March Madness law requires us to do something in bracket form. In the interest of compliance, we thought it'd be productive to match up the 16 worst seasons (subjectively speaking) in Notre Dame history and square them off against each other. Having actually compiled all this now, we totally regret it. Reading this much about Notre Dame feels like eating sixteen pounds of peanut brittle.
Accordingly, here are your matchups:
(1) 1981, 5-6: Gerry Faust took over for Dan Devine, who'd led the 1980 team to a 9-2-1 ranking that included a narrow loss to Herschel Walker and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Building off that momentum, the Irish walloped LSU in Week 1 and took over the number one ranking. Huzzah! That was followed by losses in four of their next five games (including at Purdue) and a loss in the Orange Bowl to ninth-ranked Miami, which sealed the first losing season in 18 years for the program.
Holy shit, 5-5 Notre Dame got to play in the ORANGE BOWL? (EDIT: Ha, they didn't, it was just a regular season game. Carry on, this whole exercise is a lie!)
(16) 2012, 12-1: Barely beat Purdue. Barely beat BYU. Barely beat Pitt. "Hey, we went to the National Championship! How bad of a season can that even be!" Shut up. This was like watching someone win $50,000 at the blackjack table, cash out, and then dump all the money in the sewer.
(2) 2009, 6-6: It's the narrative arc that makes this such a laughable season, not the overall record. Embattled Charlie Weis knew the pressure was on, and Notre Dame needed to step up. They did so early on, going 4-1 to start the season with the only loss coming at the end of the Michigan game thanks to Tate Forcier. (No, really, Tate Forcier once played for a team. And did quarterback stuff and everything.)
The Fighting Irish lost to USC by seven points in Week 6 - not ideal, but respectable - and found themselves 6-2 and ranked 19th with four games left to play. Here are the results of those games:
- Home loss to Navy
- Road loss to #8 Pittsburgh
- Home loss to UConn
- Road loss to Stanford, and not Awesome Stanford, just Hey This Is Better Than Walt Harris Stanford
It was so bad they just decided not to play a bowl game at all. How dare you deny the American public the opportunity to see Charlie Weis lose his final game to Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl, Notre Dame. How dare you.
(15) 1996, 8-3: Not the worst, but possibly the weirdest Notre Dame season in recent memory. They beat eighth-ranked Texas on the road and number 16 Washington at home but lost their only other game against a ranked opponent, Ohio State. The other two losses came against 6-5 Air Force and 6-6 USC. But hey, 8-3 is still worth playing in a bowl game, right then-Athletic Director Mike Wadsworth?
"If the (opposing team) that is offered is ranked no higher than we are or unranked, I wouldn't see that as an opportunity to advance our program...Going to a bowl simply beause it would be an attractive place to spend a week would not be the reason. The (players and coaches) are not looking for a week on a beach somewhere. They're looking for a real opportunity."
Well, aren't we cheerful.
(3) 1956, 2-8: Notre Dame entered the season ranked #3 in the AP Poll, dropped their first game to SMU on the road, bounced back with a two touchdown win over Indiana...and then, WOOF. 1-7 the rest of the year, with the only other win coming over North Carolina. The only reason this season isn't ranked higher is because Paul Hornung won the Heisman Trophy. See, Heisman Trophy, you used to be edgy.
(14) 1965, 7-2-1: Ara Parseghian's second year as head coach was almost artistic in its erraticness. Notre Dame started the year ranked third and moved to number one after beating Cal on the road 48-6. They squandered that opportunity by losing at Purdue by four points the next week. Six straight wins later, the Irish were back up to number four and hosting top-ranked Michigan State. The Spartans won that game 12-3.
But the real prize was against a Miami team that was barely over .500 in the Orange Bowl: a 0-0 tie. It's like you weren't even taking it seriously, Ara.
