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

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66 PRESEASON 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED W hat will define a successful football season at Notre Dame in 2014? This inquiry often involves a sliding scale or can elicit a vague response such as "just be competitive." In Brian Kelly's first year in 2010, an eight- or nine-win season seemed reasonable after a 16-21 mark the three prior years under Charlie Weis and hav- ing to break in a new quarterback, com- pete with limited depth, etc. The 8-5 result was nothing to cel- ebrate, especially with losses to Navy and Tulsa, but a 4-0 finish and bowl win at least provided future optimism. By Year 3, you want to be in the con- versation as a major bowl player. At that point of your career, few care if your quarterback is new (Everett Golson), or who you lost to graduation (first- round picks Michael Floyd and Har- rison Smith), to transfer (freshman All-American defensive lineman Aaron Lynch) and to injury (defensive backs Lo Wood and Jamoris Slaughter). It's about building a winning culture. The 12-0 regular season in 2012 achieved that mission, BCS National Championship Game meltdown not- withstanding. What that did was redefine the stan- dard by the time you get to Year 5. At a program such as Notre Dame, it means anything less than 10 victories (includ- ing the bowl) will be looked upon with disappointment, if not disdain. "For us, every year it will be how do we put ourselves in a position to get into the national playoffs," Kelly said of the yearly aspiration for the rest of his re- gime. "That's how we'll mark our pro- gram every year." Despite the Aug. 15 news regarding the limbo status of three starters and a fifth-year senior reserve, Notre Dame has to be in a state where people say, in the words of 1986-96 head coach Lou Holtz, "don't tell me how rocky the sea is; just bring in the ship." Twenty-five years ago, fourth-year coach Holtz experienced this when three of his star players were suspended prior to the season — All-American linebacker Michael Stonebreaker, top running back Tony Brooks and massive defensive tackle George "Boo" Williams — but the expectation was to remain at a championship level. That year Notre Dame defeated seven teams in the final Associated Press poll top 18, including No. 1 Colorado in the Orange Bowl, to finish 12-1. That's what constitutes a "program," and the Fighting Irish have not been there for 20 years. To achieve that status, certain stan- dards remain unchanged: 1. Hold Serve At Home — What better way to christen the new FieldTurf than a 6-0 ledger at home? Protecting home turf was a priority of Kelly when he arrived, and the Irish are 11-1 there the last two seasons — the best such streak over two seasons since 1988-89. Great things usually occur when the Irish are unscathed at home. It has hap- pened 12 times since 1950, and in eight of them Notre Dame finished in the top four (with four consensus national titles). The lowest finish was No. 22 in 1998. 2. 200-Yard Rushing Average (Or Close To It) — This is not an old fo- gey who doesn't understand "modern offense." Virtually every champion or BCS-level team in recent years can run the ball even when everyone expects it to and is in the 200-yard neighborhood (or much higher). Look it up. No Notre Dame team ever has won a major bowl without averaging 200 yards rushing during the season. Reaching it doesn't assure success, but when you average 126.6 (2010), 138.9 (2011) or even 151.0 (2013), you will virtually be guaranteed disappointment. Since 2001, there was only one year that Notre Dame averaged 200 yards rushing during the regular season. Gee, what a surprise that it happened to be during the 12-0 run in 2012. It ended up at only 189.4 after 32 yards rushing in the loss to Alabama. Regardless, this is a prime marker. 3. Turnover Margin On Plus Side — Notre Dame was minus-15 in turn- overs during the 8-5 season in 2011 and minus-three during the 8-4 regular season last year. The amount of turn- overs forced those two years by the Irish were among the lowest ever in their history. In 2012, Notre Dame was plus-8. A similar target will be needed this year for the retooling defense. 4. Win A Major Bowl — It is 21 years and counting since it has been achieved. A whole generation of Notre Dame fol- lowers was born in 1994 that can say this has never occurred in their lifetime. The Irish won't be taken more seriously until such an albatross is removed. 5. At This Time Next Year … — Notre Dame preferably will be in a legit- imate discussion as a prime contender for one of the four College Football Playoff spots. This team might be a year away, but it must demonstrate in 2014 that it has the earmarks of champion- ship-caliber contention with most ev- eryone potentially returning in 2015. ✦ Legendary Irish head coach Lou Holtz can attest that great things typically happen when you can build a "program" that can consistently hold serve at home, average 200 yards rushing and produce a positive turnover margin. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME MEDIA RELATIONS BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ PRESEASON 2014 The Earmarks Of A Successful Season Remain Unchanged 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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