Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2024

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

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46 FEBRUARY 2024 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED S ometimes it seems there is no middle ground when assessing a Notre Dame football season. The recently completed 2015 campaign is another example. On one hand, I see many op- timists — who the more jaded or cynical refer to as "sunshine pumpers" — classifying the 10-3 campaign that ended with yet another major bowl beat- down as a great year "consider- ing all the injuries." On the other, "the sky is al- ways falling" contingent points to the 44-28 loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl as yet another example of how Notre Dame football mainly lives off the per- fume of a vanished flower and is engaged in the limits of hope. In other words, it can still be "solid," but the Irish just aren't going to be ever again what they once were. Notre Dame has failed to win a major bowl 22 straight years now, going 0-7 during that time while losing by an average of 19.9 points. On the grandest stages, the tendency has been to "soil the bed," especially on defense. My middle ground perspective is I don't agree with either viewpoint, al- though both can present cogent argu- ments. Here is what I compare the Notre Dame football operation to right now as it enters 2016: It is the B-plus student (maybe even A-minus) in high school that applies to Harvard, Yale or Princeton. Good … just not quite elite enough to be admit- ted there. It is the high achieving student- athlete with OK looks and a successful future ahead asking out the Brazilian Victoria's Secret model — who has her eyes set on the future first-round and dashing All-America quarterback play- ing in front of him. It is the person who has a comfort- able upper-middle class lifestyle, and then buys a fleet of Rolls-Royces that go beyond his wherewithal. Under Brian Kelly, who just com- pleted his sixth season and is now 55-23 (.705), Notre Dame is in its best foot- ball condition in 20-plus years, and the school has been fortunate to have him shepherding the program from the wilderness. He just also happens to be go- ing against this era's version of Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy with the likes of Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Urban Meyer. Notre Dame has gradually evolved into a top-25 and then top-10 to top-15 team in recent years, but it still does not yet qualify as a "program." Yes, there has been an inordinate amount of attrition and injuries the past two seasons. But that still shouldn't justify losing home games to North- western and Louisville in 2014. And let's face it, the top win in 2015 came against … Navy? How many of its players would start at Notre Dame? The other nine victories were versus teams with a combined 47-67 record (and no bowl wins). Notre Dame should be beat- ing those teams either because it has far superior recruiting (and depth, which cushions it against attrition) or much bet- ter coaching/stability (unlike USC). At the same time, Notre Dame has nothing to apologize for (just like in 2012) as a Big Six participant. It demonstrated just how good it is in two-point losses on the road to two top- five programs this year, Clem- son and Stanford. Notre Dame certainly is more than capable of defeating Col- lege Football Playoff partici- pant Michigan State (against whom it won its last three from 2011-13) and Iowa (which was ranked No. 5 heading into the Rose Bowl Jan. 1). The Fighting Irish would have made far better accounting of themselves, too. It was a good season, but an unfulfilling one because Notre Dame still can't pick up that "shock the world" upset, or major bowl conquest over a favorite, that made the program so famous, starting with the 1913 win at Army. The Irish really haven't done so since vanquishing No. 1 Florida State in 1993. Notre Dame is good … but like the B- plus student applying to the Ivy League, not quite good enough yet, while legiti- mately striving to get there. Until it starts winning these types of marquee games at approximately a .500 clip (at minimum), Notre Dame will continue to remain the "we're not that far away" operation. Awaiting that next step(s) continues. ✦ BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ FEBRUARY 2016 Solid Season Still Leaves Unfulfilled Void 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. After completing his sixth season with the Irish in 2015, head coach Brian Kelly (left, talking with quarterback DeShone Kizer), sported a 55-23 (.705) record, including a 44-28 loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2016. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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