Notre Dame football has certainly given us a lot to be thankful for this season. Here’s a short list of why Irish fans should be in a festive mood this time of year to the tune of the classic Christmas song.
Christmas and the holiday season is here and for the first time in a long time, Notre Dame football is still in contention for a National Championship. Outside of Notre Dame’s record, this season wasn’t always perfect (although the record is pretty nice). This season had its fair share of ups and downs, that may or may not have resulted in more elevated blood pressure than our physicians would have liked.
Regardless, once it was all said and done, the Irish found themselves in the College Football Playoff for the first time. However you look at it, there’s a lot to be thankful for when it comes to this year’s Irish squad.
In true holiday and Christmas fashion, we’ll be looking back at 12 various reasons Notre Dame football should put you in a “holly jolly” mood this year. So finish unwrapping those presents, pour yourself a glass of eggnog, and take a trip down memory lane.
Here is the 2018 Notre Dame Football Edition of Twelve Days of Christmas:
On the first day of Christmas Notre Dame football gave to us:
A College Football Playoff Invite
Outside of winning a national championship, this was one of the best case scenarios coming into the season. While many didn’t see this team finishing 12-0 — much less making the CFP — the fact that Notre Dame was able to get an invite to the big show is extremely impressive. Obviously, we want to change the narrative around Notre Dame to where they can compete with the best programs in the country and can contend for national titles every year. Regardless of the outcome this weekend, this is a great start to that narrative shift for this program, and we should be thankful for that.
On the second day of Christmas Notre Dame football gave to us:
Two Neutral Site Games
The first seven weeks of the season were pretty routine when it came to traveling for the Irish, with five home games and two true away games to Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. The second half of the season saw a much more chaotic travel schedule that included two neutral site games. The first being in week nine when the Irish made the cross-country trip to play Navy in San Diego and the next being the Shamrock Series matchup vs Syracuse at Yankee Stadium. While some oppose these neutral site games in favor of another home game, these games allow the Irish to play and recruit across the nation. Both games were emphatic victories for Notre Dame, with the Syracuse beatdown being the last statement win on this year’s resume.
On the third day of Christmas Notre Dame football gave to us:
Three Dexter Williams Touchdown Runs of 50+ Yards
It’s not a secret that Dexter Williams is a true home run hitter. After missing the first four games of the season, he was able to still finish the regular season with 941 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on an insane average of 6.6 yards. Part of the reason that average is so high is because of his ability to rip off huge runs that demoralize defenses and swing the momentum of the game. On three separate occasions this season, Dex was able to find the endzone from beyond 50 yards. His 97-yard score vs Virginia Tech, 58-yard score vs FSU, and 52-yard touchdown vs USC all came just when the Irish needed them. Just for fun I’ll mention that he has four more scores that were 30+ yards.
On the fourth day of Christmas Notre Dame football gave to us:
Four November Wins
November is where the great teams separate themselves from the rest of the pack. The month hadn’t been kind to Brian Kelly and the Irish in recent years, and after the November collapse from a season ago, Kelly and staff were determined to get past the late season hump. Winning the month of November was one of three main team goals the Irish gave themselves this year (the others being beating Michigan and winning every home game), and this year they rose to the occasion. With victories over Northwestern, FSU, Syracuse, and USC on top of a brutal travel schedule, Notre Dame swept the month for just the second time since 2010. “The great teams make statements in November,” and that was certainly true for the 2018 team.
On the fifth day of Christmas Notre Dame football gave to us:
Five Different Uniforms
This might surprise many fans, or possibly anger the traditionalists of the Fighting Irish faithful, but including this weekend’s game vs Clemson, Notre Dame will have worn five different uniforms. Of course, the traditional navy home jerseys and white away jerseys were worn, and will always be the staple look for the Irish. In week eleven vs FSU, Notre Dame came full circle and donned green jerseys for their last home game of the season after opening up the season vs Michigan with a green out from their fans. The following week, the Irish rocked their unique pinstripe themed Shamrock Series uniforms vs Syracuse. Lastly, vs Clemson, the team will wear their Rush 4 Gold uniform, which is a traditional combo of white jerseys and gold pants with gold trim around the numbers and Kelly-green gloves and cleats. There’s plenty of people who might not like all this change and unnecessary “flash,” but in the end what they wear doesn’t change anything. It’s how they perform in those uniforms that matters, and so far they’ve looked pretty good.
On the sixth day of Christmas Notre Dame football gave to us:
Six Rivalry Trophies
With the long and rich tradition of Notre Dame, it’s no surprise they have a variety of rivalries and historical matchups that span decades. In particular, there are six rivalry games that award the victor a unique rivalry trophy that they get to keep until the next time they are defeated by that rival. The six trophies are; the Rip Miller Trophy (Navy), the Shillelagh Trophy (Purdue), the Megaphone Trophy (Michigan State), the Legends Trophy (Stanford), Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl & The Ireland Trophy (Boston College), and the Jeweled Shillelagh (USC). After defeating Navy and USC to retain those trophies and defeating Stanford to take back the Legends Trophy, the Irish are now in possession of every rivalry trophy associated with them. Now THAT is worth another round of Christmas cookies to celebrate.
