Earlier in the week, I had referenced the way the 1993 team had kicked off the season with a lackidaisical win over Northwestern - a game in which they were consistently outplayed and trailed well into the second half - en route to an 11-1 record. Today, I thought I would cite two other historical precedents that, with any luck, will help calm the collective nerves of ND Nation:
- The 1988 team (yes, I like referencing them but, hey, it's their twentieth anniversary this year) came into their game against a terrible Navy team (they finished the season 3-8 and suffered losses to Temple and The Citadel along the way) undefeated and 35-point favorites. Notre Dame then went out and played awfully; eking out a 22-7 win. Their poor performance prompted this assessment from Lou Holtz, "We couldn't control the line of scrimmage. We couldn't throw consistently, we weren't mentally alert and that's my fault. Our offensive line got beat up, we couldn't run inside. We weren't good enough to beat them inside." Does this sound familiar? Keep in mind this was the team's eighth game of the season, not their first. They simply played a bad game against a team that, on paper, they should have dominated. It happens.
- It's worth recalling how our rivals on Saturday began their season last year. Michigan came into 2007 as the #5 team in the country, and promptly dropped two straight home games. They, of course, were famously stunned by Appalachian State (some Las Vegas oddsmakers were so confident of a blow-out Michigan win, they wouldn't put a line on the game) and then were crushed, 39-7, by Oregon. As Irish fans recall, they managed to snap out of this funk by throttling Notre Dame, 38-0. In spite of their difficult start to the year, the Wolverines ended the 2007 campaign 9-4 and with a victory over a very good Florida team in the Capital One Bowl.
So, will Notre Dame have similar results to the teams I've mentioned? Who knows. The point is not that the Irish are guaranteed success, but rather, that they're not guaranteed failure. Good teams sometimes struggle to beat bad teams and, on occasion, even lose to them. When this happens, though, fans need to keep some perspective. Unfortunately, I've heard from a great many Irish fans this week who simply have none. For some of them, the reason is they are young and have not had the benefit of decades of watching the Irish (or any other team). For others, it's that they're natural alarmists and prone to "the sky is falling" hyperventilations over each bump in the road. My advice to both groups is simple - step back, take a deep breath and let's see what happens on Saturday.