(4) 2007, 3-9: Lord, just look at it. I don't have anything to add.
|1||Sep 1, 2007||Sat||Notre Dame||Georgia Tech||ACC||L||3||33||0||1||L 1|
|2||Sep 8, 2007||Sat||Notre Dame||@||(14) Penn State||Big Ten||L||10||31||0||2||L 2|
|3||Sep 15, 2007||Sat||Notre Dame||@||Michigan||Big Ten||L||0||38||0||3||L 3|
|4||Sep 22, 2007||Sat||Notre Dame||Michigan State||Big Ten||L||14||31||0||4||L 4|
|5||Sep 29, 2007||Sat||Notre Dame||@||Purdue||Big Ten||L||19||33||0||5||L 5|
|6||Oct 6, 2007||Sat||Notre Dame||@||UCLA||Pac-10||W||20||6||1||5||W 1|
|7||Oct 13, 2007||Sat||Notre Dame||(4) Boston College||ACC||L||14||27||1||6||L 1|
|8||Oct 20, 2007||Sat||Notre Dame||(13) Southern California||Pac-10||L||0||38||1||7||L 2|
|9||Nov 3, 2007||Sat||Notre Dame||Navy||Ind||L||44||46||1||8||L 3|
|10||Nov 10, 2007||Sat||Notre Dame||Air Force||MWC||L||24||41||1||9||L 4|
|11||Nov 17, 2007||Sat||Notre Dame||Duke||ACC||W||28||7||2||9||W 1|
|12||Nov 24, 2007||Sat||Notre Dame||@||Stanford||Pac-10||W||21||14||3||9||W 2|
(13) 2013, 9-4: Tommy Rees threw 1,048 passes in his four years at Notre Dame. The first was an interception against Michigan. The last was an eight yard completion to a running back. In these two plays, you have the entire span of the Tommy Rees era, and 2013 was unquestionably his season.
(5) 2001, 5-6: These are the coaches Bob Davie lost to in his last year at Notre Dame: Frank Solich, Bobby Williams, R.C. Slocum, Tom O'Brien, Phil Fulmer, and Ty Willingham. It's that loss to Willingham and Stanford that's really special, if you ask me, because Arnaz Battle, Carlyle Holliday, and Matt Lovecchio combined to throw 20 passes and only complete two of them. (kisses fingers) That's vintage Davie, people.
(12) 1998, 9-3: Tied for Bob Davie's best single-season record with Notre Dame, and, somehow, just a totally meaningless season. The Irish started the year by beating reigning national champion Michigan, then lost to a Michigan State team that wound up 6-6. That was followed by an eight game winning streak, which was followed by a shutout loss to Paul "Nobody Remembers I Coached At USC" Hackett, which was followed by a loss to George O'Leary in the Gator Bowl.
Preseason ranking: 22. Final ranking: 22. Nothing is real, progress is a mirage, forward is backward.
(6) 2003, 5-7: The impressive thing about some of these Ty Willingham teams was that they wouldn't just lose, they'd get slaughtered. Four of these losses were by at least 25 points, including a 38-12 beating by Paul Pasqualoni's Syracuse team. Dude, you just CAN'T get beat that badly by Paul Pasqualoni. I don't even mean you shouldn't. I mean it doesn't seem mathematically feasible.
(11) 1933, 3-5-1: Negatives - lost to Purdue, lost to Navy, tied Kansas, lost to Carnegie Mellon. Positives - beat Northwestern, beat Army, head coach was named Hunk Anderson.
(7) 1994, 6-5-1: One year removed from an 11-1 season that was only imperfect because of a last second field goal by Boston College, Notre Dame took a preseason #4 ranking and 1. lost to Boston College again, 2. lost to BYU at home, 3. with a 17-17 tie, failed to beat USC for the first time since 1982, and 4. got hammered by Kordell Stewart and Colorado in the IBM OS/2 Fiesta Bowl. (Again, it's appalling how we used to let terrible Notre Dame teams play in good bowl games. Thank you for changing that, Pinstripe Bowl.)
(10) 1986, 5-6: There's no way Notre Dame media/fans didn't look at the 1-4 start in Lou Holtz's first year and think "SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT." Especially the 10-9 loss to Pittsburgh that accounted for that fourth loss. Oh, and Rodney Peete totally had that first down.
(8) 1960, 2-8: Beat Cal to start the season and rose to twelfth in the rankings. Lost their next eight games before ending the season with a win at USC. Only ranked this low because the head coach, Joe Kuharich, had a certain gangsta reflected in his chosen hat angle:
(9) 1983, 7-5: The only Notre Dame season to end in the Liberty Bowl. It doesn't matter that they won that game. It's 1980s Memphis. They definitely didn't win.
Please note: there is no voting in this bracket because this is all just a thin excuse to rile Golden Domers. Go on, get riled, Domers! You know it's your favorite.