This Saturday will be Senior Day for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, the team’s last home game of the 2010 season. Coming into South Bend is a dangerous Utah team that is licking its wounds from a blowout loss to TCU this past weekend.
With their undefeated season now blown to smithereens, would an upset of Utah still be bigger than any win from the Weis-era?
Why It Wouldn’t Be
Obviously, the huge loss Utah just received would seem to signal that beating them maybe shouldn’t be considered a huge win.
Also, Utah is only favored by 5.5 points right now, not exactly David vs. Goliath even though the Utes have been a far superior program over the past half dozen years and longer.
Another reason why this game might not be bigger than any Weis victory is due to Utah’s strength of schedule, which is terribly weak.
Following their opening season overtime victory against Pittsburgh, the Utes played three of the worst teams in college football in UNLV, New Mexico and San Jose State.
That relatively painless September was followed up by contests against a decent Iowa State club, struggling Wyoming team, and a bad Colorado State team. Seeing as how Pittsburgh’s Tino Sunseri could barely complete a pass (in his first career start) for the majority of the Panthers game against Utah, I’d say the Utes had about as easy of a schedule as anyone in the country.
In recent weeks, Utah nearly lost to a scrappy Air Force team and then got blasted in the aforementioned TCU game, losing by 40 points and being out-gained by 359 yards.
The case could be made that this is one of the more overrated 8-1 teams in recent college football history.
Why It Would Be
Despite the weak schedule, Utah was still more or less destroying their opponents. Up until their loss this past weekend to the Horned Frogs, Utah’s average victory was 45-14.
Also, we must take into account that TCU is a really, really good football team. There’s even a small chance that the Frogs are national champions when this season is over, so we have to factor that possibility into account.
What’s more, the answer to this question really has more to do with Notre Dame as a program more than it does the merits of Utah as a quality/ranked/intimidating opponent.
As far as Senior Day games go, the recent history is not very inspiring.
2005, Syracuse (1-10), 34-10 Win
2006, Army (3-9), 41-9 Win
2007, Duke (1-11), 28-7 Win
2008, Syracuse (3-9), 24-23 Loss
2009, UCONN (8-5), 33-30 Loss
That is three of Notre Dame’s most embarrassing and unfulfilling wins, couple with perhaps the worst loss of the new century, and a shameful overtime loss in a game in which our coach came walking out of the tunnel crying.
Going back even further, Notre Dame is 16-8 in their last 24 Senior Day games and has only beat five teams at the last home game of the season (7-5 Alabama in 1987, 7-5 Penn State in 1992, 8-4 Air Force in 1994, 7-5 West Virginia in 1997, 7-5 Boston College in 2000) that would go on to finish the season with at least seven victories.
Since 1986, Notre Dame has not beaten a team on Senior Day that has gone on to finish the year ranked in the AP Poll.
As far as comparing a defeat of Utah to the biggest wins of the Weis era, here is what that upset would be competing against:
*2006 Penn State (9-4), 4th in Big Ten, finished No. 24 in AP Poll.
*2006 Georgia Tech (9-5), 1st place in ACC Coastal division, lost conference championship 9-6 to Wake Forest.
*2009 Boston College (8-5), 2nd in ACC Atlantic division.
*2009 Nevada (8-5), 2nd in WAC.
*2008 Navy (8-5)
*2006 Purdue (8-6), 5th in Big Ten.
*2005 Michigan (7-5), 4th in Big Ten.
*2008 Hawaii (7-7), 4th in the WAC.
Off the top of my head I believe Notre Dame was favored in seven out of those eight games, the only exception being the upset of then No. 3 Michigan in 2005. The Wolverines struggled the rest of that year, but to be fair they were probably the best team to end the year outside of the polls and far more talented their record suggested.
As far as I’m concerned, I think this 2010 Utah team is better than any other team on that list above for the "big" victories under Charlie Weis. The Utes may not be significantly better than Penn State in 2006, but they’d probably beat the Nittany Lions seven or eight times out of ten.
Moreover, when you add in the fact that Notre Dame is somewhat of a beaten team, most fans don’t expect a win (more than enough expect an ugly loss), and the Irish will be without their starting quarterback, tight end, nose tackle, running back, receiver and a few others as questionable game-time decisions, I’m pretty sure a defeat of Utah would be the biggest win of the last six years.
The Notre Dame program is so used to failure in recent years that it is hard to even fathom a victory this weekend, let alone the team even playing well enough to inspire any confidence the rest of the season and beyond.
But with a bye week to prepare the Irish could deliver a win that could be more meaningful and defining than the team’s 4-5 record to date.
Notre Dame fans, probably more than any other fan base around the country, need to know that their team can spring an upset against a legitimately strong and favored opponent because it has not happened very often in recent history.
Could a defeat of Utah be the biggest win in years for the Irish?