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A brief history of Brian Kelly’s season opening games at Notre Dame

By brief I mean “detailed and comprehensive”.

NCAA Football: Duke at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Kelly will coach one of the most important games of his entire LIFE when Notre Dame hosts Michigan on September 1st, so here’s a look back on how he’s fared in his last 8 season opening games with the Irish.


Notre Dame: 23 / Purdue: 12

Notre Dame lost a lot of talent going into 2010, notably Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate. The biggest question mark was how Brian Kelly would be able to whip Charlie Weis’ 6-6 squad into shape in time for Notre Dame’s home opener against Purdue. Luckily, as I mentioned, the game was against Purdue.

Remember when the Joyce Lot looked like that?
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The game: Dayne Crist, with the help of an all-star wide receiving corps of T.J. Jones, Michael Floyd, and Kyle Rudolph, scored a respectable 23 points and took care of the Boilermakers. It’s hard to imagine what that offense could have looked like if Clausen and Tate stayed for an extra year.

And then what happened? The following week, the Irish lost to Michigan. Notre Dame FINALLY beat USC in 2010, thanks to a last-minute goal-line interception. Brian Kelly finished his first season at 8-5 with a win over the Miami Hurricanes in the Sun Bowl. Woo! I guess.


#16 Notre Dame: 20 / USF: 23

Coming off of the Sun Bowl win, fans had high hopes for Kelly’s second season...and then USF happened. The 2011 season opener is ranked up there with the Bush Push as one of the more infamous losses in program history.

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The game: Just 4 minutes into the first quarter, Notre Dame made their first of five turnovers, allowing South Florida to return a fumble for a 96-yard touchdown. At halftime, the Bulls had shut out Tommy Rees’ offense and put up 16 points of their own. Then, in typical South Bend fashion, bad weather rolled in and the game was postponed 2 hours. Notre Dame mounted somewhat of a comeback in the second half as Tommy Rees managed both a 12-play 76-yard drive and a 10-play 99-yard drive that ended with touchdowns. After another thunderstorm delay, the Irish lost, having given up as many turnovers as there were hours in the game. Yes, this agonizing loss to South Florida was only made worse by the fact that Notre Dame fans had to endure 5 hours and 59 minutes of bad football, just to see Notre Dame eventually (obviously) botch an onside kick and lose to Lou Holtz’s kid.

Best moment: This rare, early edition Brian Kelly Face (TM).

via NBC

And then what happened? Notre Dame dropped to #24 in the polls and lost to Michigan the following week. They finished the season at 8-5 for the second year in a row, once again failing to fill the void in our empty, empty souls.


Notre Dame: 50 / Navy: 10

What is the most Notre Dame sentence you can think of? For me, it’s the next one. Notre Dame kicked off the 2012 season in Ireland against a service academy.

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The game: The Irish handled the Midshipmen with ease, winning 50-10. I guess that is what happens when you have all summer to prepare for the triple option.

In Notre Dame’s official home opener, Purdue put up a fair fight, losing by just 3 to the Irish. Notre Dame commanded the whole game but let Purdue back in late, for a dramatic fourth quarter finish. Like many of the games in 2012 (Pitt, Stanford, BYU), it went down to the wire, with Notre Dame kicking a game-winning field goal with just seconds to spare. The Irish barely escaped with the win and I barely escaped with any fingernails.

Lasting memory: Brian Kelly replaced Everett Golson with Tommy Rees before the team’s final drive, thus ushering in the era of Kelly-Golson mind games that plagued Notre Dame’s offense for seasons to come. (It also ushered in the era of Kelly never being able to make up his damn mind about who his starting QB is.)

And then? If you didn’t already remember that ND went undefeated in the 2012 regular season, then what are you even doing here? BTW, this season was technically vacated so ND’s official record is 0-1. Sweet.


#14 Notre Dame: 28 / Temple: 6

After an embarrassing failure nothing noteworthy happened in the 2012 post season, Notre Dame fans were hoping to start fresh in 2013. Until, that is, the honor code reared its ugly head. Everett Golson was suspended in May, 2013 and Tommy “Touchdown” “Reesus” Rees was left in the drivers seat for Notre Dames opener against Temple.

he hath risen
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The game: Notre Dame got ahead early with a pair of 32-yard touchdown passes from Rees to DaVaris Daniels. This was Brian Kelly’s 200th career win and after the game Irish fans found out that he had signed a new 5-year contract.

