The Notre Dame Football program has seen significant changes over the last ten years.
Ten years isn’t a long time, but a lot has happened to both our world and Notre Dame football during the last decade.
Think about it: during the last ten years, we’ve had three different presidents, the iPhone 3g was just released, Instagram wasn’t a thing yet, Netflix was still sending DVD’s and the College Football Playoff didn’t even exist.
Times were certainly different for Notre Dame football as well.
Ten years ago, Jimmy Clausen, Maurice Crum Jr. and the rest of the 2008 Fighting Irish were 6-6, coming off a 3-9 record. Ten years ago right now, the Irish were preparing to travel to Hawaii to face off against the (now Rainbow) Warriors in the Hawaii Bowl.
If names like Maurice Crum Jr. and Duval Kamara aren’t throwbacks enough for you, Head coach Charlie Weis, offensive coordinator Michael Haywood and defensive coordinator Corwin Brown were also roaming the sidelines.
There was tons of talent on the team — Clausen, Michael Floyd, Golden Tate and Harrison Smith just to name a few — as well as a freshman you may have heard of who was redshirted that year by the name of Kapron Lewis-Moore.
In the ten years leading up to 2008, (1998-2007) Notre Dame was a combined 69-48, with 4 losing seasons and three head coaches (four if you count people who were hired but never actually coached. Looking at you, George O’Leary.)
Here’s where things get good: in the ten years since 2008, Notre Dame is 87-40, with just one losing season, two coaches (Weis carried over) and four double-digit win seasons — two of those including undefeated regular seasons.
In 2008, not only was the Hawaii Bowl exciting (anything would be after a 3-9 disaster) but Notre Dame won a bowl game for the first time since January 1, 1994. Ironically enough, it was the Cotton Bowl, the same bowl where Notre Dame faces off against Clemson in the Playoff. In the ten years since, Notre Dame has won four bowl games.
In ten years, the Notre Dame program has changed, in large part due to Brian Kelly, and has much more of a steady stream. Yes, the 4-8 misery of 2016 wasn’t good, but it was such an outlier to everything Kelly has done. Other than that season, Kelly has won eight or more games every season in South Bend.
Eight wins may not be “the Notre Dame way” as some say. But comparing these ten years to the previous 10, where Notre Dame only won eight or more games four times, it’s closer to the “Notre Dame way” than it’s been since the Lou Holtz era.
Not everything has been positive in the last decade — vacated wins and a student death that, right or wrong, did happen on Brian Kelly’s watch — may make the time look worse than it’s been.
There’s been close wins, close losses, and even for a short period, an inability to win close games. There was also the 2009 season — Weis’ last — that resulted in six wins and Notre Dame declining a Bowl berth. That season did, however, end with Golden Tate being named a unanimous All-American and Biletnikoff winner.
Additionally, that 2009 season helped lay the foundation for Notre Dame’s biggest moment of the last ten years — one that has since been surpassed — when Notre Dame faced Alabama for the BCS Championship.
Some of the key contributors in 2012 were on that 2009 team: Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, Tyler Eifert, Braxton Cave, Zach Martin, and of course, Manti Te’o. All those guys were Charlie Weis guys.
Of course, Kelly has successfully built the program in his own image, leading to the ultimate achievement of the last decade: making the College Football Playoff against Clemson.
The last time Notre Dame met Clemson was a near-miss in Death Valley, where Notre Dame lost a heartbreaker in 2015 that still stings today.
No matter the result, there’s no doubt that Notre Dame is clearly on a better path over the last ten years than they were the previous ten.
Eight wins may not be the “Notre Dame way” but it’s better than the way things were done prior. One National Championship game, one College Football Playoff appearance and a Heisman finalist is hard to argue against.
And at the end of the day, it’s been a long time since you could say that Notre Dame is just 120 minutes of football away from being National Champions.