Just for fun -- shooting for the top ...
Junior and I were discussing last night the post-Leahy era at Notre Dame, and how infrequent greatness has been.
Of course, one of the points of contention is how greatness is defined. Although he and I see these things pretty similarly, we still disagree about subjective labels from time to time.
So I went back to see how Notre Dame had done in the final AP rankings since 1954 (Terry Brennan's first season). I used AP rankings because they were the first of the major polls to take their final poll after the bowl games, so for consistency's sake, I used them throughout. Readers should also remember that for reasons unknown to me, the AP listed only a top 10 between '62 and '67, and that the poll was a top 20 from '54 through '88 ('62-'67 excluded), and then became a top 25 poll starting in '89 through the present. That, of course, means that it wasn't necessarily as damning to be unranked in seasons when the final poll included only 10 or 20 teams as it is today.
I have no problem in saying that a top-five finish is a "great" season; I might even be persuaded to label a top-10 season "great." So I've provided data for top-four finishes (current playoff format, although I realize the polls were taken after bowls, unlike the current playoff selection process), top-five finishes, top-10 finishes, and unranked finishes.
In any event, here are some of the findings:
In the 60 seasons starting with 1954, through 2013, Notre Dame has:
four national championships
11 top-four finishes (these data are cumulative throughout, meaning that each number includes higher finishes -- in other words, in this instances, it's not four NC's plus 11 different teams that finished in the top 4; it's 11 top-four finishers, four of which won NC's)
14 top-5 finishes
22 top-10 finishes
35 top-20 finishes
36 top-25 finishes (I'm looking at you, Boob (1998))
24 unranked teams (again, that meant different things in different seasons, based upon the number of teams in the final poll)
one top-four finish
three top-10 finishes
one unranked team out of five seasons (Brian Kelly should be glad that Moose Krause is dead)
one ranked team (17 in '59, his first season) in four seasons
Hugh Devore, redux
not ranked in 1963
two national championships and nine top-10 teams in 11 seasons
let that sink in for a minute
in addition to his two title teams, Ara had two other top-four (presumed playoff) teams
On top of all that, he is the finest man I've ever met that's been associated in any way with Notre Dame athletics.
1 national championship and two other top 10 teams in six seasons
he had two teams finish outside the polls (1975 and 1979)
jackshit in five seasons, but nobody ever pretended to love Notre Dame more while fucking over his assistants and players than Gerry
1 national championship in 11 seasons and the biggest screw job in NCAA history by being denied a second national championship in either 1989 (lost to #1 head-to-head, same # of losses) or 1993 (defeated #1 head-to-head, same # of losses)
three additional top-four seasons (presumed playoffs), in addition to the '88 champs
five total top-10 teams; two unranked teams ('86 and '94)
a #15 and a #22 ranking in five seasons; three other teams NR
eight straight wins to start his career, before it all went downhill from there ... except, of course, John Saunders' erection, which persists to this day ...
#17 in 2002 and NR's the rest of the way, including in recruiting rankings
#9 out of the box in 2005
#17 in 2006
Tradition Never Graduates and Neither Does ND Payroll
in four complete seasons
1 top-four team
#20 in 2013
2 NR's (his first two seasons ... 2014 pending)
In summary, assuming that a final top-four finish roughly translates into a playoff berth, ND would have made the playoffs 18 percent of the time since 1954 ... or a little less frequently than once every five seasons.
We were a top five team 23.3 percent of the time. (Just for fun -- and I realize that this is a crude "predictor" of playoff teams -- just think about all the wailing and gnashing of teeth those three times we finished at #5)
We were a top 10 team 36.7 percent of the time.
And that's while employing Kuharich, Devore, Faust, Davie, Willingham and Weis for 23 of those 60 seasons (38.3 percent)!
If you calculate the percentages when we employed competent coaches, and because I respect Terry Brennan and gadomer, I'll include Brennan and Kelly among the competent, here are the numbers:
national champs -- 4/37, 10.8 percent
top-four (playoff) -- 11/37 -- 29.7 percent (hey! you really do get one playoff team for every four years of paid tuition!)
top-five -- 14/37 -- 37.8 percent
top-10 -- 22/37 -- 59.4 percent
NOTRE DAME FINISHES IN THE TOP 10 MORE THAN HALF THE TIME WITH COMPETENT COACHING, WHICH FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS EXERCISE INCLUDES TERRY BRENNAN AND BRIAN KELLY
Unranked teams -- 7/37, and three of those belong to Brennan (one) and Kelly; Devine and Holtz had two apiece, although Devine's first team was unrakned in the final AP top 20 but 17 in the final UPI top 20.
