THIS WEEK'S TOPIC:
Where does Tuesday's victory over LSU rank among the best wins for Notre Dame since 2010?
In the spirit of dodging the question, I think it's hard to say now - "best" wins are usually judged after time has passed and we weave it into a story instead of looking just at the game- if this win was a springboard into a big 2015, we finish strong in recruiting, and was the beginning of All-American Malik Zaire? Then it was huge! If things go the opposite way? Then it was only a low level bowl win over a big time program we caught at a weak moment.
So in the spirit of trying to look at just the games themselves, not what comes after (and using my own subjective criteria) I'd put this win behind 2012 Stanford and Oklahoma, and also behind 2014 Michigan. Not only was it a big win over an SEC power, it also was huge for the offense to have success against a very good defense, even with the complications of QB shuffling. But Stanford and Oklahoma were far better all-around performances against better opponents, and murdering Michigan to close out that series was the most satisfying win of the BK era.
Perhaps it is because I was only able to see the 4th quarter live and haven't watched tape of the whole thing yet, but this doesn't even rate for me. I'm of the "everything is less important than every 2012 win" mindset because those all led to the NCG, which is the goal. In particular, at Oklahoma stands out in that dream season. If you love turning points, then Utah in 2010 has turning point value over all proceeding ones. Haven't we already turned? From a historical significance point-of-view, crushing Michigan in the final chapter of the current series was absolutely critical and one of the more cathartic wins we've ever experienced. It was only as the season played out that the accomplishment was diminished by Michigan's incompetence. I was asking this "greatest BK win" question right after that Michigan game. This one didn't even raise the question in my mind.
I'm really looking forward to reading what others have to say on this topic. I'm incredibly biased against bowls, so the cynic in me reads the headline as "Five Loss Irish Team Wins Exhibition Versus Team That Went .500 In Their Own League." Obviously the QB drama, the late-season collapse, and the fact that opponent had spanked us in our previous bowl match-up's (and oh fine, their conference affiliation) all lend emotional weight to this victory. I was incredibly fired up when Brindza split the uprights, but this is still an Irish team that fell well short of their goals and has a lot of work to do to get back in conversations about wins that set up playoff appearances.
To me, the Oklahoma game in 2012 is Brian Kelly's best win and it's not even close. That game just meant so much for that season and for the perception of the Irish nationally.
This game is probably his second best win though. I don't know of too many Notre Dame fans who felt very confident going in and most felt the Irish were going to get blown out, which would have added to the myth that Notre Dame can't compete with teams in the SEC. It's huge for Brian Kelly in that it helps restore confidence that he can get his team up for big games. It's also huge in recruiting because a bad loss could have really hurt the finish for the 2015 class and hinder the Irish from establishing interest from players in the southeast.
He came up with the perfect game plan and got the best out of both of his quarterbacks against the SEC's best defense. I don't think I'll stop being impressed with what he and the team accomplished.
Like Jamie, I believe that the 2012 victory over Oklahoma was BK's best win to date. That game solidified for the country that ND was a powerhouse that season and was not a bad football team.
However, I think the LSU bowl victory was BK's best coached game of his 5 year tenure thus far. This was not ND manhandling a mediocre opponent (like Wake Forest, or Rice, or Western Michigan, etc.). LSU was heavily favored and absolutely nobody gave ND a chance in this game, especially considering the losses late in the season.
ND was going up against one of the best defenses it had faced since 2012 Alabama. The gameplan was very general, not very complex, and utilized ND's strengths. It showed a recognition that the defense was the weak spot on the team and the best way to combat that was to keep the offense on the field as long as possible. We had 0 turnovers and very few drops. We rushed for almost 300 yards. This was exactly the type of game that the team needed going into next season. It was a statement game, one that ND has not had in quite some time.
To me, the best win by Kelly was 2012 USC, simply because there was so much on the line at the time. The Irish were a week removed from a weekend that saw essentially every chip fall in the Irish's way. Notre Dame, #3 at the time, started off the weekend with a 38-0 demolishing of Wake Forest . Then, Baylor obliterated #2 Kansas State and #1 Oregon was shocked by a Stanford team that the Irish had already beaten.
