Big game hunting a ‘major deal’

Not only have the Irish lost all of their last six “major bowl games,” but the average margin of defeat has been in excess of 20 points per game.

It’s been 22 years and 15 bowl games. A generation or so, depending upon one’s definition, has passed.

There have been trips to Shreveport, Honolulu, El Paso and Nashville. Near major bowls in Jacksonville and Orlando. Newer bowls in Phoenix (Insight) and New York (Pinstripe).

And yes, there have been trips to Miami for the Orange Bowl, Tempe for the Fiesta Bowl, New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl and even something once called the BCS National Championship Game in Miami Gardens.

Twenty-two years, 15 bowls, zero victories in a “major bowl.”

Another opportunity awaits Notre Dame on Jan. 1 when the No. 8 Irish take on No. 7 Ohio State in a New Year’s Six Bowl.

“Heck, yeah, winning this is important, very important,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of Team 127’s opportunity to end the two-decade-plus dry spell in major bowls.

“Not being there in a while and not playing well in 2012 on a national stage, it’s very important for us to play well and win the game.”

From the traditional bowl system to the Bowl Coalition to the Bowl Alliance to the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) to today’s College Football Playoff, Notre Dame has been unable to win a major bowl since the 1993 season.

During that span, the Irish are 0-8 in January bowl games.

Notre Dame’s last major bowl victory came when the Bowl Coalition was in existence and the Cotton Bowl was still (as it is again) one of the crown jewels of the bowl season.

That was the year of No. 2 Notre Dame’s win over No. 1 Florida State, the subsequent loss to Boston College the following week in the regular-season finale, and a bid to the Cotton Bowl as the No. 4 team in the nation against No. 7 Texas A&M.

In one of the great (and underrated) bowl games Notre Dame has ever participated in – with future NFL players dotting both rosters – the Irish pulled out a 24-21 victory on a Kevin Pendergast 31-yard field goal with 2:22 remaining.

It’s a win Notre Dame fans have been forced to savor for more than two decades.

Since that game, Notre Dame has played in six major bowls, including the national title tilt against Alabama following the 2012 regular season. These are the results of those six games:

• 1995 Fiesta Bowl: Colorado 41, Notre Dame 24
• 1996 Orange Bowl: Florida State 31, Notre Dame 26
• 2001 Fiesta Bowl: Oregon State 41, Notre Dame 9
• 2006 Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State 34, Notre Dame 20
• 2007 Sugar Bowl: LSU 41, Notre Dame 14
• 2013 BCS National Championship Game: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14

It’s been hardly worth the trip.

Notre Dame’s closest game in its last six major bowls was the five-point loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl following the 1995 season with Thomas Krug filling in at quarterback for the injured Ron Powlus. The Irish led by 12 with less than 12 minutes remaining, only to allow the Seminoles to score the final 17 points.

In the other major bowls in the last 22 years, Notre Dame’s average margin of defeat was 23.6 points.

After the Jan. 1, 1994 win over Texas A&M, the Irish would go without a bowl victory for 14 seasons. The losing streak reached nine with the closest – other than the five-point loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl – coming in the 1999 Gator Bowl (1998 season), which resulted in a seven-point loss to Georgia Tech.

Notre Dame would have to travel more than 4,300 miles to finally snap its nine-game bowl losing streak in 2008 when Charlie Weis’ Irish easily defeated Hawaii, 49-21.

The Irish have won four of their last six bowls. But Hawaii, Sun, Pinstripe and Music City Bowls victories are a far cry from Notre Dame’s glory days in the bowls when the Irish went to an incomparable nine straight major bowls, including three Cottons, three Oranges, two Fiesta and a Sugar.

In addition to its major bowl drought, Notre Dame is 4-11 in its last 15 bowl games.

“We need to play well and we need to win the game to validate where we are as a football program,” said Kelly of the upcoming Ohio State game. “We’re going to get one more challenge against what could be the best team in the country.

“Who’s to say they’re not? I know the committee decided who the four were, but you could take one of eight teams and make a case for them. So we’ve got one more challenge on our hands and that’s to play well against Ohio State.”

After all, for Notre Dame, it’s a major deal.


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