Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 23, 2015 Issue

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

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Page 112 of 113

THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI When Ohio State has to call on its third-team quarterback to win the Big Ten championship and the national title, it doesn't skip a beat. When Clemson or Stanford lose eight or nine defensive starters from top-ranked de- fenses, it still vies for national title contention the way both have this season. Any of them could have a three-loss campaign along the way — once per four years or so — or even an 8-5 fin- ish like Stanford did in 2014, but it is an outlier. Notre Dame has straddled the team- versus-program line under Kelly the past six years. It has won at least eight games six straight seasons, but it has not quite been able to crack that con- sistent 10-win barrier. Sort of like a Texas A&M, an Arizona State or an Oklahoma State , they tease its fan base just enough in given years to continue breaking their hearts in the future. That is what made Notre Dame merely a football team, but not a "pro- gram" from 1997 all the way up to last year: • Start 9-1 in 1998 … and then drop to 5-7 in 1999. • Make it to a BCS bowl in 2000 at 9-2 to extend the head coach's contract another five years … and then finish 5-6 and fire that same coach 12 months later. • Enjoy "return to glory" promi- nence with a 10-1 start in 2002 … and then go 11-14 in the ensuing 25 games while regularly losing by four or more touchdowns. • Win 19 games in 2005-06 … and then plummet to 3-9 in 2007. It began a dubious streak of five straight years with a minimum of five losses from 2007-11, the wrong kind of consistency. This 2015 Notre Dame team may have just begun a full evolution to- ward program status, although that can't be ascertained until two or three years from now if or when it continues to be a consistent top-10 outfit. The development of players such as Ad- ams and Kizer reflects such a growth, as does replacing a half-dozen other prime figures who have been sidelined for the year with injuries. Make no mistake, in today's college football landscape all roads to No. 1 go through Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, who have combined for six of the last nine national titles (three apiece) and seven overall. "Parity" doesn't apply to them. Nevertheless, this should be the sec- ond time in four years where Notre Dame could be in the national title conversation during the final week of the regular season. From its training table to its recruiting balance, the in- frastructure is at its best in more than 20 years. This season's development in so many phases has put it another step closer to program status. The outcome at Stanford will either help validate such a step or lead to more "can't quite get over the hump," lamentation. ✦ Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at

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