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Year 10 At Notre Dame

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After making the College Football Playoff last year, Notre Dame and Brian Kelly have a tough act to follow.
After making the College Football Playoff last year, Notre Dame and Brian Kelly have a tough act to follow. (Bill Panzica)

Among the five Notre Dame football head coaches who reached their ninth season at the school, Brian Kelly had the best among them in 2018 with the 12-1 record, No. 5 finish in the Associated Press poll and a trip to the four-team College Football Playoff.

That’s also because most of the four Mount Rushmore coaching figures in the program's annals did not fare as well as usual in year 9:

Knute Rockne (1918-30) was his typically strong 9-1 in 1926, but the stunning 19-0 loss to Carnegie Tech in game nine was his second-largest margin of defeat. Rockne wasn’t even at the game while doing some promotional work in Chicago. He likely believed that whipping Carnegie Tech by scores of 19-0, 26-0, 40-19 and 26-0 the previous four years would not necessitate him showing up for the game.

Frank Leahy (1941-43, 1946-53) finished outside of the final rankings for the second year in a row, although the 7-2-1 record in year 9 was an improvement from the 4-4-1 downslide the year prior. One of the losses in year 9 was Leahy's worst in margin of defeat, 35-0 at Michigan State.

Ara Parseghian (1964-74) had his lone three-loss season (8-3) in his 11 years at Notre Dame in year 9, and the No. 14 final ranking in the AP poll was also the lowest of his career.

In addition to losing to four-touchdown underdog Missouri at home, the Irish closed the year with blowout setbacks at No. 1 USC (45-23) and then 40-6 to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl — the largest margin of defeat on a Parseghian team.

Lou Holtz (1986-96) saw the beginning of his descent in year 9 with a 6-5-1 ledger after having posted a 64-9-1 mark the previous six seasons.

How did they fare in year 10, which Kelly will be entering? Here are the standards, 1 through 4:

1. Ara Parseghian: Year 10 (1973)

Result: 11-0, national title

“From these ashes we shall rise,” Parseghian vowed following the Orange Bowl New Year's Day debacle versus Nebraska. On New Year’s Eve the ensuing campaign, the mission was fulfilled with a pulsating 24-23 triumph against No. 1 Alabama to capture his second consensus national title and third overall.

Notre Dame scuffled early in the year with hard fought wins at Purdue (20-7) and then at home versus Michigan State (14-10). The primary hurdle was game 6 vs. USC, who Notre Dame had not defeated in the six previous meetings, and the Trojans entered Notre Dame Stadium with a 23-game unbeaten streak. The 23-14 Irish victory, propelled by Eric Penick’s epic 85-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, was the catalyst needed to help vault the Irish to the title.

2. Frank Leahy: Year 10 (1952)

Result: 7-2-1, No. 3 in AP pool

How does a team that won only seven of its 10 games finish No. 3? A 7-2-1 record a year earlier didn’t even earn a top 20 finish.

The difference was in 1952 the schedule saw Notre Dame defeat three major conference champs in Texas (14-3), Oklahoma (27-21) and USC (9-0) — all ranked in the top 5 at the time of the game, with OU finishing No. 4, USC No. 5 and Texas No. 10. The Irish also defeated co-Big Ten champ Purdue (26-14) which was ranked No. 9, and tied Ivy League champ Penn. How often does any team defeat four major conference champions, or co-champion, in the same year?

One of the two losses was at No. 1 Michigan State, which went on to win the national title before joining the Big 10 the following year.

3. Knute Rockne : Year 10 (1927)

Result: 7-1-1

Another solid year, but although the record featured one less loss than Leahy’s 10th season, the schedule wasn’t as treacherous. November had a rough start with a tie against Minnesota and then the 18-0 loss to arch rival Army.

However, the season ended well with a 7-6 versus USC at Chicago’s Soldier Field in what was listed as then an unheard of 120,000 in attendance (99,573 officially paid).

4. Lou Holtz: Year 10 (1995)

Result: 9-3

Following the precipitous decline in 1994, Holtz began the practice of opening the preseason at Culver Academy that August as a way for the team to bond. Then Notre Dame promptly lost the opener at home to four-touchdown underdog Northwestern (17-15). A couple of weeks later Holtz underwent surgery for a neck/spinal condition that temporarily made defensive coordinator Bob Davie the acting coach — which would only hasten Holtz's departure the next year.

The Irish did post quality wins against No. 13 Texas (55-27), at No. 15 Washington (29-21) and crushed No. 5 and Pac-10 champion USC (38-10) to earn an Orange Bowl berth with a 9-2 record. With backup quarterback Tom Krug replacing an injured Ron Powlus, Notre Dame led No. 8 Florida State 26-14 in the fourth quarter before losing 31-26 and finishing No. 11 in the AP.


Talk about it inside Rockne’s Roundtable

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