The book is officially closed on Brian Kelly's 10th season as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach. In that time we have seen two perfect regular seasons, a national title game appearance, a college football playoff appearance and the re-emergence of Notre Dame as a consistent contender on the national stage. Since "tis the season for retrospectives" it's now time to look back and build Brian Kelly's third perfect season. Looking at every game he has coached for Notre Dame from Week 1 through the bowl match-up we will go week by week and game by game choosing the best win to create a 12-0 regular season and a winning bowl season. Let's get this ride started!
Game 1: 2012 vs Navy(in Dublin); W 50-10
The jumping off point for Kelly's first perfect season in South Bend started across the pond with a dominant victory over a pesky Navy team that had actually won two of the last three match-ups against the Irish. This game will best be remembered for a gladiator masked Stephon Tuitt returning a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown and the start of the Manti Te'o turnover binge. More underrated parts of this win were the beautiful tri-color cleats the Irish wore and the late George Atkinson III's clever rugby inspired touchdown celebration.
Game 2: 2014 vs Michigan; W 37*-0
Remember the Six. Officially the score of this game was 31-0 but we all know better. An absolute domination of Michigan in what was thought to be the last game of this rivalry. This game would be perhaps the peak of Everett Golson's time in South Bend with three touchdown passes and Heisman whispers bubbling up. It was definitely the peak of Amir Carlisle's Notre Dame career as he had two touchdown receptions. This game also gave us peak Brian VanGorder footage with fist pumps that will live in infamy.
Game 3: 2012 @ #10 Michigan State; W 20-3
This can best be described as the game where the 2012 team officially arrived on the national scene with a prime time domination of top 10 ranked opponent on the road. The Irish defense would suffocate a Le'veon Bell lead Spartans squad. The defense was lead by 12 tackles and a fumble recovery by Manti Te'o and a defensive line that accounted for five sacks of Andrew Maxwell. Kirk Herbstreit commented at the end of the broadcast how this team was different than previous Notre Dame teams. Boy, was he right.
Game 4: 2012 vs #18 Michigan; W 13-6
A week after wrecking Michigan State the Michigan Wolverines came to town lead by Denard Robinson, who still gives some Notre Dame fans PTSD. Lead by the emotional Manti Te'o and a lei filled stadium Notre Dame would dominate Robinson and the Wolverines. Robinson at one point in the first half would throw interceptions on four straight pass attempts en route with Te'o on the receiving end of two of them. Tommy Rees would come off the bench for an overwhelmed Everett Golson to save the day and help provide just enough scoring with the greatest rushing score of his career to help Notre Dame move to 4-0 that season.
Game 5: 2018 vs #7 Stanford; W 38-17
#FreeDex. Dexter Williams scored the first time he touched the ball after missing the first four games of the season due to suspension, Ian Book would throw four touchdowns, and the Notre Dame defense would put a stranglehold on a Stanford offense lead by Bryce Love and K.J. Costello. The Irish would put up 550 yards of total offense in their largest victory over Stanford since 2006.
Game 6: 2012 vs #17 Stanford; W 20-13(OT)
We all know how this game ended. Capped by the most memorable goal line stand in Notre Dame history, the Irish won a physical rain soaked match-up against Stanford. Tommy Rees would again come out of the bullpen to lead Notre Dame to a win with Everett Golson sidelined by a late concussion. Many remember the winning throw to T.J. Jones but as important was the incredible throw and catch to Theo Riddick a few plays before. The Irish defense lead by Manti Te'o, Louis Nix, and Matthias Farley would turn away Stanford four times at the goal line in a down pour in overtime to seal the victory.
Game 7: 2017 vs #11 USC; W 49-14
Notre Dame would run over, around, and through the USC Trojans this night for the largest Notre Dame victory over USC since 1995. The Irish would jump out to a 28-0 lead which included a touchdown pass to Kevin Stepherson and a tremendous primal scream touchdown celebration. USC would "narrow the gap" to 35-14 before Josh Adams bolted 84 yards for a touchdown and ended any doubt. Adams would tack on one more score on his way to a 191 yard and three touchdown night as this game got so out of hand Montgomery VanGorder actually took the victory formation snap to end the game.
