Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2023

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

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Page 53 of 55

54 AUGUST 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T here might be a popular notion that Notre Dame's 2013 season is now "all academic" because of quarterback Everett Golson's aca- demic transgression that will side- line him. With Golson at the throttle, at least a 10-2 regular-season record and a return to the Bowl Championship Se- ries (BCS) seemed realistic and pro- jected. Without him, 9-3 might now be classified as the ceiling. This year is going to be an oppor- tunity to prove that under fourth- year head coach Brian Kelly, Notre Dame is no longer just a team but a program. "Teams" are a tease one year, but quickly return to rebuilding mode or get exposed. "Programs" reload to the point where 10-3 is a valley (like at Alabama in 2010), not a peak. Coming off last year's 12-1 season that culminated with the devastat- ing 42-14 loss to the Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game, there exist a couple of opposite reactions. One is "Notre Dame is back!" The other is "Notre Dame was exposed again when it counted." Being "back" is far more encompass- ing than becoming a one-hit wonder. Those who have lived through Notre Dame's glory years from Frank Leahy's era (1941-43, 1946-53), the 17-year run under Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine from 1964-80, or the 64-9-1 mark from 1988-93 with Lou Holtz categorize "back" two other ways. One is a national title. That is and will always be the bar at Notre Dame of being "all the way back." The other is maintaining consistent excellence for an extended period. Under head coach Jim Harbaugh, Stanford became a program because it cultivated a new blue-collar, hard- nosed image — counter to its finesse history — that has been continued un- der David Shaw. The downward trend was supposed to occur last year, es- pecially without quarterback Andrew Luck, yet Stanford went 11-2 and re- corded its second BCS bowl victory in three years. It's getting to be a "pro- gram" with its 35-5 record the past three years (same as Alabama's). Can Notre Dame continue such con- sistency for the long haul now that Kelly did so well in the always crucial third- season acid test for Fighting Irish head coaches? Prior to 2012, the last three times Notre Dame won at least 10 games, the drop was precipitous: • From 11-1 in 1993 to 6-5-1 in 1994. It marked the downward slope under Holtz. • From 10-3 in 2002 to 5-7 in 2003. The "Return to Glory" celebration un- der first-year head coach Tyrone Will- ingham in '02 was the epitome of fool's gold. • From 10-3 in 2006 to 3-9 in 2007. This could be anticipated amid the poor recruiting in 2004 and 2005, but a stronger infrastructure still could have stolen six wins. The Fighting Irish are too far along in 2013 to have such an egregious fallback, but they must still demonstrate that last year was not an aberration. To do that you have to not only get to the BCS but also win those type of showdowns the way other Irish programs did. Coming off a 1973 national title, Notre Dame's 1974 edition lost half of its starters either to graduation, injuries or suspension — yet it was still playing for a chance to compete for a national title on the last day of the regular season. It finished No. 6 after defeating 11-0 Alabama in the Orange Bowl. The 1978 Irish graduated six of their seven All-Americans from the 1977 national champs, yet while playing the nation's No. 1 schedule still finished No. 7 and won a major bowl. The defending national champs from 1988 graduated two consensus All-Americans, lost three other stars to suspension and faced the nation's No. 1 schedule but still finished No. 2 with a 12-1 record. The 1992 team lost a plethora of stars, including the NFL's No. 2 pick at quarterback (Rick Mirer), the No. 10 overall selection (Jerome Bettis) and the game-breaking tailback who finished fifth in the Heisman Tro- phy balloting (Reggie Brooks), plus the distraction of "The Book" (Under The Tarnished Dome) was looming. Notre Dame still finished 11-1 and a controversial No. 2. It was still a "pro- gram" then. Since January, there has been plenty of hand-wringing about all that Notre Dame has lost: The leaders of each po- sition unit on defense, most notably consensus All-American Manti Te'o; four of the top six receivers, including first-round pick Tyler Eifert; the top two rushers, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood; and the blindside hit with Golson. Such setbacks might make one be- lieve the days of 8-4 or 7-5 might re- turn, just like they have in recent years after "teaser" seasons. Or it's an opportunity where Notre Dame doesn't flinch as a program. ✦ Head coach Marcus Freeman and the Irish will try to build on last season's 9-4 finish with the goal of becoming a consistent top-10 program. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ AUGUST 2013 Will Notre Dame Be A Team Or A Program? 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 wis- dom and unique perspective from his more than 37 years covering the Fighting Irish for this publication.

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