How far behind college football's current powers has Notre Dame fallen over the past two decades?
Fans posed with the following question, "Which programs have been the most dominant over the past 20 years?", are likely to come up with these schools in their Top 5: USC, Oklahoma, LSU & Alabama. This group conveniently tops most 2012 pre-season polls. Fans would have to assume those schools have had a significantly better regular season record over that span, right? While each of those programs has more wins during the window and each has scored at least one National Championship, the numbers for the entire sample size might surprise you.
This article is not set out to claim these past two decades haven't been disappointing, but rather to put in perspective of what we perceive as success and how easily we tend to forget the volatility of college football. Notre Dame Football's 2012 season marks 19 years since the Irish have contended for a national title after Halloween. How bad have the past 20 years been on the Win-Loss record? Notre Dame's *regular season record from 1992-2011 is 149 Wins vs. 81 Losses. That's an aveerage of 7.5 Wins & 4.1 Losses during that stretch - certainly nothing to be proud of around Notre Dame Stadium. How does that stack up over that span with teams most consider have been sustaining excellence?
*Regular Season ONLY 1992-2011. NOT included are conference championship & bowl games. I-AA (FCS) opponents defeated are inlcuded. Vacated USC & Alabama wins are included. Reminder: this includes years with ties & varying amounts of regular season games.
How many more Wins Per Season have these powers averaged vs. Notre Dame?
- USC - 1.1
- Oklahoma - 0.6
- Alabama - 0.75
- LSU - 0.15
Analysis - For all this ineptitude, Notre Dame is not embarassingly behind the country's leaders during this infamous "20 years of irrelevance". We could have gotten creative and stripped those I-AA wins to really close the gap, but Notre Dame has taken it's share of shots at the service academies - it's a wash. The Trojans, like ND, don't schedule I-AA teams and have been impressively dominant over this stretch; SC still has merely averaged 1 more win per season more than Notre Dame despite an extended mini-dynasty. As some other stats below show, the difference has NOT been avoiding multiple bad seasons, it has merely been the Irish's inability to string together any formidable stretch of averaging 3 losses or less.
Worst 2-Year Stretch in Past 20 Years
- Oklahoma 7-16 (96-97)
- LSU 7-15 (98-99)
- Notre Dame 9-15 (07-08)
- Alabama 9-14 (00-01)
- USC 11-12 (00-01)
Worst 4-Year Stretch in Past 20 years
- Oklahoma 17-27 (95-98)
- Alabama 23-28 ( 00-03)
- Notre Dame 22-26 (07-10)
- LSU 22-22 (98-01)
- USC 25-23 (98-01)
Most sub-.500 seasons Past 20 years:
- LSU - 5 (92-94, 98, 99)
- Notre Dame - 4 (99, 01, 03, 07)
- Alabama - 3 (97, 00, 03)
- Oklahoma - 3 (96-98)
- USC - 1 (2000)
Hey look! Notre Dame isn't the statistical loser in any of these categories of futility! These records could serve as a reality check for level-headed fans in ND Nation if they existed. All four programs suffered through losing seasons and an extended embarassing stretch of play before righting the ship. Many of these proud fan bases suffered longer stretches of futility than the Irish and endured countless terrible losses.
Every recent national title season by each school was achieved AFTER a season of sub-.500 play in the previous 5 seasons. Notre Dame is 5 seasons removed from 2007's 3-9 campaign and has won more regular season games than the previous year for 3 consecutive seasons.
Top programs can turn around and do it quickly. Reigning National Champion Alabama was 4-9 in 2003 and a paltry 12-12 over 06-07 before ripping of 24 straight regular season wins in 08-09. Player development doesn't happen overnight, but it doesn't take a decade either. Advances off the field under Brian Kelly and any kind of improvement in 2012 should land Notre Dame back in the the conversation of the nation's elite. The trick will be staying there.