Are the Irish Playoff Bound?

The conclusion of our pre-season prediction series brings with it the bottom line – the prediction that matters most.

An undefeated September was first offered on these pages over the summer.

The projection of a one loss in October followed.

What then does November, and thus, January, hold for Brian Kelly’s most talented college football team to date?

The answer, or projection to that end, is contained below in the twentieth and final prediction of our pre-season preview series.

NOVEMBER REIGN
A remarkable five-year run of end-season success vaulted Kelly to the enviable status of “Mr. November” on these pages. From post-Halloween 2008 through Thanksgiving Saturday 2012, Kelly-coached squads finished a remarkable 22-2 in November/December regular season contests.

Included therein, a 12-1 mark at Cincinnati (including a string of nine straight wins) and a 10-1 mark with six consecutive victories during his first three seasons in South Bend.

“We build, beginning now (January), with November in mind,” Kelly said in the midst of that run.

On the other hand…

NOVEMBER PAIN
It began with a seemingly innocuous early November 2013 outing in Heinz Field. 7-2 Notre Dame, still in the running for what mattered in those days of yore, something called a “BCS Bowl,” against a dead-in-the-water Pittsburgh squad.

Instead, the Irish played uninspired, host Pittsburgh played fine, I suppose, and the very-definition-of-average Panthers prevailed, 28-21. November no longer belonged to Kelly. Two weeks later, Stanford cemented that truth, winning 27-20 against the Irish in Palo Alto.

One year later, staked to a 6-1 mark with a chance to cement a New Year’s Six Bowl bid – and potentially a playoff berth – heading into November 2014, the Irish spiraled to a 1-4 finish including losses in four straight, each in its own way worse than the last.

After a 22-2 November mark from 2008 to 2012, Kelly’s Irish have won just three of their last nine dating back to a 2013, Nov. 1 win over Navy, a 38-34 escape in South Bend.

THE TASK AT HAND
Pittsburgh (Nov. 7) has nine days to get ready for the Irish before hosting this year’s contest in the Steel City. Ensuing foes Wake Forest and Boston College are both granted two weeks to prepare.

And after traveling all the way east to Fenway Park to take on the Eagles on Nov. 21, Notre Dame must return for a short week (Thanksgiving) before flipping coasts to take on the rough-and-tumble Stanford Cardinal.

The silver lining of Notre Dame’s trip to The Farm is that Cardinal will be at the tail end of a season-defining home stand: Oregon, arch-rival California, and the Irish.

By my count Notre Dame’s final month involves two traps (Pittsburgh and BC), one “sure-thing” (Senior Day against Wake) and a toss-up on Thanksgiving Saturday.

After a brutal October and not-so-easy September, that spells a 3-1, not 4-0 November finish.

Look for Notre Dame to finish 10-2 in 2015 – Part of the valued New Year’s Six, but spectators for the second annual College Football Playoffs.

Prediction #19 – October offers the season’s first slip

Prediction #17 and #18 – Three for 10 TD + Zaire breaks program record

Prediction #16 – The Improvement Files

Prediction #15 – Penchant for the Pick

Prediction #14 – For Worse?

Prediction #13 – For Better?

Prediction #12 – Road Weary, Wary

Prediction #11 – Avoiding the Double Dip? 

Prediction #10 – Will They Protect This House?

Prediction #9 – Let’s Go Streaking

Prediction #8 – The Annual Slugfest

Prediction #7 – Light It 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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