Prediction #4 – Notre Dame Will Not Escape September UnscathedDating back to 1990, when the Irish opened at No. 1 in both polls, do you know how many seasons Notre Dame has seen its record swell to 4-0?
Twice: 1993 and 2002. Both Irish squads carried undefeated records into November (10-0 and a No. 1 ranking for the '93 squad; 8-0 and No. 3 in the BCS for the '02 group), and both had their seasons spoiled by an unruly bunch from Boston College.
But that's a column for another day…
The '90 Irish reached 3-0 before losing their first October game to a sub-.500 Stanford team in South Bend. That squad suffered a late-November loss but eventually played for the National Title in the Orange Bowl.
The '92 Irish never lost in September, but they did tie in their home opener vs. Michigan and that 17-17 decision, coupled with another first-weekend-of-October loss to visiting Stanford, took a legitimately great team out of national title contention by the season's fifth poll.
The '91, '94, '95, '96, '98, '04, '05, '06, '08, and '09 Irish each attained at least a 3-1 mark to offer the fan base (often false) hope, while the ‘97, '99, '01, '03, and '07 groups put the Irish faithful out of its misery early, losing multiple September games en route to 5-plus loss seasons.
In fact, only the '00 group rebounded from a sub par opening month (2-2) to challenge for Top 10 honors in the final poll by the end of the regular season.
If Notre Dame was a New Year's resolution, it'd be broken by the Super Bowl.
Fresh StartHead coach Brian Kelly, on the other hand, has navigated his September slate with an unblemished record in two of his last three seasons.
In 2007, Kelly's first year at the helm, Cincinnati defeated FCS opponent SE Missouri State, blew out what became a decent Oregon State squad (34-3); won two true road games vs. lesser opponents (Miami of Ohio and San Diego State) and also handled a poor Marshall team.
Last year, Kelly's Bearcats won a true road game as four-point underdogs at solid Rutgers (the Scarlet Knights finished 9-4 after losing to Cincinnati 47-15); buried SE Missouri State again; beat Oregon State 28-18 in Corvallis, and fought off a game Fresno State (8-5) squad back in the Queen City.
In fact, only Kelly-led Bearcats squad lost a September contest during his tenure in Cincinnati, getting doubled up by No. 1 Oklahoma in Norman, 52-26, in 2008.
Opening Month Foes – 2010September 2010 might not pit Notre Dame in a Game of the Century matchup, but few teams nationwide will face a test of BCS foes in each of its first four contests as will the Irish:
- Purdue: For the sake of argument, we'll refer to the Boilers as a "lower half" team. Though Danny Hope's crew could outplay that slotting, they're nonetheless more likely to rank somewhere near the top 55-65 teams in the nation.
The only first-year Irish head coaches this century to lose their debut games were Elmer Layden in 1934 and Lou Holtz, whose unranked Irish beat No. 3 Michigan everywhere but on the scoreboard in the 1986 home opener.
But rest easy, I've seen the '86 Wolverines on tape over the last month…and these Boilers are not those Wolverines. Advantage: Solidly in favor of Notre Dame, despite the uncertain health of QB Dayne Crist.
- Michigan: The game marks the first of national interest in the Kelly era (a loss to Purdue would release the hounds ahead of schedule). The Irish are 8-3-1 vs. Michigan in South Bend since 1980 but this group of Wolverines will already be battle-tested by the Week Two matchup as Michigan entertains a physical Connecticut group in Ann Arbor in their home opener. Advantage: Notre Dame…slightly. There hasn't been a contest in my viewing lifetime that I was overconfident heading into this matchup.
- Michigan State: Always a trouble spot for the Irish and this year will be no exception. Combine the natural letdown after Michigan week with an 8 PM, nationally televised contest; add a lubed-up Spartans crowd (I believe the Big 10 might allow kegs at school tailgaters…), and a physical defense in tandem with what is arguably the best skill position talent in the Big 10, and you have a likely underdog scenario for the men from South Bend. Advantage: Today? MSU, though anything but a game decided by one score or less would surprise me. Irish Stat of the Day: Brian Kelly has won 9 consecutive road games.
- Stanford: T-R-A-P. If the Irish can navigate the annual UM/MSU headache, the Cardinal and promising quarterback Andrew Luck await the Irish in South Bend. Stanford will have already fought threw a conference road game (at UCLA) and taken on Wake Forest leading into its trip to the Midwest. Advantage: Even.
Murderer's Row? No. But there's no Southeast Missouri State either. No starry-eyed Nevada; no teams bereft of talent; no opponent that will enter the contest with anything but victory as its sole goal. None of the September quartet will be intimidated by Notre Dame's 39-24 home record over the last 10 seasons, and each program has defeated the Irish on multiple occasions in the past decade.
So while I'm on board with a resurgent Irish team for 2010, and more direct, believe Notre Dame will win at least 9 regular season games, I'll be surprised if Brian Kelly's first Irish team is the program's third since 1989 to reach 4-0.