Like many of you, I’m feverishly preparing for the college football season by reading every preview magazine I can get my hands on. That’s where you can find Notre Dame in its usual place: Over ranked and over hyped. – Jim Weber
Hearing that “Notre Dame is back” draws more groans nowadays than Brett Favre unretirement rumors.
You can’t blame fans for being skeptical; ever since Lou Holtz left South Bend in 1996, this proclamation has fallen flat over and over again.
There was the Bob Davie Era when the Irish went to the 2001 Fiesta Bowl after seven straight wins in which the Golden Domers had supposedly woken up the echoes. Those were quickly silenced with a 41-9 thrashing by Oregon State in which the Irish were thoroughly humiliated by being outscored 29-0 in the third quarter alone.
Davie was fired one year later.
Then came the stone-faced Tyrone Willingham, who started 8-0 during his first year with the Domers in 2002, including a road victory over Florida State that propelled Notre Dame to No. 4 in the AP poll and had people comparing Willingham to Ara Parseghian.
After losing a shocker at home to Boston College three weeks earlier, Notre Dame was trashed by USC in the L.A. Coliseum. Not only did the Irish lose by 31 points, they were outgained in yardage by the worst margin in school history. After another blowout in the 2003 Gator Bowl and two more sub-par seasons, Willingham was gone as well.
Along came Charlie Weis, who had people proclaiming the Irish “were back” not once, but twice.
The first time was after Notre Dame jumped out to a 5-2 record and would have upset No. 1 USC if it weren’t for the “Bush Push” in 2005. Weis received his infamous 10-year contract extension and the Weis hype kicked up a notch when he led Notre Dame to a BCS bowl game as a rookie head coach.
The Irish proceeded to get run over by Ohio State in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl and by LSU in the 2007 Sugar Bowl. After a 3-9 season in ’07, things looked bleak.
But following a 2008 season in which the Irish lost four of their last five games and finished just 7-6, expectations were sky high for the ’09 Irish and QB Jimmy Clausen, with people once again predicting the Irish to make a BCS bowl and analyst Beano Cook (along with, of course, Holtz) predicting Notre Dame would play in the BCS National Championship Game.
The Golden Domers didn’t even play in a bowl game, losing their final four games to finish the season at 6-6 as Weis was ushered out the door as well.
That brings us to the 2011 season where, just one year into Brian Kelly’s tenure, people are proclaiming the Irish are once again back. Phil Steele has Notre Dame ranked No. 7 in his legendary preview magazine while Athlon goes a step further, ranking Notre Dame No. 6 ahead of the likes of LSU and Nebraska.
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