Nearly every Irish fan can name, without hesitation, the longest winning streak of the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame: 12 games – duration of the 2012 regular season.
That historic run to No. 1 is likewise the longest at the program since Lou Holtz’s 1992-93 Irish won a combined 17 straight, improving from a 3-1-1 start in 1992 to finish 10-1-1, and concluding a full regular season later with the infamous 1993 *season finale vs. Boston College, a gut-wrenching 41-39 defeat that knocked the undefeated Irish from the nation’s top spot.
(*For those of you I’ve just caused needless July pain, I apologize. Now get on with your lives.)
Kelly has likewise put together a six-game winning streak (to begin 2014) and a trio of four-game stretches – one to conclude 2010, two intermixed during the 8-5 campaign of 2011, and then once in the midst of a 9-4 finish in 2013.
STREAKS OF NOTE
Charlie Weis’ second Irish squad posted an eight-game winning streak late in 2006. It remains tied with Notre Dame’s teams from 1966, 1978, 1998, and 2002 to own the seventh-best winning streak in the program’s *modern era.
The five best winning streaks for Notre Dame in the modern era (*for our purposes, the outset of the Ara Parseghian regime in 1964 to the present) are as follows:
23 – Oct. 1987-Nov. 1989: From the outset of 1988 and a win against Michigan and ending with a disheartening 27-10 defeat in the ’89 season finale at Miami.
17 – Oct. 1992-Nov. 1993: After losing to Stanford 33-16 in South Bend, Notre Dame prevailed in 17 straight before dropping a program-destroying 41-39 thriller at the hands of Boston College to conclude the ’93 regular season. Sorry, already mentioned that one.
13 – Sept. 1973-Sept. 1974: After losing in the 1972 Orange Bowl to Nebraska, Parseghian’s Irish went on to an 11-0 season in ’73 to claim the national title. They won their first two games of 1974 before falling as the nation’s No. 2 team at Purdue, 31-20.
10 – Sept. 1977 thru season’s end: Dan Devine’s third-edition Irish captured the national title by winning its final 10 games including a 38-10 blowout of Texas in the Cotton Bowl. They lost a pair to open ’78 before winning another eight straight.
9 – The first nine games of 1964 and 1970: Parseghian’s initial Irish squad prevailed in nine consecutive en route to a No. 1 ranking before dropping a 20-17 decision at USC to conclude the regular season. His ’70 crew began with nine straight before again losing at the Coliseum to conclude the regular season, 38-28.
ROLLING THROUGH 2015?
Can Kelly better his second most impressive streak of six straight wins at some point in 2015?
Potential pitfalls are as follows:
1.) The Irish enter 2014 with one win in the books, a 31-28 Music City Bowl victory over LSU last December. They’ll be favored in two straight to open the season (Texas and at Virginia) before a de facto “Pick ‘Em” matchup with Georgia Tech. Should the Irish prevail against the Rambling Wreck, a win over UMass one week later is nearly certain.
Though the Longhorns are capable and Virginia not unarmed, it’s likely Notre Dame will put a three-game winning streak on the line against the Rambling Wreck.
2.) Should the Irish take down Tech and Massachusetts thereafter, the season’s toughest road environment awaits: at Clemson on Oct. 3.
A win over Clemson would thus push Kelly’s Irish to 6-0 with two of the season’s four hardest remaining games on tap, Navy and USC – both to be played in South Bend.
3.) At 6-0, Navy (a trap, a sandwich, you name it, this schedule slot is a killer) would become worrisome and USC would take on national implications. A seven-game or eight-game streak at the conclusion of this October gauntlet appears, at least on paper, unlikely.
4.) Games against Temple, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and Boston College before a finale at Stanford offer the opportunity for a lengthy streak. Should the Irish lose at Clemson but regroup at home to take down Navy and USC, a six-game streak entering the finale in Palo Alto would be a reasonable expectation.
SIX IN A ROW?
Reasonable minds can agree on five of Notre Dame’s seven toughest game situations, order notwithstanding:
My annual Trouble Spots series showed from #1 through #8 as such: USC, Clemson, Stanford, Georgia Tech, and Navy. Thereafter I listed Pittsburgh (road), Boston College (pseudo-road), and Texas (talent).
If anyone else beats Notre Dame in 2015 it would be a major surprise
With that reasoning, the most obvious pitfalls include Game #3 (Ga. Tech), #5 (Clemson), #6 (Navy), #7 (USC), and #12 (Stanford).
A logical, realistic projection is that Notre Dame emerges from October with wins in two of three against Clemson, Navy, and USC, capping the best possible winning streak for 2015 at seven games – the first six outings of 2015 plus the Music City Bowl, or the final seven contests post-Clemson.
But with three “Pick ‘Em” games and two major upset obstacles between Oct. 3 and season’s end, I’ve instead settled on the more likely six-game winning streak – just like the one Kelly’s crew posted in 2014.
Prediction #8 – The Annual Slugfest
Prediction #7 – Light ‘Em Up
Prediction #6 – The Stubbed Toe
Prediction #5 – Sophomore Sacker
Prediction #4 – Close and Late
Prediction #3 – When September Ends
Prediction #2 – Where There’s a Will
Prediction #1 – The Playmaker