And then? Rees proved to be a capable quarterback, but the Irish didn’t win many big games in ‘13. In week 2 they lost to Michigan and in week 5 lost at home to Oklahoma after Rees threw a couple nasty early first-half interceptions. The darkest point in the season was undoubtedly the road loss to Pitt. I still have nightmares about my walk of shame out of Heinz Field that night. The final record on the season was 9-4. (This season was vacated too lolz)


#17 Notre Dame: 48 / Rice: 17

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The game: Notre Dame broke a 20-year record for most points in a home opener, Everett Golson tied an ND record for his 3 rushing touchdowns in the game, and we even saw a glimpse of Malik Zaire, who recorded a 56-yard rush on his first career snap.

And then? Notre Dame beat Michigan at home the next weekend. I vividly recall looking at the 37-0 on the scoreboard at the end of the game and wondering to myself, “Will I ever be this happy again for the rest of my life?” (Answer: no)

I don’t know if you remember this, but Notre Dame looked REALLY good to start 2014. They were 6-0 when they visited FSU. If there was ever a time to cry-vomit, it was after Notre Dame scored the game-wining touchdown and then got penalized for some stupid interference call that I am too pissed about to type. The season ended with some awful football, including the freezing, god-forsaken, overtime Northwestern game and a blowout at USC. At least Notre Dame won the Music City Bowl though?


#11 Notre Dame: 38 / Texas: 3

Notre Dame was ranked high heading into 2015, or as it is more importantly referred to as, my senior year at Notre Dame. Malik “Lucky Lefty” Zaire, a highly touted quarterback out of Ohio, was finally set to show what he was made of after beating LSU in the Music City Bowl and winning the hearts of Notre Dame fans everywhere with his tearful post-game interview.

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The game: The game was a complete mismatch. Zaire threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Notre Dame held Texas to 163 yards of total offense. Charlie Strong looked more like Charlie Sad after the game.

Lasting memory: For a full recap of this game, check out Showtime’s A Season with Notre Dame Football or what some lovingly refer to as, “The Joe Schmidt Show.”

And then? Malik tragically broke his ankle the following week at Virginia, which gave Notre Dame fans their first glimpse at DeShone Kizer. Kizer’s game-winning throw to Will Fuller gave us an important meme.

Notre Dame finished 10-3 in 2015, going undefeated at home, and marking one of their most impressive seasons in Kelly’s tenure. Their only two regular season losses were against Clemson (in the driving rain of a “once in a century” South Carolina storm) and Stanford (the most agonizing, excruciating memory of my Notre Dame fandom, which says a lot). The season ended on a sour note, however, when Jaylon Smith’s knee essentially exploded at the Fiesta Bowl, which kicked off at 11am on New Years Day. Two crimes against humanity.


#10 Notre Dame: 47 / Texas: 50 2OT

This was the game when Texas and Notre Dame were officially BACK...until they weren’t.

The game: If the seasons that followed for both teams weren’t so abysmal, this game would have had “best of the season” written all over it. There were touchdowns, acrobatics, and seven lead changes. Notre Dame was close to pulling out a victory at the end, despite a badly coached game by Kelly. His indecision on whether to start Malik Zaire or DeShone Kizer ultimately resulted in a serious lack of momentum on offense from both players.

Notre Dame’s official home opener was a 39-10 win against Nevada. The only thing I remember about this very unmemorable game was that I got to drink out of the Stanley Cup during the tailgate. (humblebrag)

And then? As it turns out, the Nevada game was one of only 4, yes 4, wins the Irish would record in 2016. Kelly was promptly glued to the hot seat, DeShone Kizer peaced the hell out of South Bend, and started one of the most pervasive and unpleasant memes of the 21st century.


Notre Dame: 49 / Temple: 16

Thanks to the Lord in Heaven and all of his Saints, Notre Dame had a cupcake of a home opener following the nightmarish 2016 season.

The game: Notre Dame had three 100+ yard rushers in their opener against Temple. Josh Adams rushed for 161 yards, Dexter Williams had 124 yards, and Brandon Wimbush had 106 on the ground as well as 184 in the air. The Irish easily beat Temple, who has my vote for the Team that Notre Dame Should Always Open Against Award.

Best moment: This was the debut of the brand new stadium, the video board (FINALLY), and the tiny little tunnels that away teams have to enter from the visitor’s locker room.

via NBC

And then? Notre Dame finished the season 10-3 after losing an incredibly close 1-point game at Georgia in Week 2. Wait, what’s this? I’m hearing that the game was at Notre Dame Stadium? Huh, that’s...odd...because when I looked at the photos from the game all the fans were...nevermind.