Notre Dame far from what it used to be

sports@macon.comAugust 13, 2012 

As we move to a college football playoff, I personally like the top four teams, conference champions or not, making up the field. The only reason I favored taking just conference champions is that it would have forced Notre Dame to join a conference or be left out in the cold. I have never understood why the Irish have a seat at the table and have a voice in the discussions to begin with.

Notre Dame has not been relevant in college football since Lou Holtz departed as the Irish head coach at the end of the 1996 seasons. Sure, they lay claim to 12 national championships dating back to the Four Horsemen -- Stuhldreher, Miller, Layden and Crowley -- in 1924, but they haven’t won one since 1988 when Holtz was their head coach.

From 1997 through the 2011 season, they have had four different head coaches: Bob Davie (1997-2001), Tyrone Willingham (2002-2004), Charlie Weis (2005-2009) and Brian Kelly (2010-present). Their overall record during those 15 seasons is 108-74 (.627 winning percentage). Three of those losses in the past five years have come to Navy. This is not to discredit Navy, but Notre Dame had won 43 straight against the Midshipmen prior to the 2007 campaign. That season, the Naval Academy, at the time coached by current Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, took a 46-44 win in triple-overtime.

During the past 15 years, Notre Dame has finished in the top 10 just once, and that was Weis’ first season, when the Irish were ninth. As a comparison, Georgia’s record during the past 15 years is 151-51 (.747), with top-10 finishes in 1997, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008. Notre Dame and Georgia have played just once, and that came in the 1981 Sugar Bowl when the Bulldogs took a 17-10 win to give them the 1980 national championship.

Notre Dame has always been a media darling nationwide and probably has been in the top-10 preseason rankings more than any other program in the nation. The Irish certainly have history on their side. Knute Rockne, who was the head coach from 1918 through the 1930 season, had a career coaching record of 105-12-5 with three national championships.

Rockne, who played at Notre Dame, and quarterback Gus Dorais are given credit for popularizing the forward pass in a game against Army in 1914. What would the college game today be without the forward pass?

The Irish have had seven Heisman Trophy winners, which is matched only by Southern Cal, and that is only if you count Reggie Bush’s win in 2004 that was vacated because of extra benefits he received while playing for the Trojans. But Notre Dame has not won a Heisman since Tim Brown took the coveted award in 1987. Other Irish winners were Angelo Bertelli in 1943, Johnny Lujack in 1947, Leon Hart in 1949, Johnny Lattner in 1953, Paul Hornung in 1956 (the only Heisman winner to play for a losing team as Notre Dame went 2-8 his senior season) and John Huarte in 1964.

Notre Dame apparently enjoys the role of being a football independent (all other sports compete in the Big East) because of a television contract with NBC that started in 1991 and continues today. That initial deal was for five years and $38 million. It has been renegotiated several times and currently runs through the 2015 season. I am not sure how good a deal it is for NBC because ratings continue to dwindle, and a recent survey showed Irish games drawing half or less than games airing on CBS and ABC. Apparently I am not the only one who thinks the Irish are no longer relevant.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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