Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Of Favorites, Underdogs and Closers

Since the Tyrone Willingham era (2001), ND has won its last two games four times, including just twice when installed as an underdog in at least one of those games.

When every football season ends at Stanford -- winners of an average of 11 games per year over the last six -- or USC -- man-for-man, the most talented team on the schedule virtually every year -- putting a nice, neat bow on a regular-season schedule is difficult.

Notre Dame, which needs wins at home against 7-3 Virginia Tech and at 7-3 USC to qualify for a bowl game, has stumbled to the finish line more often than not in recent seasons.

Over the last 10 seasons, the Irish have closed with wins in their final two games just three times – 2012 en route to the national title game, 2010 in Brian Kelly’s first season at Notre Dame, and 2007, when back-to-back wins gave Charlie Weis a 3-9 record.

Notre Dame’s overall record in those 20 games is 10-10.

Over the last 10 seasons, Notre Dame has been an underdog in nine of its regular-season finales with the exception of 2012 when the Irish – a five-point favorite over USC – won a 22-13 decision. As an underdog in those other nine clashes against Stanford/USC, Notre Dame has lost outright seven times.

Because the Irish close their regular season on the West Coast, most Game 11s are in Notre Dame Stadium. The exceptions have been at Fenway Park for the Shamrock Series against Boston College last year and in Yankee Stadium against Army for the 2010 Shamrock Series.

On the last 10 Senior Days, which comes this weekend against Virginia Tech, Notre Dame has been favored eight times. The exceptions were in 2013 (even vs. BYU) and Utah in 2010 (plus-five).

Brian Kelly is 5-1 in Senior Day games with the one loss to Louisville in 2014. Weis lost his last two Senior Day games in 2008 (Syracuse) and 2009 (Connecticut).

Just once over the last 10 seasons has Notre Dame been favored in each of its final two games of the regular season when in 2012, the Irish defeated 24-point underdog Wake Forest and five-point underdog USC.

Notre Dame has been installed as a one-point favorite at home this weekend against Virginia Tech in the Senior Day home finale. USC, winners of six straight, including a resounding victory at Washington this past weekend, undoubtedly will be the favored team in the Los Angeles Coliseum on Thanksgiving Saturday.

In order to automatically qualify for a bowl game, the Irish will need to do something they’ve done just five times since the turn of the century – win the last two games – including one as a underdog, which they’ve done just twice since the Weis era.

Heading into the final two games of the 2016 regular season, the odds – literally and figuratively – are stacked against them.


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