So going into the USC game, the Irish had a lot to lose in this contest but came up big on offense and had a huge goal line stop to seal the victory. In fact, I value this game higher than Stanford even because of all the "controversy" around the end of the Stanford game, the goal line stand by the Irish against USC validated Notre Dame in the eyes of the non-believers. I might be one of the select few that puts little stock in the Stanford win. All that was to me was the Lord's redo of 2005 USC with a better ending.
2012 Oklahoma, as PunterBro stated, let everyone know who we were and that we were as good as our ranking. If anything, the USC and Oklahoma games are more 1a and 1b as opposed to 1 and 2, but I rank USC as the best Kelly win because we got to the National Championship game because of it.
So with my #1 being 2012 USC and my #2 being 2012 Oklahoma, where do I put this LSU game? I put it at #3, barely ahead of this year's Michigan game. There is no dancing around the Music City Bowl win. This was a victory on national television over an SEC opponent that was supposed to win the game running away.
The Music City Bowl win is distinctly different than any other Brian Kelly victory. The 2010 Utah game was cathartic. The 2012 season was validating. The 2014 Michigan game made us lose our pants. But the win over LSU is pure momentum. Sure, LSU wasn't in the top echelon of the SEC this season, but they represent something bigger than themselves. They represent a conference regarded as the best in college football. They were supposed to blow us out. They had this great running back! And this vaunted defense! And we were starting our backup QB! And our defense was atrocious! We couldn't beat Northwestern!
Instead, the Irish showed the country that they can go toe-to-toe with the best football conference in the country and come out on top. As I said, this win is pure momentum. Because as it's the end of the year, it gives the program something to puff their chests out about after too many off-seasons full of bad news. It helps with recruiting and helps with the national image that we are trying to project. It will also help our preseason ranking for 2015 too.
In addition, this is easily Kelly's best bowl victory. It is probably the Irish's best bowl victory in terms of opponents in a long while as well. You'd probably have to go back to the 1994 Cotton Bowl to get a comparable opponent in terms of record and talent.
I'd put the win over LSU yesterday behind all of the big wins from the 2012 season like Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma, Southern Cal, (and potentially BYU), as well as the game this year against Michigan. In addition to being a part of an undefeated regular season where the stakes were raised every week, three of the 2012 games were the site of College Gameday, and two were the prime time ABC Saturdaynight game. Whether or not you watch Gameday each week, the exposure that comes from being featured on the show can be huge for recruiting and the perception of the program. Winning such games helped to dispel the annoying debate about ND's "relevancy" on the national stage. While not as big nationally, the Michigan game was the last game in the series between two historic programs. I don't think I've ever felt better at Notre Dame stadium than I did watching the pick-six* that ended the game.
There are obviously a lot of positives to take from the game yesterday. It was ND's first win against an SEC opponent in a long time, and the coaches found out that they definitely have something in Malik Zaire. LSU was supposed to destroy the Irish in the trenches, yet the Irish OL dominated LSU up front. After the terrible November, ending the season on a high note was a great feeling for everyone associated with ND.
That being said, I think game was much more important to those of us with ties to Notre Dame than it was nationally. While winning the game was huge for the fanbase, players, and coaches, I don't think the national perception of the game would have been all that different had Brindza missed the last second kick, and we'd lost in OT. ND proved for four quarters that they were more physical than LSU, and it dispelled the myth that the Irish don't belong on the same field as an SEC team.
Furthermore, with the game happening right before the big New Years bowls and the start of the Playoff, the rest of the country's attention was definitely focused elsewhere. I do think getting blown out would have been a huge blow to the program and given ND haters even more ammunition, and a blowout loss definitely felt like a real possibility going into the game. By battling hard for four quarters and not giving LSU all they could handle, the Irish did more than enough to positively affect the national perception. Of course, winning the game made it feel way better.
The game was much bigger for us than it was for outside observers. We needed to see that (a) Kelly hadn't lost the team, (b) Kelly could win a game, especially over an athletically as good or better foe, by going outside his usual comfort zone, and (c) Malik Zaire could play football. We saw all three in a huge way.
I'd rank it behind all the big 2012 games, this year's Michigan, and 2010 Utah, but it was an important game for the team and for the fan base, and could become more important if we see that kind of emotionally-charged play from the team next fall.