On the seventh day of Christmas Notre Dame football gave to us:
#7 Brandon Wimbush
Do I get extra imaginary points for this one rhyming? Anyway, Brandon Wimbush has certainly given all of us headaches at one point or another, but that’s not why he’s on the list. Outside of the fact that he helped lead the Irish to a 10-win season a year ago and played well enough to take down Michigan in week one, we should all appreciate the team player that Wimbush has been this season. It’s tough to lose a starting spot three games into the season, especially when the team was 3-0, but Wimbush was a class act and embraced his backup role, encouraged Ian Book, and stayed ready. It was only fitting he got to lead the Irish to a 44-22 win over FSU on Senior Day. Not many teams have a backup quarterback with his talent, athleticism, and experience. After recently learning that Wimbush will indeed be transferring after this season, we should only be wishing for the best as he continues his career and appreciate what he was able to do in a golden helmet.
On the eighth day of Christmas Notre Dame football gave to us:
Eight Jerry Tillery Sacks
Notre Dame’s defensive line has been one of the most consistently steady and dominant position groups on the team this season. A big reason for that has been the breakout year for defensive tackle Jerry TIllery. After recording 5.5 sacks total in his first three seasons, the senior turned a corner in 2018 and has a team-high eight sacks this year. He wasted no time filling the stat sheet as he recorded two sacks in the season opener vs Michigan. He added another sack vs Vanderbilt before tying a school-record with four sacks vs Stanford. He was relatively quiet the remainder of the season before coming up with his eighth sack late in the game vs USC. The eight sacks landed Tillery on Sports Illustrated and CBS’ First Team All-American lists and tied him for the sixth most sacks in a season in Irish history.
On the ninth day of Christmas Notre Dame football gave to us:
#9th Ranked Scoring Defense
We’ll stick with the defensive bragging theme. Despite the ups and downs on the offensive side of the ball this year, the one constant has been the defense. According to ESPN, this year’s defense is #9 out of 130 teams in scoring defense, giving up just 17.3 points per game. They have NFL talent at all three levels as well as depth and experience to sustain a high level of play for four quarters. The Irish were one of two FBS teams to hold all of their opponents to less than 27 points on the year, with Fresno State being the other (Bama gave up 31 to Arkansas, and no, that stat isn’t wrong). Even more impressive, Notre Dame held eight of their 12 opponents to less than 20 points. For some reason, it still seems like this defense isn’t getting the credit they deserve, which is fine. Clark Lea and this group have a perfect opportunity to show the nation what they are capable of this Saturday vs Clemson’s high powered offense.
On the tenth day of Christmas Notre Dame football gave to us:
Back-to-Back 10 Win Seasons
Notre Dame is a blue-blood program in college football and has one of the deepest, richest traditions of any program. The national championships and domination from decades ago set expectations that haven’t been met on a consistent basis over the last 30 years. The Irish won 10 or more games each year from 1991-1993. Since then, they’ve only reached the 10-win mark six times. With a 10-win season this year, the Irish have consecutive double digit winning seasons for the first time since that stretch in the early 90s. In all, Brian Kelly now has four 10-win seasons as Notre Dame’s head coach, which is only one shy of the amount of 10-win seasons Lou Holtz racked up in his career. This program is on the upward swing of re-establishing itself as a consistently elite team, and that’s exciting to think about.
On the eleventh day of Christmas Notre Dame football gave to us:
#11 Alohi Gilman
Talk about a present for this defense. After transferring from Navy and sitting out last year because of the mandatory one-year transfer rule, Gilman certainly wasted no time making an impact on this year’s defense. His presence gives the entire unit a spark and he brings a certain level of swagger and energy to the entire back-end of the defense. He is second on the team with 76 total tackles and has made huge plays for this defense all season long. His pass breakup in the endzone vs Michigan kept the Wolverines off the board. There was also the insane forced fumble on the one yard line vs Vanderbilt ended the scoring threat, his two interceptions vs Syracuse, and the huge forced fumble vs USC. He just finds a way to make plays and his impact on this defense can’t be emphasized enough.
On the twelfth day of Christmas Notre Dame football gave to us:
12 Regular Season Wins
You could make an argument for #12 Ian Book to be here, but the 12-0 record reflects the talent and resiliency of the entire team. 2018 has been an incredible year of Irish football. Each game provided it’s own unique challenges and memorable moments. Sure, there were some frustrating and annoying games, just like there were incredible blowouts and huge victories. Early season quarterback controversy, Dexter Williams suspension, Alex Bars injury, Brandon Wimbush stepping up vs FSU, an insane travel schedule — you name it — Notre Dame dealt with it.
At the end of the day, Notre Dame went out on 12 separate occasions and walked away with 12 wins. FYI: that’s not easy to do. If nothing else this Christmas day, appreciate the fact that the Irish answered every call and passed every test this season. No, that doesn’t make them exempt from criticism. They aren’t perfect, but they are 12-0 and have a chance to advance to the National Championship game this Saturday — and that feels pretty good to say.