It’s been a long time since Notre Dame football was in the discussion as a national powerhouse. The last national championship for the Fighting Irish came in 1988 under Lou Holtz. They’ve been through several coaches since Holtz resigned in 1996–Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis before hiring current head coach Brian Kelly. Kelly’s predecessors had their ups and downs but none were able to take Notre Dame football back to the championship level. That may be changing–Notre Dame is now 5-0 for the first time since 2002 after a convincing 41-3 win over Miami-FL at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The Irish have tried several offensive strategies during the past 20 years but the current incarnation wins the old fashioned way–with nasty defense. Notre Dame’s defense entered the Miami contest allowing just 9 points per game and ranking in the top 15 nationally in several defensive categories. Miami had compiled 43 points and more than 600 yards in their previous two games but could do nothing against the Fighting Irish stop unit. Notre Dame has now held their last three opponents–Miami, Michigan State and Michigan–without a touchdown.
Notre Dame’s rise back to national relevance has been somewhat sudden. They opened the season with two impressive victories over Navy and Purdue but those were games the team was “supposed” to win. Sports betting sites had Notre Dame installed as sizable favorites in both contests. The last three games have been a different matter and the Irish defense has shut down three very good football teams.
The real test of the Fighting Irish may be yet to come. They’re entering the toughest part of their schedule over the next month and the results of these games will give a more accurate indication of just how much the program has improved over Brian Kelly. Notre Dame will host 5-1 Stanford–and a very potent offense–next weekend. Perhaps their biggest challenge of the stretch may be flying ‘under the radar’ with a 10/20 game against BYU. The Cougars have ‘circled’ this game as their biggest of the season–even more important than games against in state rivals Utah and Utah State and national powerhouse Boise State. BYU is known for their offense but this version of the Cougars is all about defense–they’ve allowed an average of 8.83 points per game ranking them #3 in scoring defense nationally and just behind Notre Dame at #2. They’ll complete this tough scheduling sequence on the road at Oklahoma. After that there’s still a tricky road game at Boston College and a season ending affair at USC.
Regardless of how the Irish finish this season one thing is clear–they’re headed in the right direction under Brian Kelly and it’s been a long time since that has been clearly the case.