I thought we would win the National Championship in 1988
During the '88 Michigan game, when a drunken senior was ripping on Lou and Tony Rice, I told him to STFU and that he should not bother buying a National Championship T-Shirt at the end of the season. My (other) long winded explanation is set forth below in response to another post.
Suffice it to say, I don't feel that way now.
Another thing to note about 1987. Although playing what was easily the toughest schedule in the country, as of late November we were 8-1 and ranked 7th in the country. There was a still an albeit unlikely path to the National Championship if we won out.
Earlier we had beaten a then Top 10 Michigan team 26-7 in Ann Arbor, handing Bo his first ever loss in a home opener in the most lopsided victory over them in several decades. We then shut out the eventual Big 10 and Rose Bowl Champs MSU 31-0 for 59 minutes, before Andre Rison got a cheap TD against our second string. After an easy win over Purdue, we had a bad loss to a Pitt team that was pretty fired up for a home night game on ESPN against their former coach as DC, while Lou said we were the flattest team he ever saw. It was 27-0 Pitt at half time and our starting QB had broken his collarbone towards the end of the half. The defense adjusted and gave up only 3 points in the second half. Tony Rice stepped in and got us 22 points. Unfortunately, time ran out at the Pitt 42 with us driving for what could have been the tying TD. We got to change in a lockerroom flooded with 6 inches of water, followed by a most depressing and quiet flight home.
We bounced back with 5 straight wins against Air Force, eventual PAC-10 champs USC, BC, Navy and a then top 10 Alabama team which we beat 37-6. We then had to finish the season at Penn State (the defending National Champs) and at Miami (the eventual National Champs).
Actually, I'll let Lou take it from here, from his book "Wins, Losses and Lessons". Referring to Pitt, he states:
"The final score was 30-22, a hard loss, but one in which we learned a lot about what kind of football team we had, and discovered an offensive leader in Tony Rice, a man who would become one of the all-time greats in Notre Dame history."
"We won our next five games with Tony taking snaps, and Tim Brown proved to be the best player in college football. Where we had come close to winning in 1986, we won decisively in 1987, defeating Air Force, USC, Navy and Boston College and Alabama by a combined total of 186-73. With two games remaining, we found ourselves ranked seventh in the country. The national championship was a long shot, but if we beat Penn State and Miami in our final two games and won a bowl game, anything could happen."
"Unfortunately, I made a mistake at State College that cost us any shot at that championship. During what was as cold and windy a day as I can remember inside Beaver Stadium at Penn State..." [He goes on to describe how he put Kent Graham in a bad position by subbing him in for Tony Rice at the Penn State 4 yard line just before halftime, at which point PSU intercepted Kent's pass and we got no points in a game we eventually lost by 1 point. He also explains how the wind negated Tim Brown that day, as it was "virtually impossible to complete a pass that afternoon."]
OK, me again. IMHO, our senior dominated team was utterly demoralized after the Penn State loss and the resultant loss of a chance at the NC. I attended my father's wake as a 9 year old, and the plane ride home from Penn State was even more somber. Nonetheless, we had to play the eventual NC's in Miami a week later and it was, as others describe, ugly, although Foge somehow kept it to 10-0 at halftime while the offense sputtered. The second half of the Cotton Bowl was also a miserable experience after Tim Brown got tossed over the towel incident.
I had great hope for 1988, because, among other things, 1987 had proven that we had the ability to not only beat good teams such as Michigan, MSU and Alabama, but we could destroy them. We had come a long way from 58-7. Had we not loss to Penn State on a missed 2 point conversion, I think we would have given Miami a much better game and would not have had the lingering mental issues that resulted in the Cotton Bowl experience. These were things that could be fixed with a new season, with a new set of goals, by a team that clearly already possessed the ability to kick the crap out of some good teams. It also didn't hurt that our schedule was going to go from the toughest to what would turn out to be the 25th toughest in 1988, with Miami and Michigan at home. We had a ton of talent coming back, that would be supplemented by our second consecutive No. 1 recruiting class that was simply off the charts.
Just one man's opinion. I'm obviously more than a little biased.