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.