Question of the Week: Rank the W/L

This week's Subscriber Question examines the best wins and worst losses of the last two seasons.

This original question was simply: Rank the 10 defeats of the Brian Kelly era: Worst to Allowable?

Instead I figured I'd tackle both sides of the equation: Ranking the wins, and losses, of over the last two seasons. I tried to classify the wins as they happened, as none have had a lasting impact heading into 2012.

Ranking the Victories

Winning usually feels good, though there were a few glasses half empty across Irish nation on autumn Saturday night's contained within the list below:

  1. USC 2010: The Trojans had won eight straight entering the contest and this streak-breaker gave life to the Kelly era, easily at its apex considering what transpired before and since. Not many wins by a six-win football team over a seven-win football team have felt better than this. Favorite: USC by 4.5

  2. Michigan State 2011: Easily the best team the Irish have defeated over Kelly's first two seasons at the helm, and the game wasn't close. The 0-2 Irish were in a tailspin but saved September when they buried the Big 10 runner-up Spartans, 31-10, and found a new weapon -- kick returner George Atkinson -- in the process. Favorite: ND by 6

  3. Utah 2010: The Irish entered at 4-5 and as home underdogs to a Utes squad that lost by 40 to a Mountain West team (albeit a darn good one in TCU) the previous week. That's a low point, my friend. But the unexpected 28-3 Irish victory kicked off the team's 4-game winning streak and a run of tremendous defense to conclude the season. Favorite: Utah by 5.5

  4. Miami 2010: Perhaps the last (most recent) universally positive moment for the program was this much-needed second straight bowl victory to end Kelly's initial season at 8-5, winners of four straight with hope for bigger things in 2011. Favorite: Miami by 2.5

  5. Boston College 2010: At 1-3, Notre Dame's domination of the Eagles in Chestnut Hill was both unforeseen (by me, I picked BC) and impressive. Boston College proved to be a poor team, but that's exactly how the Irish treated the, on both sides of scrimmage. A quality road win at a venue in which the Irish traditionally play poorly. Favorite: ND by 3

  6. Wake Forest 2011: Listed more for the circumstances and unique nature of the contest: it marks the only contest in the 26-game Kelly era in which the Irish came back to win, 24-17, when trailing at the half (1-6 previously). The Demon Deacons defeated Florida State earlier in the season and had a fair amount of skill position talent but Bob Diaco's defense pitched a second half shutout after hitting the break down 17-10. Favorite: ND by 13.5

  7. Pittsburgh 2011: The game marked the only 4th Quarter comeback victory over the last two seasons, but the Irish played poorly against a rudderless Panthers team before showing resilience late, with Tommy Rees and Tyler Eifert taking over on the final drive for a 15-12 victory. Ugly but effective and finally at .500 after an 0-2 start to the season -- a true "must-win" situation. Favorite: ND by 7

  8. Pittsburgh 2010: The Irish won 23-17 over a Pittsburgh team that boasted skill position talent (Jonathan Baldwin, Dion Lewis, Ray Graham) but labored offensively with Tino Sunseri as its signal-caller. The Panthers ended the season 8-5 including a 6-2 finish following their loss in South Bend. Notre Dame drew even, 3-3, with the victory. Favorite: ND by 6

  9. Air Force 2011: The Falcons boasted a solid offense but Notre Dame raced to a 59-19 lead before yielding two scores late in the 59-33 victory. The first-string Irish defense gave up 19 points in 56 minutes; the backups looked lost in the final four, allowing two easy scoring drives and opening the door for unnecessary angst on every conceivable fan message board. The Irish moved to 4-2 on the season and the second of three four-game winning streaks in the Kelly era. Favorite: ND by 14

  10. Purdue 2011: The Irish offense toyed with the Boilermakers for 60 minutes on a prime time stage, winning 38-10. (Somehow the defense-optional hosts rebounded to finish 7-6 with a bowl victory.) The win put Notre Dame over .500 for the first time last fall, 3-2 heading into a month spent in South Bend. Favorite: ND by 11

  11. Navy 2011: The 2011 Midshipmen were perhaps the worst team on this list, but Notre Dame avoided implosion, mutiny, and a house divided just two days following Kelly's oft-referenced "you can see the guys I recruited" salvo. The Irish looked crisp and prepared in a 56-14 blowout win to move to 5-3 entering November. Had the Irish fell flat and somehow lost, the staff and program might not have recovered. Favorite: ND by 23.5

  12. Army 2010: Hard to beat the spectacle associated with the contest and the Cadets were a bowl team in 2010. The 27-3 win was Notre Dame's second straight following back-to-back defeats and gave the Irish a 6-5 mark and continued momentum heading into a Thanksgiving Weekend battle with USC. Favorite: ND by 8.5

  13. Purdue 2010: The first-game of the Kelly era was a "can't lose" situation and Notre Dame handled its business despite the best efforts of future NFL'er Ryan Kerrigan, who wreaked havoc vs. the Irish offensive front. This season-opening win was necessary and satisfying if not inspiring. Favorite: ND by 11.5

