As a kid, I could not wait for college football preview time. In an era of pre-internet it was all about paper. Street and Smith, Sporting News, Athlon, Lindy’s I could not wait. I usually bought one sometimes, I would spring for a second. I was a Street and Smith guy however, I would sometimes deviate if the cover of the national edition of another magazine had a Fighting Irish player on it. So much for loyalty. I have to admit today I’m a Phil Steele man. Though it is a pricey magazine it has a ton of data and Phil is generally pretty accurate. I also save my reading for my annual vacation to Ocean City, New Jersey. In those quiet moments (that are few), I take solace in the opportunity to take a deep look at the upcoming season. This year I was ecstatic to find Phil has an extremely high opinion of the Irish. In fact, he has the Irish in the Rose Bowl taking on Wisconsin. The “Grand-Daddy of them All”, are you serious? I found myself more than once cheesily reciting….”The Irish are going to Pasadena” to the tune of the Beach Boys during my week away. Which got me to thinking, what were some of the most anticipated seasons of Irish Football in my lifetime and how did they turn out. Here they are in order:
#1 1989 – (12-1) The Irish were coming off a somewhat unexpected National Title. If you remember the Irish were supposedly “a year away” in 1988. Naturally, 1989 would be a repeat then right? It almost was, 11 straight wins to start the season against five ranked opponents until the streak and National Title bid fizzled in Miami. Despite smothering #1 Colorado in the Orange Bowl (which Lou Holtz predicted), the Irish would finish #2 in the AP and #3 in the Coaches Poll, behind a two loss Florida State team.
#2 2006 – (10-3) The Irish were coming off a 9-3 resurgence under 1st year Head Coach Charlie Weis. The sign in the weight room said “9-3 is not good enough”, we had Brady Quinn back, decided schematic advantages, and an extremely leaky defense. The Irish would need a monster comeback at Michigan State and a last-minute escape versus UCLA to prevent a five loss season. After starting the season ranked #2, the Irish finished the season by getting shellacked in the Sugar Bowl by LSU and finishing far outside of the Top 10.
#3 1993 – (11-1) The Irish started the season ranked #6 and had super freshmen quarterback Ron Powlus to boot. After projected starter Powlus was injured in a pre-season scrimmage, senior Kevin McDougal would steer the Irish to a magical 10-0 start, a win over #1 Florida State, and an epic comeback versus Boston College. The dream and epic comeback would end on the foot of a David Gordon 41-yard Field Goal that gave Boston College an improbable 41-39 victory in South Bend. In what could be argued as the “Crime of the Century” the pollsters would reverse course from 1989 and award Florida State the National Championship despite their loss to the Irish on the field.
#4 2002 – (10-3) I might be in the minority here, but I did not loathe Bob Davie. He had some good seasons, usually played pretty sound defense, but 6-16 versus ranked opponents is going to get you fired. I was excited for change and was even more thrilled when the unranked Irish raced to an 8-0 start under 1st year Head Coach Tyrone Willingham. However, another home meltdown versus Boston College and a two game losing streak to end the season again put the Irish outside the Top 10.
#5 2015 – (10-3) The Irish were coming of a bowl win over LSU and were highly touted entering the season. Sports Illustrated even had them in the playoff! That opportunity would take a serious hit in a tough road loss to Clemson and end for good when the Irish surrendered a late lead at Stanford in the regular season finale. They would close the season with a loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
In all of the build up to a Notre Dame football season one thing remains certain, it is what happens between those white lines and not the lines in a glitzy magazine that determine what kind of football team you have.