Saturday’s 35-14 win over #14 North Carolina State capped the most dominant display by Notre Dame against ranked teams in the last fifteen years. The week before, The Irish dispatched then #11 USC by thirty-five points, 49-14. These back-to-back wins over ranked opponents are also the rather luscious cherry on top of a six-game winning streak that dates back to Week Three versus Boston College. Like it or not, you’re watching the best Notre Dame team in recent memory.
I graduated in 1994, so I got to watch some pretty amazing games in the stadium. The 1990 win over Michigan, my first as a student, put Rick Mirer on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The 1992 win over Penn State, also known as The Snow Bowl. And, of course, 1993’s triumph over FSU, the first Game of the Century. This team, the 2017 Fighting Irish, reminds me, in almost every way, of that 1993 team. Thank goodness we’ve already played B.C.
By beating #11 USC by 35 and #14 NC State by 21, The 2017 Fighting Irish put their mark on history. You won’t find more dominant back-to-back wins in the last fifteen years, if at all. Maybe the last two games of the ‘88 season were the best ever. But that was another era. And single-game performances, like the ’93 Florida State game or the time we crushed American College of Medicine and Surgery 149-0, don’t count.
Fact of the matter is, there aren’t a lot of back-to-back wins over ranked teams in Notre Dame history. In 2012, The Irish defeated Michigan State (#10) 20-3 and then beat Michigan (#18) by a score of 13-6. Perhaps the most impressive performance by a pre-2017 Notre Dame team under Brian Kelly was the 30-13 win over Oklahoma (#8), but that was followed by the three OT nail-biter against Pittsburgh, which The Irish stole, 29-26.
You can argue that the wins over Pitt (#23) and Michigan (#3) in 2005 compare, but they don’t surpass 2017’s. Under Charlie Weis, The Irish beat Pitt 42-21, a margin of +20, and Michigan by +7. Against Pitt, Notre Dame allowed 220 yards through the air and 103 yards rushing. The Irish passed for 275 yards and ran for 227. Against Michigan, The Irish allowed 114 yards rushing and 223 receiving yards, while only putting up 104 rushing yards and 140 yards receiving.
Against NC State’s sixth-ranked rushing defense on Saturday, your 2017 Fighting Irish put up 318 rushing yards. I told you they would, by the way. Throw in, pun intended, 104 passing yards, and The Irish managed 422 total yards against a highly-regarded defense. Against The Trojans, Notre Dame was even more impressive, putting up 377 yards on the ground and 120 through the air. Defensively, The Irish stifled USC and its wunderkind quarterback, by completely taking away their ground game. Notre Dame gave up just 76 rushing yards.
The oldest, in the fifteen years I looked at, back-to-back pair of wins came in 2002. That year, Notre Dame defeated Air Force (#18) 21-14 and then beat Florida State (#11) 34-24. 2002 Air Force just doesn’t compare to The Wolfpack or The Trojans of 2017. And, while 2002’s Florida State does, the margin of victory just isn’t there in 2002.
Looking forward, Notre Dame plays Wake Forest on Saturday and then travels to what should be the Game of the Century of the Week against top ten (five?) Miami. If The Irish win the next two games, and you can throw margin of victory out the window at that point, it will be the best four-game performance by Notre Dame ever.