2021 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Themes: The Winning Streaks
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2021 Notre Dame Themes: The Winning Streaks

Yesterday we did a cursory, sneak peek of Notre Dame's 2021 schedule and came to a similar conclusion as the previous season: Head coach Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish would be the favorite to win almost every game (if not all) based on both talent and the sustained, consistent winning culture from the past four years.

The exception last season was the Nov. 7 Clemson game at home. Otherwise Notre Dame had a clear talent advantage among the eight other regular season ACC foes on the slate, plus non-conference foe USF. This year, there is no Clemson on the schedule, nor any other program that would be deemed stronger.

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Notre Dame's 24-game home winning streak in Notre Dame Stadium  is five away from breaking the school-record 28 from 1942-50.
Notre Dame's 24-game home winning streak in Notre Dame Stadium is five away from breaking the school-record 28 from 1942-50. (Notre Dame Football Twitter)

Yes, Cincinnati finished No. 8 in the country this past season, but it is still a Group of 5 program whose recruiting rankings the past four years were 47 (this year's seniors), 89 (this year's juniors), 39 and 36. Just imagine how Notre Dame faithful would react if Kelly and Co. had those kind of rankings in recruiting.

Wisconsin has established itself as a clear top-25 operation for over a quarter century and is consistently well coached. Yet the Badgers hit their own tailspin last season with a three-game losing streak in which they managed to score a total of 20 points against Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa.

Talent level is not an issue at USC, especially the skill positions, but coaching has been a huge question mark the past decade.

There are two primary reasons why Notre Dame has produced the fourth-best winning percentage in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) the past three years. The first is “beating the teams it is supposed to,” and the second is holding serve at home. The Fighting Irish own the second-longest streaks in the nation in both categories.

The 32 straight victories versus unranked opposition are a school record that last year eclipsed the previous standard of 29 from 1990-94 under head coach Lou Holtz.

Alabama is far and away the current leader with an NCAA-record 98 such triumphs that began in 2007, head coach Nick Saban’s first year with the Crimson Tide after his squad was stunned at home by Louisiana-Monroe.

Regarding home field, last year the Fighting Irish had their third consecutive unbeaten season at home, thereby extending that winning streak to 24. Since the opening of Notre Dame Stadium, the longest winning streak is 28 in 1942-50. Only Clemson with 28 owns a longer streak at home entering the 2021 campaign.

Consider that in the 22 years from 1990-2011, the Fighting Irish finished unbeaten at home only once (1998). Next year’s senior class at Notre Dame could be the first since the 1950 graduates to never experience a defeat at home.

Both of these streaks speak to consistency, which is what creates a program and overall winning culture. It’s a far cry from the 2007-16 days when the Irish lost home games to Navy (twice), Air Force, Tulsa, a 2-8 Syracuse team, Connecticut, USF, Northwestern and Louisville in back-to-back weeks in 2014 (the Wildcats had lost four in a row entering the contest), Duke, or even a Michigan State unit in 2016 that would finish 3-9.

In the 18 football seasons from 1994 through 2011, Notre Dame never had fewer than three losses. Now, it is on a streak of three consecutive seasons where it has not experienced more than two defeats or blemishes. By "blemishes" we also include tie games, prior to the overtime rule installed in 1996 by the NCAA.

Believe it or not, the current streak of two or fewer blemishes in the three straight years from 2018 (12-1), 2019 (11-2) and 2020 (10-2) is a first since 1953 (9-0-1), 1954 (9-1) and 1955 (8-2).

Now, the legendary Ara Parseghian in his first eight years (1964-71) never lost more than two games with the Irish, but that was interspersed with a tie blemish during 7-2-1 finishes in 1965 and 1968, and 8-2-1 in 1969.

A fourth straight year with two blemishes or less would be a first since 1946-49 — when Frank “The Master” Leahy’s troops never lost while going 36-0-2 and capturing three national titles.

The odds or maybe even the law of averages from the past 70 years might be against achieving these feats in 2021, but it is still a benefit to be in such a position.

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