Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 4, 2023

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

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Page 53 of 55

54 NOV. 4, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED O ver the past 21 football campaigns from 1994-2014, Notre Dame has had: • Two seasons where it finished in the Associated Press top 10 (No. 9 in 2005 and No. 4 in 2012). • One year where it legitimately had a sniff at the national title (playing in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game). • Zero finishes where it won a major bowl game, while 33 other schools have done so during that time. Consequently, after Notre Dame had built the most successful college foot- ball program through the 20th century that was highlighted by 11 consensus national titles, we often get the follow- ing question: What now defines a suc- cessful Fighting Irish football season? Has the college football landscape changed so much the past two decades, and the bar gradually dipped enough, that a "solid" 9-3 season and a minor bowl win is much closer to a peak than it is a valley? Has a new generation of Notre Dame faithful over the past 21 years come to accept the psychological term "learned helplessness" and that the Fighting Irish will not experience the kind of ex- tended dominance they had during their halcyon days? This is a topic this column touched on nearly 30 years ago (and many times since then), after head coach Lou Holtz was hired by Notre Dame in November 1985. The Fighting Irish had just gone through a five-year 30-26-1 struggle with no top-25 finishes. Thus, we outlined what we believed should be realistic expectations over a five-year period with Holtz. That was not to say it couldn't be better, but this was the base expectation. Everything else would be "extra credit." • Allow for one clunker season, which we defined as at least a five-loss cam- paign. This can happen to most anyone. Even Urban Meyer had a 7-5 season at Florida. Even Knute Rockne was 5-4 in 1928, or Frank Leahy 4-4-1 in 1950 and 7-2-2 in 1942. If it happens to the elite, it will happen to everyone. • Two top-25 finishes out of those five seasons. That translates pretty much into 9-4 — like 2013, with a No. 20 AP finish — or 10-3, which could even get you into the top 15. • The final two should be top-10 fin- ishes — and at least one season out of those five you want bona fide national title contention. I define that as going into the last game of the regular season you are legitimately in College Football Playoff conversation (like TCU and Baylor were last year even though they didn't make it). • In one season out of those five, win one major bowl or be in the College Football Playoff. Many have responded that these standards are too low for Notre Dame, and that is accurate when the program is at a peak. However, as a base, it's still a fairly realistic standard to measure. In Holtz's last five seasons (1992-96), he had a 1994 clunker (6-5-1), two top- 25 finishes in 1995 and 1996 with three- loss campaigns, a top-10 placement in 1992 (10-1-1) and a bona fide title con- tention in 1993 before finishing No. 2. Dan Devine's last five seasons (1976- 80) saw a 7-4 clunker with no bowl in 1979, a top-25 finish with a 9-3 mark in 1976, two top-10 showings at 9-3 in 1978 and 9-2-1 in 1980 while playing ar- duous schedules, and the national title contention (and victory) in 1977. Ara Parseghian's last five seasons (1970-74) didn't really have a clunker, other than the 8-3 finish in 1972 with the 40-6 Orange Bowl loss to Nebraska, another top-20 finish in 1971, and three national title contentions in 1970, 1973 and 1974, while winning it all in 1973. Plus he had three major bowl victories versus unbeaten teams. That's when you are in a special place with the program. In recent years, although the bar at Notre Dame has dropped some, my contention often has been is "if Stan- ford can do it, so can Notre Dame." From 2011-15 under head coach Da- vid Shaw, who inherited a good situa- tion from Jim Harbaugh, the Cardinal has had an 8-5 clunker (2014), but also top-10 finishes in 2011 (11-2, No. 7 in AP poll) and 2012 (12-2, No. 7), and it has the potential to be in the College Foot- ball Playoff mix this November. That's why you want to see at least a major bowl (and victory) this year un- der Brian Kelly. From 2011-14, he had clunkers with five-loss seasons in 2011 and 2014, the national title contention and top-10 finish in 2012 and the top-25 placement in 2013. This year, to be sort of "on schedule" over a given five years, another top-10 type season would be needed. If that oc- curs, then next year could be even more telling about developing a consistent program. ✦ When Notre Dame's program is really humming like it was under Lou Holtz from 1988-93, regular top-10 contention is in the works. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ NOV. 2, 2015 A Realistic Five-Year Measuring Stick 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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