Game 8: 2012 @ #8 Oklahoma; W 30-13
Still seen by many as Brian Kelly's best victory during his time at Notre Dame, the Irish walked into Norman Oklahoma with a lot to prove. Many pundits expected the 2012 season to go off the rails here but they would be proven wrong. Everett Golson did just enough in the passing game connecting with Tyler Eifert and Chris Brown, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick handled their business running the ball, and the Notre Dame defense again stood tall. Manti Te'o would get another prime time turnover and the entire college football world was on notice that Notre Dame was for real.
Game 9: 2012 vs Pittsburgh; W 29-26(3 OT)
In a classic "hangover game" coming off the Oklahoma win the week before Notre Dame struggled with a pesky .500 Pitt Panthers squad. Everett Golson would be benched then re-inserted into the game after Tommy Rees threw a costly interception. Golson would lead a frantic comeback down eight with less than four minutes to go with deep pass to Davaris Daniels, a beautiful scramble and throw to Theo Riddick for a touchdown, and a superman dive for the two point conversion. The Irish would escape disaster in the overtime periods which included a Cierre Wood fumble and a missed penalty on a Pitt field goal attempt to win the game before Golson would bulldoze his way into the endzone to snatch the victory.
Game 10: 2010 vs #15 Utah; W 28-3
Lost perhaps to time and the uneven start to the 2011 season, this game against Utah was maybe the most cathartic of the Brian Kelly era. Coming off back to back losses to Navy and Tulsa and having to deal emotionally with the Declan Sullivan tragedy, the Notre Dame football team and community was reeling. On a rain soaked senior day after falling behind 3-0 Notre Dame would go on to score 28 unanswered points. It was kicked off by a Robert Blanton blocked punt scoop and score and from there Tommy Rees would throw three touchdown passes on the afternoon, two of them to Duval Kamara, and for one brief moment there was a glimmer of hope. The win would be punctuated by the students storming the field and would be the first of four straight victories to close out the 2010 season.
Game 11: 2018 vs #12 Syracuse(@ Yankee Stadium); W 36-3
A classic trap game where Notre Dame gave up a home game to travel to New York City to face a top 15 team with an explosive offense a week before USC seemed like a recipe for disaster. Instead the Irish, wearing Yankees inspired uniforms, throttled Dino Babers and his Syracuse squad. Despite stalling out in the redzone much of the afternoon Notre Dame was able to amass 36 points with 469 yards of total offense and the Irish defense would limit the 'Cuse offense to just three points and 234 yards of offense. Let us never speak of these uniforms again.
Game 12: 2012 @ USC; W 22-13
This should go down in lore as "The Theo Riddick Game". Playing as the nations top ranked team for the first time since 1993, Notre Dame traveled to Southern Cal with a chance to seal their berth in the National Championship Game. Manti Teo, who picked off another pass, and the defense would make another goal line stand to seal the win but the real hero was Riddick. The senior running back ran 20 times for 146 yards and scored Notre Dame's only touchdown this night. The grass and mud stained jersey of Riddick's after the game told the story of his night in The Coliseum as he carried Notre Dame to their first national title game since 1988. The ICON's video of the locker room after the game is legendary and the sound of Notre Dame players screaming "We're going to the 'ship" should be a ringtone.
Bowl Game: 2017 vs #16 LSU(Citrus Bowl); W 21-17
A disappointing finish to the 2017 season saw the Irish landing in the Citrus Bowl facing a hot LSU team. In a rainy sloppy game Notre Dame saw themselves down 14-6 in the 4th quarter. Lead by Ian Book, who earlier had replaced an ineffective Brandon Wimbush, the Irish scored on a touchdown pass to Michael Young and a Josh Adam's two point conversion. After surrendering a field goal to LSU to fall behind 17-14 with just over two minutes to player, Ian Book found Miles Boykin for a 55 yard one handed grab and scramble to the end zone to take the lead 21-17. The Notre Dame defense stymied the Tigers on their final drive to seal the win, Notre Dame's first in a January bowl since 1994. This victory would serve as a launching point to the undefeated 2018 regular season, Boykin and Book's emergence in 2018, and was the prefect way to start the year and end this list.