The two-game losing streak: It raises the ire of a program’s fan base, casts doubt among the troops, and serves as a death knell to championship dreams.
Avoiding the two-game skid each season can keep a coach off the hot seat, at least when he’s the head man in South Bend.
Tyrone Willingham and Gerry Faust failed to do so in their combined eight seasons in charge while both Bob Davie and Charlie Weis turned the trick just once.
Conversely, Lou Holtz avoided losing two straight in seven separate seasons during his 11 at the controls. Not surprisingly, the four Irish squads that dropped consecutive games under Holtz – 1986, 1987, 1991, and 1994 – rank as three of his four least successful overall.
Irish legend Ara Parseghian was king in this regard, losing consecutive contests just once in his 11 seasons as Notre Dame head coach. Parseghian’s 1972 Irish dropped their season finale and bowl game thereafter, then responded by running the table in 1973 en route to the national championship.
Current head man Brian Kelly has avoided a two-game losing streak twice in his five seasons (2012 and 2013) and with a third this fall, would match Dan Devine in this crucial category with three seasons among his first six in which no losing streak occurred.
Which brings us to Prediction No. 11 in our summer series – after losing four straight last fall, Kelly and the Irish will avoid back-to-back losses in 2015.
Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl victory over LSU softened the fan base’s collective off-season angst, and though few have forgiven or forgotten Kelly’s inexplicable (re: Northwestern), four-game skid of 2014, it’s likewise true the Irish seem better equipped to avoid such a swoon this season as a collection of battle-tested upperclassmen appears ready to lead.
Where might the Irish lose two straight, thus ending the minimal goal of reaching the “New Year’s Six”?
Texas/Virginia/Georgia Tech: The outset of Notre Dame’s schedule is as challenging in terms of weekly pitfalls as any in the nation, but only one of the three foes serves as a true peer, at least at present.
The Irish will be favored by more than a touchdown against both Texas and Virginia (point spreads opened at Notre Dame favored by 7.5 and by 9 points, respectively), while the Yellow Jackets visit in Week 3 serves as a true toss-up.
The Irish have started slowly under Kelly in three of his first five seasons, beginning 1-3 in 2010, 0-2 in 2011, and 3-2 in 2013 while famously beginning undefeated through 12 and six games, respectively in 2012, 2014.
Look for a 4-0 or at worst 3-1 start to begin 2015, a two-game skid thus avoided in September, because…
A Moment of UMass Respite: The Minutemen provide a guaranteed streak-stopper should the Irish fall to peer squad Georgia Tech one week prior.
October: Clemson/Navy/USC: For all the hand wringing over Notre Dame’s struggles with Navy, it’s relevant to note Kelly is 4-1 against the Midshipmen with two epic blowouts, one legitimate scare, and one 60-minute annoyance (last season) among his quartet of victories.
On paper, a loss at Clemson or against USC ranks at the top of Notre Dame’s probability list – a loss to Navy, does not.
Expect three close contests (decided by the events of the fourth quarter) but no two-game losing skid to occur during this hellacious three-game October set.
The Temple “Break” – Not your garden-variety schedule break, because the Owls were a .500 squad last fall and appear bowl-bound in 2015, but it’s difficult to imagine Notre Dame losing at Lincoln Financial Field one week after the season’s only bye.
Should the Irish fall to USC on Oct. 17, expect a focused, dominant effort to conclude the month on Halloween night in Philly. And if Kelly’s crew beats USC, it’s likely a national contender.
November: The Steel City followed by the Wake Break – Could Notre Dame lose at Pittsburgh on Nov. 7? Sure, the Panthers have played the Irish to a near standstill over the last six matchups, with both programs winning three games, each of the six decided in the final minutes or overtime.
But the Irish won’t lose to Temple and Pittsburgh back-to-back and Wake Forest’s Senior Day visit on Nov. 14 provides the season’s second “sure thing.”
Which brings us to…
Boston College/Stanford: An upset loss to Boston College just steps from the Eagles front lawn would not only be dispiriting, but likewise lead to a “must win” situation at Stanford – one of the four true toss-ups on Notre Dame’s 2015 slate.
If the Irish lose in Fenway Park, how would they respond to flipping coasts over a seven-day Thanksgiving week span to take on the rough-and-tumble Cardinal?
The Boston College matchup is my official trap game of 2015 – but I merely expect a close contest and a Notre Dame win, not a season-killing upset loss for the Irish reminiscent of 1993 and 2002.
Stanford/Bowl: This is where it gets tricky. Beat Stanford and a two-game skid to conclude the season isn’t possible. Lose to Stanford and the ensuing bowl matchup likely pits Notre Dame against a lesser squad, certainly not a playoff game and unlikely a “New Year’s Six” matchup.
It’s thus a scenario that would test Notre Dame’s mental toughness, as a deflating end-season loss would mean a team full of senior starters and top tier juniors failed to reach its goal.
Because of the degree of difficulty of winning at Stanford and the certainty of a quality, if not top tier foe thereafter, this end-season scenario represents Notre Dame’s most likely two-game skid.
But Prediction No. 11 states it won’t happen for Kelly’s sixth-edition Irish.
Prediction #10 – Will They Protect This House?
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