We’ll dig into the actual bowl against Miami next week, but Blue&Gold‘s Lou Somogyi had an excellent piece breaking down the historic opportunity head coach Brian Kelly has in front of him: Win a bowl game in his first season.
More from Somogyi on the last Irish coaches’ debuts:
Gerry Faust (1981) — Pegged as a preseason national title favorite after losing to No. 1 Georgia in the previous year’s Sugar Bowl, the Irish instead faltered badly in Faust’s first season and finished with their first losing record (5-6) in 18 years. That wasn’t bowl-worthy.
Lou Holtz (1986) — A 1-4 start led to a 5-6 finish. Five of the defeats were by a combined 14 points, and four of them were to top-10 programs, including national champ Penn State, Big Ten champ Michigan, SEC champ LSU, and at Alabama. The Irish were probably one of the 15 or 20 best teams in the country by the end of the year, but the final record was still under .500.
Bob Davie (1997) — After a 2-5 start, Davie was on the threshold of becoming the third straight Irish first-year coach to finish with a losing record and no bowl bid.
Instead, similar to the 2010 team under Brian Kelly, Notre Dame hit its stride in November and finished the regular season with five consecutive wins, highlighted by a 24-6 victory at No. 11 LSU in which it didn’t commit a penalty nor a turnover for the first and still only time in its history.
Alas, the destination for the 7-5 Irish was a rematch with LSU in Shreveport, La., for the Independence Bowl. The Tigers, coached by 1975 Notre Dame grad Gerry DiNardo, rolled to a 27-9 win.
Tyrone Willingham (2002) — Billed as the “Savior of South Bend” after an 8-0 start, Willingham’s Irish were passed over for a BCS bid when they closed the regular season 2-2 following a 44-13 loss at USC.
The consolation prize was a trip to the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl against North Carolina State, led by quarterback Philip Rivers. After Irish starting quarterback Carlyle Holiday was sidelined the remainder of the game with a first-quarter injury, the Irish offense became hapless in a 28-6 defeat to the Wolfpack.
Charlie Weis (2005) — Two plays away from an 11-0 regular season mark, the blustery Weis led the 9-2 and No. 5 Irish to a BCS bid against No. 4 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Buckeyes racked up 617 yards total offense, the most ever yielded by a Notre Dame team, in a 34-20 conquest of the Irish.
It’s like a trip down memory lane looking back at some of those Irish postseason debuts. (Think Irish fans wouldn’t go nuts if they were forced into a rematch like they were back in ’97?) It also marks an ugly trend that Kelly and the Irish will try to bust, with the average Notre Dame bowl loss coming by 18 points.
There’s every reason to believe that the Irish will been in a much closer game, and potentially keep their one-game bowl winning streak going come New Years’ Eve. Vegas opened this game as a Pick ’em, giving us a good idea that it’s hard to predict what kind of Miami team with show up after firing head coach Randy Shannon. Between the Hurricanes’ instability and a stout Irish defense and a Irish offense that should greatly benefit from 14 scheduled practices, there’s plenty of intrigue going into El Paso.