Will They Protect This House?

Prediction No. 10 in our summer series projects a home-field misstep for Notre Dame – the 24th time in its last 26 seasons.

Mid-October 2011: Notre Dame vs. USC in South Bend.

New helmets, a new “sound” system, and the dawn of a new era – but one that unfortunately began after the final gun in the wake of a 31-17 Trojans humbling of Brian Kelly’s heavily favored Irish in South Bend.

Thereafter, Notre Dame concluded its regular season with a pair of home victories, then proceeded to sweep through a six game 2012 home slate without defeat before prevailing in five of six home outings in 2013. Add to that four consecutive home victories to begin 2015 and the Irish had won 17 of their last 18 in the House that Rockne Built.

Enter Northwestern in mid-November and Louisville one week later and what Kelly had built at home was officially lost.

Will the Irish regain their South Bend swagger in 2015? I’m glad you asked:

Eleven Notre Dame seasons during the modern era (1964-present) have included an unblemished home slate. The program’s aggregate final record in those campaigns is a staggering 112-12-2 with four national championships and a January bowl game shot at four others.

In other words, protecting their house is a determining factor in Notre Dame’s ultimate season success:

-- 2012: 6-0 en route to 12-0 and a No. 1 ranking to conclude the regular season.

-- 1998: A 6-0 finish and a 9-3 end result, the only undefeated home season of the Bob Davie era.

-- 1989: A five-game home sweep and a 12-1 final mark. It was the final undefeated home slate of the Lou Holtz era.
-- 1988: 7-0 at home, 12-0 overall, national champions
-- 1987: 5-0 at home for an 8-4 finish. The Irish started 8-1 before the wheels fell off the wagon.

-- 1980: 5-0 at home and a 9-1-1 regular season with an outside shot at the national title before losing to No. 1 Georgia on January 1.
-- 1977: 5-0 at home, 11-1 final record and a national championship.

-- 1973: 5-0 at home, 11-0 overall and a national championship.
-- 1970: 5-0 at home, 10-1 overall
-- 1966: 5-0 at home (with a combined score of 197-14!!), 9-0-1 overall and a national championship.
-- 1964: 5-0 at home, 9-1 overall. The first of four undefeated home seasons under Ara Parseghian.

The final tally shows four undefeated home seasons under Parseghian, three (consecutive) by Holtz, two during the Dan Devine era, and one apiece for Davie and Kelly.

As noted above, Notre Dame righted its rudderless home ship midway through Kelly’s tenure, winning 17 of 18 between late-season 2011 and mid-season 2014.

2010: 4-3 at home (Michigan, Stanford, Tulsa)
2011: 4-2 at home (South Florida and USC)
2012: 6-0 at home
2013: 5-1 at home (Oklahoma)
2014: 4-2 at home (Northwestern and Arizona State)

Kelly’s most recent three seasons boasts a 15-3 mark in South Bend – it’s solid, though not championship-worthy. Can the 2015 Irish navigate their six-game home slate unscathed?

No Sweat (Massachusetts and Wake Forest) – If one of these is close, Notre Dame is looking at 8-5 again, or worse.

Tricky Traps (Texas and Navy) – To quote my two-year-old, Declan, these “tricky traps” could be problematic. It’s fair to give the Irish at least a 65 percent chance of subduing the Longhorns in the season-opener and a solid 85 percent chance of beating Navy.

But I’d also submit an approximate 90 percent chance at least one of these contests is close well into the fourth quarter. Neither is close to a sure thing.

True Tests (Georgia Tech and USC) – Notre Dame will be favored against Georgia Tech, but in reality, it’s no better than a toss-up scenario for the host Irish once the ball is kicked. Staking the Irish to a 55 percent chance for victory seems fair.

As for the Trojans biennial October trip to the Midwest? On paper, it’s fair to offer USC at least a 51 percent chance at victory, but add to that the reality that the matchup occurs seven days after a battle with Navy (Notre Dame is just 2-5 over its last seven seasons in games immediately following a date with the Mid’s) and I think a 45 percent chance at an Irish victory is more accurate.

Add it up and the Irish face a toss-up game in which they “should” win; a toss-up matchup in which they’re “likely” to lose, plus a pair of potential pitfalls against capable and/or highly focused foes.

Can Kelly’s Irish emerge at 4-0 from that quartet of contests?

The logical projection is, unfortunately, no.

Prediction #9 – Let’s Go Streaking

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

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