Much is made of each game holding such great importance during the college football season. But everyone knows that games in November carry a little extra weight.
For Notre Dame, the second to last month has been very unkind for many years. From Bob Davie and his 11-7 record to Tyrone Willingham (6-5) through Charlie Weis (10-11 with losses in eight of his last nine), November has been sheer misery for the Irish football program.
When Brian Kelly was hired, though, there initially seemed to be a change. In his first game in November as the ND head coach, the Irish upset No. 15 Utah on their way to a 3-0 end to the regular season. After Kelly's first three years at the helm, Notre Dame was 11-1 in November. Though a case could be made that they were not playing their best football at the close of either 2011 or '12, 11-1 was 11-1 and considering what had occurred in November the previous 13 years, there was little room for complaint.
But following the run to the title game in 2012, Notre Dame regressed back to struggling when the calendar changes to November. There were four straight losses to end the 2014 season and last year’s disaster saw a 1-3 record in the regular season’s final month. With the loss to Miami on Saturday night, the Irish are now 8-11 in over the past four-plus Novembers.
A couple of things make the recent recession even more troubling. First, many of the eight wins have felt unsatisfying. In 2013, sitting at 6-2 with a chance to climb up the rankings the week after drilling Air Force, Notre Dame opened November by struggling to get by another option team in Navy. The next week the Irish lost at Pitt. It was Navy again in 2014 that gave them trouble in a game following the tight loss to No. 2 Florida State. And uninspired performances against Wake Forest and Boston College only hurt Notre Dame’s stock in 2015.
Also, in 2015 and again this year, Notre Dame was in great position to make a run at the College Football Playoff when as October came to a close. But both times, with everything on the line, the Irish fell flat in November and were eliminated from the chase.
Kelly made significant changes to the staff this year and the hope was that 2017 would be different. Specifically, the alteration of the strength and conditioning program was supposed to make the Irish a stronger team mentally and physically both at the end of games and the end of the year. With their lackluster defensive performance against Wake Forest and the egg that was laid in Miami, the early results are not positive.
But let’s not close the book just yet. How this team responds the rest of the way will go a long way in determining the direction of the Notre Dame football program. Do the Irish hang their heads now that they are out of playoff contention? Does that lead to a middling effort against Navy and a loss at Stanford, putting them in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Florida, or the like? Or do they respond angry, much like Ohio State did this past Saturday, winning both games and closing with a big victory in a New Year’s Six Bowl?
The Irish will not be winning the national title this year. But how they finish their most irritating month will set the perception of Notre Dame going forward.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.