There’s going to be a lot of nitpicking and hot air floating around as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are still 3 weeks away from playing the Clemson Tigers in the Cotton Bowl as the semi-final in the college football playoff. One of the most delicious bits of Irish “hate” is Notre Dame’s abysmal bowl record over the last quarter of a century.
Notre Dame is 5-12 since the 1993/1994 Cotton Bowl. Within that horrific record, an even worse number exists... 0-6 in major bowls. You can argue that the Citrus is a major bowl if you want, but that still gives Notre Dame a 1-6 record.
The good news for Irish fans, is that Brian Kelly owns 4 of those 5 wins in the past 25 years. He also has 3 losses (a winning record YAY!!!). Kelly’s overall bowl history is also fairly mediocre.
Brian Kelly’s Bowl Record
|2006||Cincinnati||International Bowl||Western Michigan||WON 27-24|
|2007||Cincinnati||PapaJohns.com Bowl||Southern Miss||WON 31-21|
|2008||Cincinnati||Orange Bowl||Virginia Tech||LOST 20-7|
|2010||Notre Dame||Sun Bowl||Miami FL.||WON 33-17|
|2011||Notre Dame||Champs Sports Bowl||Florida St.||LOST 18-14|
|2012||Notre Dame||BCS Championship||Alabama||LOST 42-14|
|2013||Notre Dame||Pinstripe Bowl||Rutgers||WON 29-16|
|2014||Notre Dame||Music City Bowl||LSU||WON 31-28|
|2015||Notre Dame||Fiesta Bowl||Ohio State||LOST 44-28|
|2017||Notre Dame||Citrus Bowl||LSU||WON 21-17|
Brian Kelly’s first head coaching job at the FBS level was with the Central Michigan Chippewas. Kelly took a terrible program and turned them into MAC champions. His reward was a Motor City Bowl — but also a job offer from the Cincinnati Bearcats. The thing is, Cincy asked Kelly to coach the Bearcats in their International Bowl, so BK left the Chippewas to his assistants. Both teams won, so maybe he was a genius?
Kelly took Cincy to another bowl win the following year, and then in year 2 he won the Big East title and took the Bearcats to the Orange Bowl to play the Virginia Tech Hokies. Cincy lost a fairly boring game 20-7.
In year 3, Cincinnati went 12-0 and got another BCS bid — this time to the Sugar Bowl. It was at that time that Jack Swarbrick and Notre Dame came calling, and Kelly bolted for South Bend. His Bearcats got whooped in that bowl game, 41-24.
The more important bowl games for Irish fans are, of course, Kelly’s bowl games while at Notre Dame. That 4-3 record isn’t awful, but of the 3 losses, two of of them were the biggest ones Notre Dame has been in during Kelly’s tenure. The BCS Championship Game against Alabama and the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Those two games represent the end result of Kelly’s two best years prior to 2018, and both were a bloody mess.
It’s why the Notre Dame fanbase was so split in 2016 during Notre Dame’s 4-8 campaign. Had the Irish won the Fiesta Bowl, there would have been a much stronger leg for BK and Jack Swarbrick to stand on in the head coach’s defense. It makes little difference now with a 2017 season that saw a Citrus Bowl win over LSU, and another 12-0 regular season — but maybe it would.
None of this is to say Brian Kelly can’t win a big game, but rather... it’s just a reminder that there is still a giant hump for Kelly and Notre Dame to get over to complete the program turnaround. A win in the Cotton Bowl over the #2 ranked Clemson Tigers would do just that. It’s a “big ask,” and it’s probably a bit unfair to Brian Kelly and Notre Dame, but that’s what they both signed up for, so this isn’t a huge surprise.