Notre Dame will get a crack at squaring the mark come January 3rd. The Irish are set to face No. 4 LSU in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The contest is the first in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans since the disastrous Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc with the city. The drawing power of Notre Dame, along with the close proximity of the Tiger campus, should create quite the atmosphere in the Big Easy.
The Irish are no strangers to the Sugar Bowl. This will be the fourth appearance by Notre Dame in the bowl game. In 1973, the Irish downed top-ranked Alabama 24-23 to win the national championship and secure an undefeated 11-0 record. The key play of the contest that has lived through the decades was quarterback Tom Clements, who won the game MVP, finding tight end Robin Weber on a third down pass deep in their own territory for a clock-killing first down. In 1981, Notre Dame was on the opposite end of the spectrum when Georgia beat the Irish 17-10 for the Bulldogs' first national championship in school history. Georgia's Herschel Walker ran for 150 yards on 36 carries and scored two touchdowns. In the game, Notre Dame actually outgained the Bulldogs 328-127.
The game familiar to everyone was the 1992 Sugar Bowl. The No. 18 Irish upset No. 3 Florida 39-28 behind the running skills of MVP Jerome Bettis. The fullback totaled a Notre Dame bowl record 150 yards on the ground. Bettis scored three times in the fourth quarter to seal the game away, including scampers of 49 and 39 yards to complete to stunning victory. Another special note: before this season's green jersey win over Army on Senior Day, the 1992 Sugar Bowl was the last time the Irish had wore the color and won. Head coach Lou Holtz had his team outfitted in white jerseys with green numbers.
The outcome in bowl games wasn't always bad for Notre Dame. The Irish actually won seven for their first nine games. The first bowl contest was the school's only trip to the Rose Bowl but it was a successful journey. Notre Dame beat a Pop Warner-led Stanford 27-10 to claim the national championship in 1924 season.
A 45-year bowl blackout saw the Irish land in the 1970 Cotton Bowl against No. 1 Texas. The Longhorns won 21-17 to clinch the title. After a getting revenge in the 1971 Cotton Bowl with a 24-11 victory over Texas and a 40-6 defeat to Nebraska in the 1973 Orange Bowl, Notre Dame reeled off five straight wins. National championships followed wins over Alabama in 1973 and the Longhorns in the 1978 Cotton Bowl. Joe Montana's "Chicken Soup" game, where he led the Irish back from a 34-12 deficit to win 35-34 over Houston, still is replayed on ESPN Classic. However, since the 7-2 start, the Irish are just 6-12 in bowl games.
There are players on the current Notre Dame roster who hold bowl records. The first name that comes to mind is Brady Quinn. The senior quarterback holds three individual records, all related to last year's loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Quinn's 29-of-45 performance for 286 yards were all records in attempts, completions and yards. He holds basically every throwing mark in the Notre Dame history book but it'll be tough to catch two of them. Tony Rice averaged 19 yards per attempt and an incredible 30 yards per completion (seven for 213) in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl win over West Virginia to clinch the national title.
To beat LSU on January 3rd, the defense will have to do something they've been unable to do in recent high profile matchups: stop the big play in the passing game. The best completion percentage by an opponent was David Humm's 68.4 percent mark in Nebraska's romp over the Irish in the 1973 Orange Bowl. Tigers quarterback JaMarcus Russell is third nationally in passer efficiency ratings and has completed 68.5 percent of his passes. Creating turnovers should be a high priority. The 1979 Cotton Bowl win over Houston saw Notre Dame force a school record seven Cougar turnovers.
Head coach Charlie Weis and his players, after being selected to the Sugar Bowl, said they wanted to get out to a fast start. This couldn't be any truer than in the recent bowl contests. See if you can spot the trend: 1999 Gator Bowl, down 21-7 at halftime to Georgia Tech; 2001 Fiesta Bowl down 12-3 at halftime to Oregon State and 41-9 after three quarters; 2003 Gator Bowl down 21-3 at halftime to North Carolina State; 2004 Insight Bowl down 21-7 at halftime to Oregon State; 2006 Fiesta Bowl down 21-7 at halftime to Ohio State. Notre Dame had been playing from behind. In the two losses this season, Michigan was up 34-14 at halftime and USC 21-10 at intermission. Oh, by the way: LSU has been outscoring opponents 122-20 in the first quarter. A comfortable Tiger lead early on in the Sugar Bowl could spell doom for the Irish's chances at breaking the bowl losing streak.