TOM COYNE, Associated Press
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Big games have meant one thing in recent years for Notre Dame: losses. Big losses. Really big losses.
The Fighting Irish, who last won a national championship 26 years ago, haven’t beaten a top-ranked team since 1993. They haven’t beaten a No. 2-ranked team since 1990.
And they are 1-16 overall against top five teams dating back to 1998 — losing those games by an average of nearly 23 points. Only two losses were by fewer than 13 points.
Notre Dame’s only victory came in 2005 against third-ranked Michigan in Charlie Weis’ first year as coach; that Wolverines’ team finished the season 7-5 and unranked.
Every time the Irish look as though they’re close to being back on top, they have been exposed — including double-digit losses in the Fiesta Bowl in 2001 and 2006, the 2007 Sugar Bowl and the 42-14 drubbing by Alabama in the national championship two seasons ago.
Fifth-ranked Notre Dame (6-0) is hoping to change that when it faces No. 2 Florida State (6-0) on Saturday.
“That’s how you’re measured as a program when you’re talking top five teams,” coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “Those are the games that you want to win, certainly.
“But I think before I got here, I don’t know that we had a top 25 win, so we’re moving up the ladder and certainly want to get to that point where we’re talking about beating top five.”
There hasn’t been much fight in the Irish since Lou Holtz left in 1996. And before Kelly arrived in 2010, Notre Dame had lost 10 straight games to ranked teams over the previous four seasons.
Under Kelly, the Irish are 8-7 against ranked opponents, with half those victories during the 12-0 regular season in 2012. But he’s 0-2 at Notre Dame against top five teams and 0-4 overall as a head coach.
The Notre Dame coach who fared best against top five opponents was Frank Leahy, posting an 11-2 record between 1941 and 1953, missing two seasons because of World War II. Holtz has the second-best record at 12-8, including going 12-3 between 1988 and 1995.
Holtz said during a telephone interview that he was so successful against ranked opponents because he set high expectations.
“It’s not rocket science. It isn’t about the coaches. Give your players something they can do and demand they do it. That’s all,” he said.
Kelly said there’s no secret to beating top teams — it’s just about winning.
“You get yourself in it consistently, and then you breakthrough and you start playing at that caliber,” he said.
“I think it’s a process and a journey that we’re on as a program. And we expect to beat Florida State.”
Oddsmakers don’t necessarily agree, as Notre Dame is a 12-point underdog against the Seminoles. But the Irish have surprised Las Vegas before.
The fifth-ranked team was 11.5-point underdogs at No. 8 Oklahoma in 2012, and won 30-13. They were even bigger underdogs — 21.5 points — in the 20-6 win over UCLA in 2007, when the Irish lost their first five games and finished the season 3-9.
Not surprisingly, Holtz is not only predicting a win, but a relatively easily one.
“I think they’ll win by at least 10,” Holtz said. “I don’t say that to put pressure on Notre Dame, but I think Notre Dame is a better football team than Florida State. ”
Kelly said he doesn’t believe a loss in Tallahassee will end Notre Dame’s playoff hopes.
“It’s an important game for us. I don’t think our kids look at it as a make-or-break kind of scenario,” he said.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)