Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2017

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

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Page 36 of 55 FEBRUARY 2017 37 the Fighting Irish have "turned the corner" and are on the cusp of be- coming a program, they implode. Conversely, just when you are about to count them out as no longer relevant in the college football land- scape, they tease you again with a strong regular season. • From a 2-5 start in 1997 to begin the Bob Davie era to a 9-1 beginning the following season. • In 1999, Notre Dame lost its final four contests to finish with seven de- feats in one season (5-7) for the first time in 36 years. In 2000, it finished with seven straight wins, a BCS bid (Fiesta Bowl) and maybe even the usual "a few plays away from an 11-0 regular season." • In 2001, Davie is fired after a 5-6 season, and then new coach Tyrone Willingham becomes Sporting News' "Sportsman of The Year" after an 8-0 and 10-1 start as the successor. • Willingham's 10-1 start is fol- lowed by going 11-14 the next 25 games, resulting in his ouster. • Under Charlie Weis, back-to-back BCS bids during his 19-6 start has some believing he could join Notre Dame's pantheon of greats. A 16-21 ledger that ensues instead evoked comparison to Joe Kuharich's 17-23 mark from 1959-62. Prior to his third season at Notre Dame in 2012, Kelly reminded a Chi- cago alumni group that for the first time since 1991-93, the Fighting Irish could win at least eight games three straight years. That evoked criticism that eight- win seasons are now the new stan- dard for the program, but Kelly pointed out it's more about estab- lishing consistency (with eight wins not being merely enough) and how the days of going from 10 wins one season (2006) to three the next (2007) are going to be over. Lo and behold, Notre Dame went from 10 wins in 2015, resulting in a preseason top-10 ranking to open 2016, to a 4-8 ledger, the first eight- loss campaign since 1960, while matching its dubious distinction that year of becoming the most recent Irish team not to record back-to-back wins during the season. That all but assures that 2017 will be a typical bounce-back year. High expectations on the outside usually lead to disappointment; tem- pered, guarded hopes often create a pleasant surprise. ✦ 2017 Schedule Preview Sept. 2: Temple (10-4) The Owls are coming off its first back-to-back 10-win seasons in school history, but head coach Matt Rhule is now at Baylor. Replacing him is 2015-16 Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. Sept. 9: Georgia (8-5) Second-year head coach Kirby Smart returns sophomore Jacob Eason at quarterback, and the dy- namic running duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who combined for 1,970 yards rushing in 2016. The up-and-down debut season ended with a 31-23 Liberty Bowl win versus TCU. Sept. 16: at Boston College (7-6) Under former 1999-2001 Notre Dame assistant Steve Addazio the Eagles have gone 7-6, 7-6, 3-9 and 7-6, but this school has a nasty habit of playing its best versus the Irish. Sept. 23: at Michigan State (3-9) After a 65-16 mark from 2010-15 and three straight top-six finishes in the Associated Press poll from 2013-15, the Spartans' 2016 meltdown was stunning. Still, one of the wins was at Notre Dame. Sept. 30: Miami (Ohio) (6-7) Former Notre Dame/Brian Kelly assistant Chuck Martin (2010-13) led Miami to the NCAA's first ever regular-season mark of 6-6 after starting 0-6, but lost a 17-16 heartbreaker to Mississippi State in the bowl. Oct. 7: at North Carolina (8-5) Quarterback Mitch Trubisky and running back Elijah Hood both opted to turn pro. They lost three of their last four, falling to Duke (28-27), North Carolina State (28-21) and then Stanford (25-23) in the Sun Bowl. Oct. 21: USC (10-3) A nine-game winning streak to end the season was highlighted by USC's first Rose Bowl victory since 2008. A lot of talent was lost on offense, but quarterback Sam Darnold is anticipated to be in the Heisman Trophy conversa- tion. Oct. 28: North Carolina State (7-6) Entering his fifth season, head coach Dave Doeren is 25-26, and his biggest victory might have been the 10-3 fiasco during Hur- ricane Matthew versus the Irish this past season. Nov. 5: Wake Forest (7-6) First-year Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko was a major reason why the Demon Deacons were able to achieve their first bowl win (34-26 versus Temple) and finish above. 500 since 2008. Lineback- ers coach Clark Lea joins him in South Bend. Nov. 12: at Miami (9-4) Quarterback Brad Kaaya left early for the NFL, but head coach Mark Richt's inaugural season at his alma mater included a 5-0 finish after a 30-27 loss to the Irish, highlighted by 31-14 thumping of West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Nov. 19: Navy (9-5) The Midshipmen finished with a three-game losing streak and the first setback to Army since 2001. However, Navy has consistently become a tough out for Notre Dame, including a 28-27 win in 2016. Nov. 26: at Stanford (10-3) In a "rebuilding year," the Cardinal posted their sixth double-digit win total in seven years. Stanford is 6-2 versus the Irish in the last eight meetings and has not lost at home to them since 2007. More updates and reports on the Irish foes in the months to come. — Lou Somogyi Redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold led USC to nine straight wins to end the 2016 season, capped by the Trojans' first Rose Bowl victory since 2008. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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