Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2023

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

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54 JANUARY 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED W hen Notre Dame rescinded its non-bowl policy in 1969, the objective was two-fold: Either compete for the national ti- tle or enhance its standing by play- ing a higher-ranked foe. Indeed, in six of the nine bowls Notre Dame played from 1969-80, the foe was either unbeaten, No. 1 or both. In seven more bowls from 1988- 94, the combined record of the Irish bowl foes was an astounding 74-4-1 — and not one had more than one defeat. Just as remarkable was the Irish's record of 5-2 against them. Times change and evolve, in- cluding how bowl games are ap- proached now as opposed to days of yore. Back in 1969, there were 11 bowl games, and it was deemed a special honor to be invited to one. Today there are 36 postseason games, and it's more of an embarrassment if you don't qualify for one. Back then, No. 9-, No. 6- and No. 5-ranked Notre Dame teams were invited to play top-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl, with the latter yielding a national title and another coming close to one. In 2014, a No. 5-ranking won't even get the Irish into the new four-team playoff. Even 20 years ago, an unranked 6-4-1 Notre Dame team got matched up (to its detriment) with 10-1 and No. 4-ranked Colorado in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl. Today, a more deserving 8-4 Irish crew has to scramble just to get an invite to the Pin- stripe Bowl against 6-6 Rutgers. More often than not the past 20 years, Notre Dame was overmatched in bowls. This time it's "undermatched." Of the 32 bowls Notre Dame has at- tended since 1969, this one might have the least appeal, rivaled mainly by the 2004 Bowl matchup with Oregon State, a 38-21 defeat while the 6-6 Irish were seeking a successor to head coach Ty Willingham. (A case also could be made for the 1997 Indepen- dence Bowl in Shreveport, La., in which 7-5 Notre Dame had to play LSU a sec- ond time.) This year's outing is only the second instance out of those 32 times since 1969 that Notre Dame will enter a bowl with more victories than its opponent. The other was the 1976 Gator Bowl when the 8-3 Irish faced 7-4 Penn State. Tis the season when everyone in bowls will speak of the "momentum" that can be carried into the following season with a victory, and how it can be a "springboard" or "the first game of next year." However, for better or worse, bowl games generally don't define how the next season plays out for Notre Dame. We've seen Notre Dame get crushed in the 1973 Orange Bowl (40-6 to Ne- braska) and 1988 Cotton Bowl (35-10 to Texas A&M) — and then proceed to win the national title 12 months later. Notre Dame ended the 1970 and 1974 campaigns with epic upsets of No. 1-ranked Texas and Alabama, re- spectively — and a year later the Irish were so disillusioned with their results that the players voted not to accept a bowl invitation. When the 6-5 Irish upset 9-2 Boston College in the 1983 Lib- erty Bowl, head coach Gerry Faust vowed "this is the start of some- thing great." Notre Dame opened the next season with a 23-21 loss to Purdue, which it crushed 52-6 a year earlier, en route to a 3-4 start. The 33-17 win over Miami in the 2010 Sun Bowl was the cherry on top of a four-game winning streak and championship aspirations in 2011 — only to be foiled by an 0-2 start, including a 23-20 defeat at home to South Florida. Squandering a 14-point second- half lead in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl to Florida State for another 8-5 finish was further evidence to many that "Brian Kelly doesn't haven't it" — and the following season he produced a 12-0 regular- season ledger and No. 1 placement (even without irreplaceable game- changers such as Michael Floyd or Aaron Lynch). Personalities, chemistry and at- titudes shift with each new year. The bowl result is merely a final page of a previous book. What does Notre Dame have to play for versus Rutgers? Mainly a second straight top-25 finish (a rarity since 1997), the third chance this season to pass Michigan on the all-time winning percentage chart (provided the Wolver- ines lose the same day to Kansas State) … and just victory. "It's not a catapult into an undefeated season by any means," Kelly said of the bowl game. "I don't want to overstate that. But it does leave a good feeling going into the offseason when you win that football game." It merely closes another book. A new, blank manuscript begins thereafter. ✦ Their 29-16 victory over Rutgers in the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl didn't create any momentum for the Fighting Irish in 2014, when they lost five games. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ JANUARY 2014 Bowl Result Is A Gauge Of Present, Not Future 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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