Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2022

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

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54 AUGUST 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED "I accept this job on the threshold of ex- traordinary change in intercollegiate ath- letics in America. … There's much about this industry that you won't recognize in 10 years. We must be at the forefront in that. We must participate in dictating that change. Notre Dame cannot have that dictated to it. And I love the challenge of accepting that responsibility." — Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick, July 16, 2008 T he landscape of collegiate athletics has indeed experienced dramatic shifts since Swarbrick's "freshman year" as AD at Notre Dame in 2008-09 to the time he "graduated" this summer to cap his senior year. And when it came to dictating Notre Dame's future as a football independent, Swarbrick made summa cum laude. Throughout the past few years, par- ticularly the 2011-12 school year, the word that seemed consistently associ- ated with the Notre Dame football pro- gram was "inevitable" — as in it's inevi- table that the Irish will have to join a BCS conference, be it saving the Big East, matriculating to the ACC, finally align- ing with the Big Ten … or maybe even joining the Big 12 as a partial member. Notre Dame football over the past de- cade was beginning to resemble Notre Dame men's basketball for much of the 1980s and into the 1990s, drifting almost aimlessly during the regular season, liv- ing too much off its past glories — a gi- ant-killers reputation rather than titles — sweating out postseason bids (even to the NIT) … until finally it began its affili- ation with the Big East in 1994-95 in an attempt to forge a new identity. The Notre Dame football "brand" will always maintain a relevance in college football, even if the Irish aren't in the rankings. Nevertheless, it was called more into question than ever before with the seismic shifts in conference af- filiations and a [still] wary and vigilant eye toward future movement. Amidst it all, Swarbrick remained in the forefront, as promised, and the Irish did not get caught in the crossfire. Af- ter the dust settled (at least for now) and a four-team playoff was approved for the start of the 2014 season, Notre Dame's status as a football indepen- dent remained unaltered and maybe the strongest it's been in a number of years. The four-team playoff isn't relevant right now. Notre Dame's resurgence must first humbly begin with avoiding a school-record sixth straight season with at least five losses. At this point, what can be more ap- preciated is a greater comfort level that occurs when you believe you're in se- cure, pro-active and knowledge hands, and that's where the Notre Dame ath- letics department appears to be with Swarbrick's leadership and vision. That's not to say forthcoming changes might not revise the landscape again. But that will be part of Swarbrick's graduate work in the Irish athletic department. TURNOVER TURNAROUND At this time next month, the quarter- back derby at Notre Dame will return to center stage. Staying on our "inevitable" theme, popular belief holds that it's inevitable that Notre Dame will need to make a change at quarterback if it wants to reach a higher plane, and it's inevitable that if there is a new quarterback, turnovers will likely plague him in his first year as well (23 of Notre Dame's 29 turnovers last year were committed by the QBs with 17 interceptions and six fumbles). Maybe that is accurate, but we submit the 1999-2000 template. In 1999, Notre Dame amassed 419.7 yards per game total offense under re- cord-setting fifth-year senior QB Jari- ous Jackson — but it also committed 30 turnovers, hence a 5-7 finish. In 2011, the Irish averaged 413.0 yards per game with sophomore Tommy Rees, but it was nullified with 29 turnovers en route to a disappointing 8-5 ledger. The next season, in 2000, the Irish started three different quarterbacks in the first five games — Arnaz Battle, former tight end Gary Godsey and true freshman Matt LoVecchio. Battle was lost to a season-ending injury and LoVecchio eventually settled in as the starter. The yards-per-game total plum- meted to only 345.7, or 74 yards less per game than a year earlier, but the team improved to 9-2 and earned a BCS bid. What was the difference? The special teams had their greatest collective season at Notre Dame for one, and the defense reduced its points given up per game by seven points. But above all, even with a true fresh- man at the helm, Notre Dame commit- ted only eight turnovers the entire sea- son, an NCAA record for an 11-game regular season. We're not expecting the turnover rate to drop so precipitously in 2012 as it did in 2000 after a comedy of errors the previous year, but even reducing it by half would could make a significant dif- ference against what looms to be a more treacherous schedule. Whether it's Rees or someone else, it's not inevitable that the 2012 offense will have to be plagued by turnovers again. ✦ Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick was most prescient when he talked about being "on the threshold of extraordinary change in intercollegiate athletics" at his introductory press conference in 2008. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME MEDIA RELATIONS BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ AUGUST 2012 Initial Stage Of "Inevitability" Avoided EDITOR'S NOTE: The late, great Lou Somogyi possessed an unmatched knowledge of Notre Dame football, and it was his mission in life to share it with others. Those of us at Blue & Gold Illustrated would like to continue to provide his wisdom and unique perspective from his more than 37 years covering the Fighting Irish for this publication.

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