Since, beginning with Week Four of 1990 and over a period of nearly 21 football seasons, a loss by the Irish to a supposed inferior foe has been as inevitable as the tides. Since Notre Dame is expected to rank as the favorite in either 10 or 11 of its 12 regular season games this fall, it's time to unveil the next prediction in our summer series...this one less enticing for Irish fans:
Prediction #13 – ND will lose a game in which its favoredThe aforementioned stretch of 1988 through September of 1990 produced 27 wins in 28 outings for Lou Holtz's Irish. But even Holtz's strongest squads thereafter experienced scattered results when entering a contest as the purported favorite.
Heavy is the head that wears the crownOnly Bob Davie's Fiesta Bowl squad of 2000 escaped a full season without an upset defeat, losing at home to #1 Nebraska and two weeks later at Michigan State.
Just when you think you have a season figured out…
- 1990: Upset by Stanford, 36-31 as 17.5-point favorites; later upset by Penn State, 24-21 as favorites of 6.5. The Irish entered both games as the nation's No. 1 team and both were played in South Bend.
- 1991: Lost to Tennessee as favorites of 6.5 points, 35-34, in the game known across Knoxville as "The Miracle in South Bend." Notre Dame was rolled seven days later in State College then held on for a one-point win at Hawaii – its defense allowing 112 points in three games to conclude the season. The Irish upset #3 Florida one month later in the Sugar Bowl.
- 1992: Upset as 12-point favorites vs. Stanford, 33-16 in Week Five (the Cardinal scored the contest's final 33 points). The Irish proceeded to finish the season with seven straight victories including a Cotton Bowl blowout of Texas A$M.
- 1993: Upset by Boston College, 41-39, to conclude the regular season. The No. 1 ranked Irish were favored by 14.5 points over a dangerous, streaking, #16-ranked Eagles squad. Notre Dame finished No. 2 at season's end.
- 1994: Overrated after an opening win (and standout performance by new QB Ron Powlus) vs. Northwestern, the Irish suffered a tough home loss to #6 Michigan (#3 ND was favored by 5.5, losing 26-24). The revenge match at Boston College turned into anything but, with the still-ranked Irish favored by 10, losing 30-11. The season unraveled after a home upset at the hands of BYU (favored 15 and lost 21-14).
- 1995: Upset by 27-point underdog Northwestern, 17-15 in the home opener. The Irish finished the season 9-2 with an Orange Bowl bid and the Wildcats represented the Big 10 in the Rose Bowl at season's end.
- 1996: Upset at home by Air Force, 20-17, after entering the contest as 21-point favorites. 13-point underdog USC also beat the Irish, 27-20 to close Lou Holtz's career at ND.
Holtz's final seven seasons yielded 11 upset losses.
Bob Davie Era (9 upset losses):
- 1997: Upset by 20-point underdog Purdue in West Lafayette, 28-17; upset one week later by Michigan State, (favored by 2.5, lost 23-7); upset by 6-point underdog USC, 20-17 in South Bend. The pair of wins by the Boilermakers and Spartans was the first vs. the Irish since 1985 and 1986, respectively.
- 1998: Upset by Michigan State (favored by 6.5 and lost 45-23 in East Lansing under the lights). Also favored by a field goal in the Gator Bowl vs. Georgia Tech but lost 35-28.
- 1999: Upset as 6-point favorites vs. Michigan State, 23-13. Upset as 9-point favorites at Pittsburgh, 37-27 – the last game played at Pitt Stadium. Upset one week later as 8.5-point favorites vs. Boston College on Senior Day in South Bend, 31-29.
- 2000: Davie's surprising Irish won each of the eight regular season games in which they were favored – while adding a South Bend upset of Purdue and Drew Brees – but lost both matchups in which they entered the contest as underdogs: 27-24 vs. No. 1 Nebraska, and 27-21 at Michigan State – a game in which the Irish started quarterback-turned-tight end Gary Godsey in relief of injured Arnaz Battle. Eventual transfer Matt LoVecchio took the reigns under center thereafter, beginning his career with seven consecutive victories as a true freshman.
- 2001: Upset as 10-point favorites in the home opener vs. Michigan State, 17-10.
Tyrone Willingham Era (6 upset losses):
- 2002: Again suffered a home upset at the hands of Boston College. The Irish were #3 in the newly-released BCS poll and 9.5-point favorites over the Eagles but fell 14-7, ending an the season's magical 8-0 start.
- 2003: In what might be the worst betting line in world history, the Irish were upset as 10-point favorites vs. Michigan State, 22-16 in South Bend. They were later upset in Syracuse as a field goal favorite, 38-12, to mercifully end a disheartening season.
- 2004: Upset in the opener at BYU, 20-17 as favorites of 6.5 points. Also upset at home by Boston College (24-23 as 7-point favorite) and vs. Pittsburgh on Senior Day (41-38 as an 11-point favorite); the beginning of the end of the Willingham era.
Charlie Weis Era (8 upset losses):
- 2005: Upset by Michigan State, 44-41 in overtime. The Irish were favored by 4.5 after a 2-0 start to the Weis era, then lost only to #1 USC over the final eight regular season games.
- 2006: Rolled by 5.5-point "underdog" Michigan, 47-21. The Wolverines reached as high as #2 in the polls in late November.
- 2007: Upset by three-point underdog Navy, 46-44, in 3OT. The Irish were favored just twice in '07, covering vs. Duke in the home finale.
- 2008: Upset in South Bend by 4-point underdog Pittsburgh, 36-33 in 4OT, and by lowly, 19.5-point underdog Syracuse, 24-23, again on Senior Day.
- 2009: Upset at Michigan, 38-34 (favored by a field goal); by Navy, 23-21 (favored by 12.5); and by Connecticut, 33-30 in a Senior Day overtime defeat (favored by 6.5 entering the contest).
Brian Kelly, 2010 (3 upset losses):
- 2010: Upset by Michigan, 28-24, (favored by 3.5); at Navy, 35-17 (favored by 6.5 in a line that moved nearly three points in the underdog's favor over the course of the week) and at home by Tulsa, 28-27 (favored by 9.5).
Current point spreads provided by the Golden Nugget casino show the Irish as favorites vs. Michigan (-3); Michigan State (-6); Pittsburgh (-5); Air Force (-11); USC (-5); and Maryland (-8.5). It's logical to assume the Irish will also be favored at Purdue, vs. Navy, at Wake Forest, and vs. Boston College in South Bend (Senior Day).
Notre Dame currently sits as a 4.5-point underdog in the season finale at Stanford, though the Cardinal were initially favored by 6.5 over the Irish (off-season money wagered on Notre Dame moved the line down to 4.5 in favor of Stanford).
In other words, Notre Dame could be favored in 11 of 12 regular season games this season, making this my easiest, most logical, and ultimately unfortunate pre-season prediction for 2011.