Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2018

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

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Page 53 of 55

54 JANUARY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED S omewhere in the overall Notre Dame football op- eration there appears to be a disconnect between the financial/marketable and the practical when it comes to scheduling. The most recent change to the 2018 schedule announced this December reflected this divide. A little more than a week after Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly surprisingly noted how mental fatigue had taken a toll on the 2017 Fighting Irish, which sputtered to a 1-2 finish with road losses at Miami (41- 8) and Stanford (38-20) — plus needed to rally to defeat Navy (24-17) — the Nov. 17, 2018 Notre Dame-Syracuse game at home was moved to New York's Yankee Stadium as the Shamrock Series game for the Fight- ing Irish. By shifting venues for that home game, Notre Dame will be on the road four of the final five weeks of the sea- son, including two trips to California. Meanwhile, over the past five seasons the Fighting Irish are 9-12 (.429 win- ning percentage) in the month of No- vember. It reflects the juggling act that comes with maintaining the coveted indepen- dence status in football. On one hand, it is a powerful recruit- ing pitch to top prospects that they will travel to the nation's top cities and famed athletic grounds while repre- senting the school. On the other … is it worth it when you have been mainly mediocre for about a quarter century? Such is the price of maintaining in- dependence in football, while sustain- ing the notion that Notre Dame is con- tinuing its "tradition" of barnstorming across the country to make a name for itself. There are at least two elements here that need to be addressed. First, Kelly's remark was surpris- ing because a month earlier he had confidently stated this Notre Dame team "was built for November," the strength and conditioning was actually making gains during the season, and a mental performance structure also was in place. The remark about wearing down mentally countered those statements. It also was an unintended indictment of the team's inability to finish and perhaps even the staff's motivational prowess when "no juice" was left among the players while ostensibly feeling like Kelly was delivering a biol- ogy lecture. Prior to the final three games, Notre Dame had a bye week and three straight home tilts (USC, North Caro- lina State and Wake Forest), meaning it had time to decompress and not go on the road for a month. That brings us to our second and more important point: Schedules al- ways seem more difficult when you don't succeed. During Notre Dame's 1-3 start in 2016, the three September losses were to 5-7 Texas, 3-9 Michigan State and 4-8 Duke, the latter two at home. They would also fall to a six-loss North Carolina State team; a Stanford unit that had to fly cross country to Notre Dame after losing its two pre- vious games by a combined score of 86-22; Navy; and also at home to a first-time head coach at Virginia Tech after holding a 24-7 lead. Irish faithful often complain that "Alabama's schedule is ridiculously easy." Really? When it won the national title in 2015 the Crim- son Tide defeated nine ranked teams, five of them in the top 10 — not including Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas. If those latter three appeared on the Irish slate, you better be- lieve the reaction would be, "Wow, that's a challenging schedule." When you're a top team, schedules look easier on the outside; when you're not, they always seem more treacherous. Had Notre Dame defeated Miami this November, the Hurricanes would have been perceived as a paper tiger after barely surviving most of the season with 11th-hour con- quests. Had the Irish vanquished Stanford, then the Cardinal would have been considered "fa- tigued" because the previous three weeks it had to play Washington State, Washington and rival Cal — and still needed to face USC in the Pac-12 title game after Notre Dame. Fighting Irish vice president/di- rector of athletics Jack Swarbrick did acknowledge that the 2019 schedule with road games at Louisville, Geor- gia, Michigan and Stanford has more challenging trips than he would prefer, but as an independent — while also a partial member in football with the ACC — the Irish don't always have the luxury and leverage to dictate the when and where. "When you're trying to put this together, it's not like you get to choose every game or where it goes," Swarbrick told Blue & Gold Illustrated this summer. "I understand the reac- tion to '19 … but it's how it fell. We've got to take that on, we've got to build the résumé and we have to be good enough to navigate it." Being good enough is what it ul- timately always comes down to, no matter how many roads you must travel. ✦ Independent Football Status Takes Many Roads THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Head coach Brian Kelly (left) and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick have to navigate some difficult challenges as a football independent. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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