You can’t win ‘em all if you don’t win ‘em all in September.
You can’t play for a national title if you come out of September with more than one loss.
Simple, self-explanatory stuff for all college football observers, but a stark reality for Notre Dame football in the post-Lou Holtz era from 1997 through 2011.
In those 15 seasons, the Irish were out of the national title hunt in September more than half the time – eight seasons – which usually portended even worse times ahead with at least five losses in 10 of those campaigns.
Even when Tyrone Willingham in 2004 and Charlie Weis in 2008-09 came out of September with one loss, a whole bunch of losses would ensue. In 2014, Notre Dame won each of its first six, and then dropped five of the last seven.
In 2010-11, Brian Kelly continued the negative trend under Bob Davie, Willingham and Weis when Notre Dame opened 1-3 in September of 2010 and 2-2 in 2011.
Since then, however, Kelly has flipped the outcome, going undefeated in three of the last four Septembers, including a perfect 8-0 mark in 2014-15. Kelly’s Irish lost five of eight September games in 2010-11, but have come out on top in 15 of the last 17.
The following are additional September numbers under Kelly. (Note: “September games” include an Aug. 31 opener against Temple in 2013.)
• Openers – The Irish are 5-1 in opening games under Kelly with victories over Purdue in 2010, Navy in 2012, Temple in 2013, Rice in 2014 and Texas in 2015.
• Home openers – Notre Dame also is 5-1 in home openers under Kelly. The lone loss came in 2011 in the lightning-delayed 23-20 setback to South Florida.
• Undefeated September – Kelly’s troops have done it three times -- 2012 (Navy, Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan), 2014 (Rice, Michigan, Purdue, Syracuse) and 2015 (Texas, Virginia, Georgia Tech, UMass).
• Previous undefeated September – Prior to Kelly’s unscathed September 2012, it had been 10 years since the Irish had done it. That was Willingham’s first Irish squad, defeating Maryland in Giants Stadium in his Notre Dame debut, Purdue and Michigan at home, and Michigan State in East Lansing.
• Last back-to-backs – Prior to Kelly’s perfect Septembers in 2014-15, it had been 25 years since it had happened at Notre Dame. Holtz’s four squads from 1987-90 did not lose in September. Back then, the season generally started a week later and only three games were played in September. The Irish were 13-0 in August/September from 1987-90.
• Kelly’s road openers – Notre Dame’s trip to Austin to take on the Texas Longhorns in a couple of weeks will mark the first time in his seventh season with the Irish that they’ve opened at a true road venue. Five were at home while the 2012 opener against Navy was played at a neutral site (Dublin).
• Versus ranked teams in September – Kelly is 4-3 against ranked teams in September. The wins came against No. 15 Michigan State in 2011 (31-13), No. 10 Michigan State in 2012 (20-3), No. 18 Michigan in 2012 (13-6), and No. 14 Georgia Tech in 2015 (30-22). The losses were to No. 16 Stanford in 2010 (37-14), No. 17 Michigan in 2013 (41-30) and No. 14 Oklahoma (35-21).