A game of expectations

A bowl win against a quality opponent would be Notre Dame’s most significant post-season accomplishment since back-to-back victories over Texas A&M in 1992-93.

For Ohio State, it’s 14-0 or bust. For Alabama, even with so many new pieces on offense, including a new quarterback, anything less than a playoff berth – which means zero or one loss – is unacceptable.

For Michigan? A bowl game, and then expectations will shoot up rapidly after that. For Purdue? Three conference victories would be a resurrection. For Oklahoma? Bob Stoops set the bar very high nearly two decades ago. For Michigan State? The Spartans have won double-digit games four of the last five years.

It’s all a matter of perspective and expectations.

For Notre Dame? Well, it generally depends upon the year, and in 2015, expectations have reached a level not seen since 2012, and those were formed three years ago through a series of close victories early in the season that propelled the Irish into an unexpected title run.

At Notre Dame, expectations are always high to some degree because of its lightning-rod existence within the college football world. Whether the projection is one of great promise or also-ran status, eyes naturally gravitate toward Notre Dame.

As the kickoff of the 2015 college football season approaches, Notre Dame has been the center of positive speculation quite a bit this summer, mainly because of a) the promise offered by an impressive bowl victory over LSU, b) the return of 42 letterman, and c) the return of 17 starters, including 10 on defense with the 11th cornerback KeiVarae Russell – a proven standout.

What is an “acceptable” record for Notre Dame in 2015? Expectations go a long way toward dictating that answer. Injuries, or a lack there of, will help determine the end result. But high-end expectations have been set and injuries – which played a significant role in 2013-14 – would ring hollow for the third year in a row.

• 9-3 regular season -- Any way you slice it, three losses during the scheduled 12-game slate will be deemed an underachievement. A modest four of the 12 opponents are ranked among the AP’s pre-season top 25 – Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC and Stanford.

Opponents such as Texas, at Virginia, Navy, at Pittsburgh, Boston College in Fenway Park and at Stanford all are impediments that offer the possibility of tripping up the Irish based upon losses to teams like Northwestern, Pittsburgh, South Florida, Navy and Tulsa earlier in the Brian Kelly regime.

Three or more losses in 2015 constitute a failure to live up to expectations.

• 10-2 regular season – Although disappointing from the standpoint that the Irish likely would fall one game short of the College Football Playoff, it would mark the second double-digit-winning season under Brian Kelly and the fourth in the last 22 years. A 10-victory regular season would be just the ninth since 1950.

• 10-3 with a bowl loss – Again, an unacceptable conclusion because of the lasting impression left by a defeat in the final game of the season and another bowl failure, although it would be just the ninth 10-victory regular season in the last 65 seasons.

From the 1994 season through 2006, Notre Dame went 0-9 in bowl games, which left a cloud hanging over the program heading into the off-season. Victories over Hawaii, Miami and Rutgers in subsequent bowl games didn’t create much momentum, but it beat the alternative.

The victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl last year was the most uplifting post-season win since back-to-back victories over quality Texas A&M teams in the early ‘90s.

A 10-3 final record with a bowl loss would mean the Irish would be 10-2 during the regular season, which would set up the possibility of something like a Peach Bowl bid on New Year’s Eve or a Fiesta Bowl clash on New Year’s Day against an opponent with a comparable record.

In other words, that would mean a loss to a quality opponent in a bowl game and Notre Dame’s 12th bowl loss in its last 16 trips.

• 10-3 with a bowl win – This is somewhat of a limbo status based upon pre-season expectations. The bowl victory would be the fifth in the last seven and more significant than the win over LSU in the Music City Bowl. It would be a victory over a quality opponent. But the three-loss regular season would leave many Irish fans less than satiated.

• 11-2 with bowl/playoff loss – This would mean an 11-1 regular season and – depending upon a ton of other variables – a loss as one of four playoff teams. It also could be a loss in a Sugar/Rose/Fiesta/Peach-type bowl against a quality opponent.

Although the post-season loss would be disappointing, it would constitute a great season, a berth among the top teams in the country, and a real breakthrough for a program in the running for the national title two of the previous four seasons.

There likely would be more plaudits for the successes than the failure in the last game of the season.

• 13-1/12-2 with a playoff win and a loss in the national championship – Oh so close; heartbreaking to fall short. This would be disappointing for Ohio State or Alabama; a great season for Notre Dame.

To reach national-championship level play twice within a four-year span would be quite an accomplishment for a program that lost 89 times in an 18-year span from 1994-2011, or one loss shy of an average of five per year.

• 14-0 with two playoff victories – Notre Dame nirvana.

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