The seeming onslaught of horrific losses since Holtz left had me convinced that Notre Dame had lost a lot of games to teams with losing records.
So I decided to check it out. And when I learned that Brennan only lost twice to teams with losing records (both in the 2-8 Hornung Heisman season of 1956), I was certain that would compare favorably with some of our more recent heroes.
Not exactly. Here you go ....
Brennan (2) -- SMU and Purdue in '56
Ara (1) -- Purdue, in his final season, 1974
Devine (2) -- Georgia Tech in '76 and Ole Miss in the '77 national championship seasosn
Faust (3) -- Purdue in '81, MSU in '83 and Purdue in '85 -- hey, Gerry wins the prize!
Holtz (1) -- Stanford in '90
Davie (3) -- Stanford in '97, Pitt in '99 and MSU in '00 -- keeping up with Gerry
Tyrone (1) -- BYU in '04 -- I knew we didn't give this guy enough time!
Chuckles (3) -- MSU in '05, Syracuse in '08 (that should count for two, at least) and Michigan in '09 (that should count for 10)
Kelly (1) -- USF in '11
I looked at those losses back in 2008
and determined that Syracuse '08 was the worst team ever to beat ND in football. SU finished 3-9, and was 1-9 against FBS teams other than ND. (The win came against Louisville, who was 4-7 vs. FBS teams that year.)
This year's Northwestern team is 4-6, but was just 2-6 vs. FBS teams before upsetting ND. NU could scrape their way back to .500, but they're a 1-point underdog at Purdue this week.
Mildly interesting note on 2007 ....
We played nine teams with winning records and lost them all.
We played three teams with losing records and won them all.
Somehow, that seems appropriate.
Brennan is the one ND coach let go after 5 years
who has a serious case to be made that he wasn't given enough time. Brennan's 5-year WP (32-18, .640) was higher than that of all the other coaches shown the door at or before the end of year 5, and he's the only one of that group to have had 3 teams finish in the AP final top 10. One wonders what Brennan might have done if given more time and resources (scholarships were reduced drastically and voluntarily by ND during his tenure). We'll never really know, because Brennan never had another head coaching job after leaving ND, despite still only being 30 years old. In fact, he's still alive, and is four years younger than Ara.
Brennan certainly was "competent," and arguably could've proven himself better than that. Kelly is competent too, even if he makes incompetent decisions far too frequently, with the latest barrage coming last Saturday. Your analysis is very fair and right on target.
Sorry, Sherm, completely wrong on Brennan
You're a marvelous font of info and informed opinion on RH, but you've gone unnecessarily gaga on our first high school coach.
My bona fides for saying this: I matriculated as a freshman the same year Brennan matriculated as a college coach. We freshmen succeeded in graduating in 4 years and moved on; Brennan failed in 5 years and was properly booted.
What little success Brennan had came in his first two years: he had a huge carryover of Frank Leahy's lads, and they carried him to a strong two seasons, despite his inexperience. So a large % of his victories are really attributable to Leahy, not Brennan.
After that it was all downhill for Brennan. He did benefit from having Paul Hornung win the Heisman in his senior year, but the team's record that year was 2-7 (miraculous coincidence that Paul could win the trophy on a team so badly coached).
The students strongly wished him gone long before he was dismissed. As a matter of fact, he coming in as a high school coach (Chicago Catholic League) was the perfect antecedent of Gerry Faust, and Brennan at the end of his tenure received about as much respect as Faust did at the end of his. The FB restrictions enacted while Brennan was there had little or nothing to do with his failure; like Faust, he just wasn't ready for the big time right out of HS coaching.
The only real fun we had with Brennan around was when he had Hornung. Paul was quite a party animal. There were severe student rules in those days, including not being able to leave dorms after curfew each evening. Paul's evening usually began about at curfew, and he would take the screen off his dorm window and head to places like Cal City (sin city of the time). The Prefect of Discipline at ND (now there's an outmoded role) at the time was Father McCarragher. His chosen mission was to catch Paul sneaking out at night. He roamed the campus with flashlight in hand, searching for the wandering Hornung so he could ground him. McCarragher's handle on campus thus was "The Sneakin' Deacon with a Beacon." (Usually never quite caught up with Paul).