Some of this certainly depends on performance next year, but I'm gonna go ahead and hype this one up. In terms of the perception and "arrival" of this program, I think it's hard to top the Oklahoma game in 2012. But I am putting this victory right behind that one. Sure, there were some nice ones against USC and Michigan, which is always nice for rivalry's sake, but those do not really amount to a whole lot in the larger national landscape, especially given those programs' recent struggles. The 2010 win over Utah was nice as well because it was a bit of a turnaround game for the program under new leadership, but it didn't really buy anything for the program. And everything about those 2012 games turned south once the calendar turned to 2013, so it's very obvious that despite the great, great, great accomplishment of obtaining a BCS NCG berth, most of those games on their own did little to show "greatness" or another level to this program, and the perception of this program (perhaps rightly) has gone right down the tubes ever since.
So yes, I am going to put this win over a perennial SEC power at #2 for Kelly. The way the offensive line punished the most ELITE of southeastern defensive linemen. The surgical offensive game plan that used all of the roster's best athletes perfectly and neutralized a program that puts defensive backs in the NFL like it's nothing. The big defensive stops when the team needed it, despite a stable of very powerful running backs looking to run through a depleted front seven.
It was even LSU, too. Not upstart Ole Miss or MSU, not bottom of the division Texas A&M or Arkansas; no, it was perennial contender, always relevant, recruiting juggernaut Louisiana State University. Beat that team in a bowl game and get off to a hot start leaving all the potential controversy (QB and otherwise) behind, and this program has a much different feel to it. Most of the players on the roster return confident, motivated, together, and really ready to explode on the national scene.
Obviously, this takes some things going right next season to be true, but this is the second biggest win of Brian Kelly's Notre Dame tenure.
Not much to add here that hasn't already been said, but after thinking about it for a few days I tend to agree with Adam--the win over LSU is #2 behind Oklahoma in 2012. The OU win won't be eclipsed until BK wins a title, but this victory was so important from a perception standpoint. By out muscling an SEC team, future opponents as well as recruits were put on notice. The Irish became a sexier option for recruits and can no longer be dismissed as a "weak cold-weather school".
First I want to list what I think are the top wins from each year in Brian Kelly's tenure. I limited myself to only one win per year which was hard! Here they are:
2010 - Utah
2011 - Michigan State
2012 - USC
2013 - Michigan State
2014 - LSU
I would have to put 2012 USC as the best win of the Brian Kelly era. Winning the final game of the season, on the road, against a big rival, to go undefeated, and have a chance to play for a National Championship. Pretty tough to top that victory. Also, that was the first college football game I ever attended, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.
Next would be the 2010 Utah game. The Declan Sullivan tragedy, a horrible loss to Tulsa and a team that would be starting Tommy Rees as a freshman playing a ranked Utah team. This one had blowout written all over it. Yet the Irish found a way, and with a single win, seemed to change the trajectory of the entire program.
Now comes the LSU game. This was another back against the wall, no one expects Notre Dame to win scenario. What I liked most about this win was the way the Irish did it. They pounded the ball on a very good SEC defense. Everyone knew the game plan. Run the ball. And boy did the Irish run it. Finally, we didn't have to listen to Brian Kelly explain after the game that the Irish couldn't run because the box was loaded. Instead we imposed our will. I'm not even sure if we saw a single empty set on third and short!
We'll see, maybe the win over LSU won't look as important a few years down the road. However, if Notre Dame starts a successful run over the next few years, this win will almost certainly be considered the catalyst.
Such a great topic because there's perfectly logical arguments for both sides here. My first thought is that bowl games in general just aren't all that important outside of the top 4 or 5 big ones. I also don't believe all that much in momentum in the sense that this will carry over into next fall. For example, the Irish lost their last two games in 2011 before going undefeated in the regular season.
In fact, I'd probably argue the team would go into 2015 a little more hungry and desperate had they lost this one. At Notre Dame, I think it's a really big challenge to make sure the players are out to prove something and not too happy about their accomplishments. I'm not saying if the Irish go on to have a big 2015 that it won't increase the importance of this win but that's more perception than momentum in my opinion.
Everyone has already mentioned the wins that are in the mix and I'd throw the 2011 Michigan State game in there too. I'm not sure if this LSU win breaks into the top five since 2010 but it might with a little more time to look back. I'll say this, though when was the last time Notre Dame beat a better 8-5 team?