat three ranked opponents at home came in 1980 under coach Dan Devine. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS Don't Overlook Notre Dame's Home Slate Tyler Horka has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2021. He can be reached at

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