Leftovers & Links: Notre Dame’s decade compares favorably to rivals’

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It’s been a long decade at Notre Dame, mostly because all of them are at a place and in a sport under such a microscope. It included three goal-line fumbles returned the other way for touchdowns, all for the Irish opposition. A few quarterback controversies unfolded, at least one of which head coach Brian Kelly acknowledges was handled poorly in the locker room. That 2016 debacle led to a rather thorough staff shakeup.

Coming off the first win at Stanford in that decade, a comparison between the two programs quickly shows one to be consistently very good, at least until now, and one to reach greater heights but endure a frustrating interim between them, although those frustrations seem to be abating these days.

Notre Dame from 2010 to 2019: 91-37 with one losing season, one national title game appearance and one Playoff appearance.
Stanford from 2010 to 2019: 98-35 with one losing season, the most recent one.

Of the Irish rivals and standard comparison points, only the Cardinal’s decade approached Notre Dame’s.

USC in the 2010s: 86-44 with one losing season, last year.
Michigan in the 2010s: 85-43 with one losing season.

There may be no broader point here than the simple comparisons. None of the four won a title. With Stanford now struggling, all four fan bases have endured recent aggravation. Frankly, Irish fans may be the happiest of the bunch at the moment, as hard as that is to believe if listening to many of them.

The Cardinal just went 4-8 and only two of those losses were within one possession, unlike the seven Notre Dame saw escape from its grasp back in 2016. The Trojans opted to retain embattled head coach Clay Helton this week, presumably to face the same decision in less than a year. The Wolverines and Jim Harbaugh have yet to win their Big Ten division and have appeared in just one New Year’s Six bowl during his five years.

All the while, the Irish have won 32 games the last three seasons, five more than Michigan, eight more than USC and 10 more than Stanford.

These decade-retrospective thoughts were sparked by Kelly reflecting on the losing streak in Palo Alto after finally notching a win, 45-24, Saturday. The northern California losing streak extended earlier than his arrival and then included four Kelly-coached teams. He clearly felt the last two should have found wins at The Farm.

“Maybe earlier when I was here with teams, maybe didn’t have enough firepower to win some of those games,” Kelly said. “The last couple, ‘15 in particular, they kicked a field goal late. Our teams should have won those games, were very capable of winning those games. It left kind of a bitter taste.”

A bitter taste was understandable, since Stanford kicking a field goal as time expired in 2015 may have cost Notre Dame a Playoff berth and a rash of fourth-quarter turnovers in 2017 turned a close game into a 38-20 defeat and a missed New Year’s Six bowl appearance.

Beating a downtrodden Cardinal team does not serve as revenge for those costly losses, but it does underscore the differing trends of the 2010s.

This will warrant mention at least once more this month, once next month and then perhaps a few times in the summer, but it should still be noted the week in which Irish senior quarterback Ian Book threw four touchdowns to bring his season total to 33.

That puts him in second place in the Notre Dame record books, four behind Brady Quinn’s 2006 season. Considering Book has thrown five touchdown passes in three separate games this year — and four in two others — it would not be too shocking to see him set the record in Orlando.

Book has 56 passing touchdowns in his career to date, passing Ron Powlus over the weekend to move into fourth all-time in an Irish uniform. In theory, the next two spots are within his reach, Jimmy Clausen at 60 (2007-09) and Tommy Rees at 61 (2010-13). While Book has played 34 games in his career, Clausen needed 35 and Rees needed 46.

To top the record books, Book will need 39 more touchdowns to reach Brady Quinn’s 95 (2003-06, in 49 games). That may be a steep ask in one season, meaning an impressive bowl game performance will be pivotal to such a record pursuit.

If wondering what bowl opponent gives Book the best chance at padding those numbers, it assuredly would not be either Auburn or Alabama in the Citrus Bowl. It would, in fact, be Texas.

Texas: No. 96 in the country in passing efficiency defense; 27 opposing passing touchdowns.
Oklahoma St.: No. 72; 22 opposing passing touchdowns.
Iowa St.: No. 70; 21 opposing passing touchdowns.
Kansas St.: No. 43; 11 opposing passing touchdowns.

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