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November 15, 2011

The art of the rebound

When Notre Dame lost to South Florida and Michigan to open the 2011 season, it marked just the eighth time in the 123-year history of Fighting Irish football that they started out 0-2.

The first time it happened in the 20th century was 1963, the year before Ara Parseghian's arrival. The next time it occurred was in 1986, Lou Holtz's first season in South Bend. Eight years earlier, Dan Devine's defending national champs - featuring Joe Montana, Vagas Ferguson, Jerome Heavens and Bob Golic - lost to Missouri and Michigan at home to open the 1978 season.

It's happened three times in the last 11 seasons: an 0-3 start in 2001 under Bob Davie, an 0-5 start in 2007 under Charlie Weis, and this year with Brian Kelly as the head coach.

Only once did the Irish finish with a winning record after starting out 0-2, and that was the '78 squad which won eight in a row after losing to Missouri and Michigan, lost to USC in Los Angeles, and then won the Cotton Bowl in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion against Houston.

Make that twice now.

With Notre Dame's victory over Maryland last Saturday night, the Irish assured themselves of a winning record in 2011, joining the '78 club to achieve that comeback.

This season, 24 FBS schools lost at least their first two games, and only two have a winning record heading into the third weekend of November: Notre Dame at 7-3 and Georgia at 8-2.

Notre Dame has won seven of its last eight, falling only to USC on Oct. 22. Georgia has won eight in a row since losing to Boise State and South Carolina to open the season.

Western Kentucky is the next closest. After losing its first four, the Hilltoppers have won five-of-six and stand 5-5. Only three other teams that started out 0-2 have a chance to finish .500 or better - East Carolina, Kent State and North Texas - all currently at 4-6.


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