Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2022

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

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Page 45 of 47

46 FEBRUARY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED N otre Dame's recent record in major bowl games is one of those things people will never quit talking about until they're given a reason not to. And rightfully so. A program like Notre Dame shouldn't have to deal with a topic like this, but the Irish have left fans of college foot- ball no choice. It truly is one of the most confounding, dumb- founding, foundationally head- scratching records in the sport. Notre Dame has lost 10 straight games currently clas- sified as a New Year's Six bowl since last winning one following the 1993 season. The Fighting Irish beat Texas A&M 24-21 in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1994. Newly named head coach Marcus Freeman could have accomplished something the previous four Notre Dame head coaches couldn't in his first career game. The story would have written itself. Twenty-eight years of not being able to win the Cotton, Fi- esta, Sugar, Orange, Rose or Peach bowls could have ended in 60 minutes of Free- man football. But the Irish couldn't get it done under their charismatic new leader. They collapsed in rather embar- rassing fashion instead. Oklahoma State has been playing football for 108 years. Never before had the Cowboys erased a 21-point deficit and won until New Year's Day in the des- ert. OSU head coach Mike Gundy called it the greatest victory in program history. It would have been far from the great- est win in Notre Dame history, mean- while. The Irish have won 11 national titles after all. But they've also lost 10 NY6 bowl games in a row in an era in which all anyone cares about is what has happened lately. Freeman has mentioned the words national championship many times since being named head coach in early December. How can you talk about na- tional championships when you can't even beat the second-best team in the Big 12 in a bowl game with much lower stakes, even if it is deemed one of the six biggest annually? The fact that it was not a playoff game did in fact play a factor. Notre Dame was without its two best players on either side of the ball — safety Kyle Hamilton and running back Kyren Williams — as a result. Hamilton couldn't speak for Williams, but he said on the Inside The Garage podcast he would have played in the postseason had the Irish qualified as one of four semifinalists in the College Football Playoff. Excuses are still excuses, and it was only one game. Why did the Irish lose in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl to Colorado by 17 points? The 1996 Orange Bowl to Flor- ida State by five? The 2000 Fiesta Bowl to Oregon State by 32? Thirty-two! The six major bowl losses between that game and this most recent one were all by at least two touchdowns. Everyone re- members the 2012 BCS National Cham- pionship Game defeat to Alabama. And the 2021 Rose Bowl loss to Alabama in the CFP. And the 2018 Cotton Bowl loss to Clemson in the CFP. Those losses to eventual national champions came by an average margin of 24 points per defeat. It's not just an imaginary narrative crafted by Notre Dame haters. It's not a myth. It's a real thing backed by nearly three decades of results. Notre Dame has trouble win- ning the big one. If it's a recruiting gap, as many presume it to be, then the effects of that should be mitigated in a major way for as long as Freeman is able to stay in South Bend. The Irish are on their way to signing their high- est rated recruiting class since finishing No. 5 in 2013. Freeman isn't going to have much time to keep pointing to the rankings and say, "Hold on, it's going to be OK. We're going to win because these numbers say we will." You know what numbers say otherwise? Six hundred and five yards allowed to Oklahoma State. Forty-two rushing yards on 21 carries offensively. Those aren't winning numbers, and they won't fly no matter how talented the players coming in are. If they don't produce, they won't win. Period. Freeman will have at least a couple years to make this thing his own. But if he does keep the current streak of double-digit win seasons alive and the Irish find themselves in another NY6 bowl game in the next year or two, then the conversation is going to arise again. Remember, it's not going to stop until Freeman and company give fans of the sport a reason for it to. Right now, it's fair game. An ability to stop an up-tempo offense or any sem- blance of a rushing game, and we prob- ably would have already ceased the talk. This column would have never been written. But here we are in black-and- white writing. And rightfully so. ✦ GOLDEN GAMUT TYLER HORKA Marcus Freeman could have been the first Irish head coach to win a major bowl game since Lou Holtz in 1994 had he triumphed over Oklahoma State. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Irish's Big Bowl Game Struggles Are Not A Myth Tyler Horka has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2021. He can be reached at

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