  14. Maryland 2011: Lacked the panache of the 2010 neutral site battle at Yankee Stadium and the Terrapins, as constructed at the time, were an easier foe than was Army. The Irish moved to 7-3 with the 45-21 victory. Favorite: ND by 20.5

  15. Boston College 2011: Pretty easy to break down: one terrible team with a transcendent collegiate linebacker faced off vs. the heavily favored, streaking Irish on Senior Day. A combined 17 punts later, Notre Dame's 16-14 win inspired little confidence among the masses. Still, it was the team's fourth straight and eighth (and final) victory of 2011. Favorite: ND by 24

  16. Western Michigan 2010: Mid-tier MAC teams + Notre Dame + October = disinterest. WMU had a touch of offensive talent and after the 44-20 defeat in South Bend, proceeded to finish 6-6 and just out of the bowl picture. Notre Dame moved to 4-3, above .500 for the first time in 2010. Favorite: ND by 24

Its Never Easy

All losses hurt, but as the last two seasons have illustrated, some linger much, much longer for die-hard fans.

  1. Navy 2010: I'd argue it was a modern-era low point (at least since Gerry Faust) because Charlie Weis' teams that lost to Navy weren't any good, but were still competitive vs. the underdog Middies. We assumed Kelly's 2010 crew had turned the corner (winners of three straight) before the Midshipmen laid waste to both sides of scrimmage. Notre Dame proved it was a resilient, talented, focused unit with a 4-0 finish just two weeks after this blowout loss, which makes the defeat more puzzling, as the Irish showed no mental or physical toughness on the field, and were poorly coached on both sides of scrimmage. The Irish fell to 4-4 following the contest. Favorite: ND by 6.5, which should have been an early indicator something was amiss...

  2. Tulsa 2010: The Golden Hurricane were one 36-yard field goal by the best single-season kicker in Notre Dame history away from defeat. Instead…

    Tulsa boasted a top notch offense and a bad defense, and were thus a dangerous team. But you could argue nonetheless this was the low point of the new staff's era, because the week leading up to, and the week following the Tulsa contest were the worst in recent memory at the program for vastly different reasons. The loss gave Notre Dame a 4-5 mark heading into the season's Bye week. Favorite: ND by 9.5

  3. Michigan 2011: How? Regardless, Notre Dame dropped to a shocking 0-2 in defeat after three quarters of tremendous football. (They unfortunately make you play four). Favorite: ND by 3.5

  4. USF 2011: Still can't believe everything that transpired. After two weather delays, five Irish turnovers, and several incidents of verbal murder on the Notre Dame sideline, the Irish opened 2011 at 0-1. Favorite: ND by 10.5

  5. USC 2011: The Stadium housed USC coaches, players, and fans, along with Notre Dame coaches, players, and fans. The entire USC contingent was ready for prime time. For Notre Dame, only the fans answered the bell…

    A team-wide no-show for Recruit-a-Palooza 2011 exacerbated the situation. Its hard to believe this isn't atop the list, but USC was better than Notre Dame last year and on October 22, 2011. The loss dropped the Irish to 4-3 and out of national discussion after a four-game winning streak provided brief life. Favorite: ND by 9.5

  6. Michigan 2010: Michigan and Denard Robinson were better than Notre Dame with Tommy Rees and Nate Montana. Had then-starter Dayne Crist played the entire game (Notre Dame was outscored 21-0 in his absence, but outscored Michigan 24-7 with Crist under center) the Irish would have likely won the contest. Robinson's super-human effort was among the best single-game performances in Stadium history. The first loss of the Kelly era was a tough pill to swallow, especially after the late-game heroics of Crist and Kyle Rudolph. Favorite: ND by 3.5

  7. Michigan State 2010: Notre Dame had multiple chances in regulation and again in overtime, but a great trick play call by the other sidelines was ultimately the difference. Tip your hat to Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio and move on. The Irish fell to 1-2 with back-to-back defeats and the Spartans proved to be a good football team in 2010. Favorite: MSU by 3.5

  8. Stanford 2011: Stanford was better, but Notre Dame's no-show first half was disappointing in Game 25 of the Kelly Era. An 8-4 regular season finish was the result. Favorite: Stanford by 7

  9. Florida State 2011: Giveaway 2011 continued to the bitter end. Back-to-back 8-5 seasons were realized in defeat. Mid-tier bowl losses don't often crack the radar of my "worst loss" lists. Favorite: FSU by 3

  10. Stanford 2010: The better team won handily. The 1-3 start ended the Honeymoon Phase for Kelly and his staff but the Irish were just over a month away from a run of strong, disciplined football. Favorite: Stanford by 4

Overview

Over the last two seasons, the Irish have won 13 and lost 6 as favorites and won 3 while losing 4 as underdogs. (Notre Dame ended 2010 winning three straight as the underdog (Utah, two weeks later at USC, and the Sun Bowl vs. Miami). The Irish were favored in their first 11 games last season, but not against Stanford and Florida State.

? The sobering issue: there aren't many garden variety defeats, and that list was thus much harder to place in order. With only 3-4 to date, a handful of exhilarating wins must be on tap in 2012.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories