The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team lost to USC on Saturday. The final score was 45-27 in the Trojans’ favor. Notre Dame finished the year with four wins, which happens to be half the number of Notre Dame’s losses.
Indeed, Notre Dame’s final record was 4-8.
While Notre Dame was going 4-8, the Irish struggled all year to do much of anything right. In the process of going 4-8, head coach Brian Kelly had a rough go of things and often blamed other people, including the early-season firing of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, which didn’t ultimately prevent Notre Dame from going 4-8.
Notre Dame wasn’t always 4-8, and in fact wasn’t 4-8 until Saturday, when it lost its last game of the year. At other points, the Fighting Irish were 0-1, and 1-3, and 2-5, and plenty of other waypoints. The road to 4-8 is not always a straight line. But it is the Irish’s worst record since they went 3-9 in 2007 under Charlie Weis.
Better days are probably ahead. Notre Dame won’t be 4-8 forever. But for 2016, that’ll be the number, hyphen, and other number that shows up on the tombstone.
Notre Dame went 4-8.
How does this happen? A bunch of things go a little bit worse than you thought.
The reason it’s cute to joke about Notre Dame’s record is that teams with Notre Dame’s history and talent aren’t supposed to post that record. For a team like Notre Dame that’s laden with blue-chip talent to lose eight games, a lot has to fail at once. In 2016, that’s exactly what happened.
There wasn’t one particular thing about Notre Dame that broke bad. The offense was incrementally worse than last year, going from 34 points per game to 31. The defense was, too, going from 24 allowed to 28. Those are notable declines, and a 10-point average scoring margin falling to a 3-point margin is pretty significant. In a way, it’s shocking Notre Dame even scored more points than it allowed.
On another hand, it’s a sign of bad luck. Advanced stats suggest Notre Dame was a seven-win team based on how it played this year. That’s a lot worse than the 10-win version of the Irish that played last year, but it’s a lot better than the 4-8 lemon this year’s team turned out to be.
It’s not hard to imagine a few games having gone differently. Remember that slip-n-slide of a hurricane game at NC State? Or that dramatic loss to Texas that we were all so sure meant something? Those were toss-ups that didn’t go their way. Then again, they almost frittered away a 20-point lead against Miami, so it cuts both ways. It just cut against them more often than it didn’t.
The true caliber of this team is somewhere between what it was last year and what it was this year. But the record is the record.
Where do things go next? We’ll see, but Notre Dame’s eventually going to be OK.
Regardless of what becomes of Kelly this year or any other year, Notre Dame’s not going to stop having talented players. Star quarterback DeShone Kizer will probably turn pro after this, his junior year, but Notre Dame’s got a lot in the pipeline. The current roster is in the top 10 nationally by recruiting-ranked talent.
Of course, the fact that Notre Dame face-planted so hard with all that ability means Kelly did something wrong. He’ll have to fix it, or Notre Dame will find someone who will.