5-0 in 2002 vs. 5-0 in 2012: Why This Years Team Is For Real


Brian Kelly leading the Fighting Irish

Seconds after the Irish successfully dismantled the Miami Hurricanes last weekend, it was well documented that this is the first team since 2002 to start 5-0. After thinking about the 2002 Irish, I realized that this most recent 5-0 version has a lot in common with their 2002 predecessors. When I originally thought about this, it concerned me as the 2002 team that finished 10-3 had lost 3 of their last 5 games and got crushed by USC and NC State. However, I believe that the Irish of today and tomorrow are much different than the underachieving teams of the last 15 yrs.
The most comparable aspect of these two teams is their defense. In 2002 Notre Dame finished the season ranked 13th in total defense, exactly where the ’12 team is ranked going into week7. This year’s team is just stingy against the run as a decade ago but has a secondary that might give you a heart attack, just as the 2002 team had. The difference is that in 2002 Notre Dames defense gave up 72pts in their last two games, almost twice as much as their per game average that year. The Notre Dame defense will continue to be the staple of this 2012 campaign and look for this young, athletic secondary to continue to develop. This year’s defense has the ability finish in the top 10 in total defense (even with OU and USC left on the schedule) and for the secondary to be a pleasant surprise going forward. Allow yourself to believe that this defense will not crumble when it matters most at the end of the season as it did in 2002.
Offensively the 2012 Irish have much more firepower (potentially) as the 2002 team did. Outside of Rhema McKnight and Arnaz Battle, they left much to be desired. Obviously this is based on potential but you can’t spell “potential” without “potent” and that’s exactly what Notre Dame has in its skill positions this season. Notre Dame showed just how explosive they can be offensively against Miami. Everett Golson was finally introduced as a legitimate dual threat QB with 51yds on 6 carries and going 17 of 22 for 186yds passing. The more confident Golson becomes, the more dynamic this offense is and last weekend was just the beginning. The Irish also had their best rushing game since 2000, going off for 376 yards. Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III combined for 241yds and both showing their ability to break a big play. With some less than stellar defensive teams left on the schedule; look for this year’s offense to finish in the top 50 nationally (The 2002 team finished 108th).
While the 5-0 start of a decade ago was exciting, it also happened during a time in Notre Dames history when most expected them to choke at some point and, they did. From ’94-’06 the not so Fighting Irish (at the time) lost 9 straight bowl games and many in embarrassing fashion. So let’s face it, I’m sure most of you are cautiously optimistic and rightfully so considering the past, but this team is different. I was at the game Saturday at soldier field and there is just something different about this team. There is an energy around these Fighting Irish that we haven’t seen since Lou Holtz famously told his team “…I want you to do one thing: Save Jimmy Johnson for me” at half time of the Catholics vs. Convicts in 1990. There was a lot of talk about “culture changes” this pre-season and this team has proven that the culture has changed around this football team. I also believe this culture change has bled into the devout fan base. Hearing passionate chants of “Lets Go IRISH” and “We are – ND” ringing through the tunnel leading away from soldier field left me with chills. We are back to having an Irish team to cheer for that seems willing to take on anyone, anytime and anywhere. Brian Kelly has this team operating with a business like attitude, celebrating a win for a short time and then it’s “On to the next one”. I have been telling myself for 20 years “This year is different” and for the first time, I actually believe it and so should you.