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October 19, 2013

Irish on roll in favorite role

In order for Notre Dame to go "to the next level," they'll need to jump-start a new home winning streak and play a bit more stout in hostile territory.

But it's because the Irish "win the games they should" that discussion of taking it to the next level is pertinent.

In the last 17 games Notre Dame has been installed as the favorite to win, the Irish are a perfect 17-0.

Notre Dame been favored in three of six games so far this season - Temple, Purdue and Michigan State - and they've won them all.

In 2012, Notre Dame was favored to win against Navy, Purdue, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, Brigham Young, Pittsburgh, Boston College, Wake Forest and USC - and they won them all.

Dating back to 2011, the Irish closed the regular season as favorites over Navy, Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College. All victories.

While point spreads are subjective, they are not arbitrary, and in most of those 17 games (12 to be exact), Notre Dame has been a double-digit favorite. The Irish may not be friendly to those who wager on such contests, but they have managed to win the games outright that they are projected to win.

The last time the Irish lost a football game as the point-spread favorite was the last time they played a night game at home - versus USC in October, 2011 - when nine-point favorite Notre Dame fell by two touchdowns to the Trojans.

While it may not seem like "winning the games you should win" is a special accomplishment, it's a far cry from where the Irish were under Charlie Weis and, for that matter, in the first two seasons under Brian Kelly.

The Irish were favored eight times in 2010, Kelly's first with the Irish, and they recorded a 5-3 record in those games, defeating Purdue, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Western Michigan and Army while falling to Michigan as a three-point favorite, Navy as a six-point favorite and Tulsa as an eight-point favorite.

In 2011, the Irish lost three of their first seven games as the favorite. Notre Dame lost as a 10-point favorite against South Florida, a three-point favorite to Michigan, and the aforementioned loss to USC.

In Kelly's first 10 games as a favorite with the Irish, Notre Dame won just five times. His mark as a favorite through 15 games was just 9-6. It's been perfect ever since.

Ultimately, losing to the teams "you should have beaten" is what put an end to the Weis era. The Irish lost five games in 2008-09 to teams that were installed as underdogs on the heels of a disastrous 3-9 season in 2007.

A loss as a favorite against Michigan is par for the course in the series. But losses to Pittsburgh and Syracuse in 2008, and Navy and Connecticut in 2009 - all at home - ultimately were the final nails in the Notre Dame coaching coffin of Weis.

Saturday night in Notre Dame Stadium, the last underdog to defeat the Irish will have upset on their minds once again. Can the Irish continue to play the favorite's role as well as they have the last 17 times?

Large selection without the Bookstore sticker shock

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