In each of the two previous seasons and in three of the last four, Notre Dame football under Brian Kelly has shot out of the gate.
• Notre Dame won its first four games in 2015 with relatively easy home victories over Texas, Georgia Tech and UMass, and a DeShone Kizer-led rescue in Game Two at Virginia.
• The Irish won their first six games in 2014, including their first four over Rice, Michigan, Purdue and Syracuse by an average margin of 23.5 points per game. They raised their record to 6-0 with three- and seven-point wins at home over Stanford and North Carolina.
• Unranked Notre Dame flew to Ireland to open the 2012 season against Navy and responded with a 40-point victory. Nip-and-tuck ensued with three wins by three points, including one in overtime, and two wins by seven points, another of which was in overtime. But the Irish won them all until they played Alabama in the national championship game.
Fast starts, however, are now in the minority in Kelly’s seventh season. In four of those seven seasons, there have been at least two losses in September.
• 2016: The only fast start to the 2015 season was the clock ticking on Brian VanGorder’s tenure with the Irish, which lasted 30 games and an additional 134 points scored by Notre Dame’s first four opponents (33.5 ppg.).
• 2013: After a season-opening win over Temple, the Irish were decisively defeated at Michigan. A pair of close victories over rivals Purdue and Michigan State was a smokescreen before getting smoked at home by Oklahoma as the Irish closed September at 3-2.
• 2011: A turnover-fest loss to South Florida at home and a blown 24-7 lead at Michigan gave Kelly his first 0-2 start and Notre Dame’s first winless start since Charlie Weis’ 2007 team dropped its first five.
• 2010: After a victory over Purdue in Kelly’s Irish debut in Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish lost by four to Michigan at home, three at Michigan State in overtime, and then soundly to Stanford (37-14) at home.
While the inconsistency of September starts under Kelly makes this, well, an inconsistent football program, slow starts also have been earmarked by solid recoveries.
In the three previous seasons in which the Irish started out 1-3, 0-2 and 3-2, Notre Dame has:
• Won seven of the last nine, including a home victory over No. 15 Utah and a Sun Bowl victory over Miami in 2010.
• Won eight of the next nine following the 0-2 start in 2011.
• Won four in a row and five of the next six in 2013, including a home victory over USC.
Such recoveries were rare at Notre Dame during the 13-year gap between the Lou Holtz era and the arrival of Kelly.
• Weis’ 0-5 start in 2007 evolved into a 3-9 campaign, marking the fewest number of victories and the most defeats since the 1963 season (2-7).
• After losing two of the first five in 2004, Tyrone Willingham’s third and final Irish squad finished 6-6, including three straight defeats to end the season.
• Notre Dame lost three of four in Willingham’s second season (2003), lost three of the next four, and finished 5-7.
• Bob Davie’s fifth and final Irish team (2001) lost its first three and lost three of the next seven to finish 5-6.
• After losing three of the first four to open the 1999 campaign, Davie’s Irish won four in a row, but closed with four straight losses to finish 5-7.
• In Davie’s debut season (1997), Notre Dame lost four of its first five. There was a recovery with six wins in the last seven regular-season games. But the Irish lost the Independence Bowl decisively to LSU and finished 7-6.
A fourth recovery to a slow start for Kelly may be a little more difficult in 2016. Notre Dame’s eight remaining opponents have a combined 20-8 record so far this season.
Stanford (Oct. 15) is 3-0 and ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll after impressive victories over Kansas State, USC and UCLA.
Miami (Oct. 29) has had a much lighter schedule, but has mauled Florida A&M (70-3) and Florida Atlantic (38-10) at home, and Appalachian State (45-10) on the road.
The only other undefeated team on Notre Dame’s remaining slate is Navy (3-0), which, after manhandling Fordham, had tussles to get by Connecticut (28-24) and at Tulane (21-14).
This week’s opponent, Syracuse (2-2), defeated Colgate, took a thumping from Louisville (62-28) and South Florida (45-20), and squeezed past Connecticut (31-24) on the road.
The Orange have been more flash than actual scoring productivity. While ranking seventh nationally in passing yardage (371.8 per game) and 25th in total offense (496.5), they’re just 77th in scoring (28.0 ppg.). Opponents are scoring at a 34.5 pace (106th).
North Carolina State (Oct. 8) has accomplished little in compiling a 2-1 non-conference record with easy victories over William & Mary and Old Dominion. Its lone challenge – a road trip to East Carolina – resulted in a 33-30 loss.
And yet the Irish have been poor overall in recent true road games, losing to Texas to open the 2016 season and dropping eight of the previous 13 dating back to 2013.
The final three opponents are 3-1 Army (Nov. 12), 3-1 Virginia Tech (Nov. 19), which is 30th in this week’s AP poll, and 1-3 USC (Nov. 26) -- another college football bedrock tripping over itself out of the gate.
Virginia Tech, under new head coach Justin Fuente, couldn’t handle Tennessee in Week Two, but has thrashed Boston College (49-0) and East Carolina (54-17) the last two weeks.
Do the Irish have another bounce-back effort in them over the next two months? Kelly’s brief history at Notre Dame indicates yes. But it won’t be easy with a defense in transition and all hopes of a major bowl bid gone unless the Irish run the table.