We interrupt our usual format to bring you a Monday afternoon full of lists…
1 – Best of the Best? In good health (in other words, remove November 2014), Notre Dame’s five toughest matchups over the last two football seasons – with game situation and location taken into account:
- Ohio State on Jan. 1: An embarrassment of riches on both sides of scrimmage and a Hall of Fame coach.
- Florida State, 2014: An all-time great college quarterback surrounded by ridiculous offensive talent. Had played 23 straight without defeat and was of the belief that losing wasn’t an option.
- Clemson 2015: A team without a notable weakness to expos
- Stanford 2015: And it produced a great college football game.
- LSU 2014: Nowhere near as good as the teams above, but it was facing a depleted, seemingly broken and uncertain Irish squad, one that rose to the occasion.
2 – Post-season Problems: In the 21 seasons since a Notre Dame team prevailed in a major bowl – winning 24-21 over Texas A&M to finish No. 2 in the nation – the Irish have shown well in their given post-season matchup on, arguably, two occasions, 2010 and 2014.
The following word(s) encapsulate their efforts in each:
- 1995 Fiesta (41-24 L to Colorado) – hot mess. (Ask me at tailgate some day)
- 1997 Independence (27-6 L to LSU) – horrid
- 1998 Gator (35-28 L to Ga. Tech) – disappointed
- 2000 Fiesta (41-9 L to Oregon State) – impossibly bad
- 2002 Gator (28-6 L to NC State) – impotent
- 2004 Insight.com (38-21 L to Oregon State) – rudderless
- 2005 Fiesta (34-20 L to Ohio State) – knocked down a peg
- 2006 Sugar (41-14 L to LSU) – humbled
- 2008 Hawaii (49-21 W over Hawaii) – irrelevant
- 2010 Sun (33-17 W over Miami) – hopeful
- 2011 Champs Sports (18-14 L FSU) – at a crossroads
- 2012 BCS National Championship (42-14 L Alabama) – Can we prosecute anyone for that?
- 2013 Pinstripe (29-16 W over Rutgers) – Meh…
- 2014 Music City (31-28 W over LSU) – WE’RE BACK!
The latter will apply without qualification should the Irish upset the Buckeyes on New Year’s Day.
3 – Indispensable: Combining all Irish Illustrated metrics, film study, and common sense, my five Irish MVP candidates, in order, are:
-- Jaylon Smith – Because giving up 40 points per game without him might have hurt. The Human Eraser.
-- The Offensive Line – Allowed Kizer, Fuller, and a pair of rookie running backs to shine
-- Sheldon Day – The rock that held it all together
-- Will Fuller – Lethal weapon
-- DeShone Kizer – Superstar in the making
4 – Their Personal Best: When did the 2015 Irish look their best, relative to the challenge at hand?
- At Stanford. Considering all they were without, you couldn’t ask for much more.
- The second half at Clemson: Flawed? Yes. Inconsistent? To be sure. But Notre Dame’s final 30 minutes in Death Valley showed the heart of a champion.
- The first 3.66 quarters at Pittsburgh: It’s a shame the final 5 minutes turned this otherwise sterling effort into a 12-point final margin.
- The fourth quarter against USC
- The second half against Navy
- The first 3.5 quarters against Ga. Tech
5 – Where do they rate? The 15 best Irish teams post 1988:
- 1989 – Ran into a buzz saw, not to mention 40 future pros, in Miami
- 1993 – Ran into a buzz saw with a chip on its shoulder in Tom Coughlin
- 1992 – At season’s end, would have won a four-team playoff with Alabama, Miami, and Florida State.
- 1990 – Deficient defensively despite ample talent, but fell one flag short of a shared title nonetheless.
- 2015 – Still need to prove it, I suppose, but they’ve overcome a lot. In short, I think they’d beat the 2012 Irish head-to-head
- 2012 – Ran into, well, you remember…
- 1991 – One Rocket short of launch and just too young. A team under construction.
- 2005 – Fun if flawed, but a revelation at the time.
- 1995 – Lost to the Rose Bowl runner-up (Beat the Rose Bowl champs), the Fiesta Bowl Champs, and the Orange Bowl Champs
- 2002 – How about we transport that secondary to the present day and see what happens?
- 1996 – The beginning of the end, and that’s why they underachieved.
- 1998 – Great offensive line, ahead-of-his time QB, great RB, solid D, great staff…oh but the head coach!
- 2006 – Flawed and not all that fun…
- 2000 – Solid squad that excelled in two phases: special teams and defense.
-- Check that, there isn’t a 15th. You can’t lose five games and make a list of which I’m in charge.
On to week one of bowl preparations…