Notre Dame enjoys rare undefeated regular season as they await playoff berth

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 24: Notre Dame (10) Chris Finke (WR) celebrates after an Irish touchdown in the fourth quarter during a college football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans on November 24, 2018, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

SOUTH BEND – It might have been the dead of night, but Notre Dame Stadium was lit up in celebration like it never had before.

That’s because the video boards have only been in the 88-year old venue for a couple of years, and since then the Irish haven’t pulled off what their 2018 team did on Saturday night.

Following a win over USC in Los Angeles, Notre Dame went to 12-0 on the regular season, completing a rare undefeated season in this generation of Irish football.

So the University celebrated by putting the accomplishment in their iconic stadium – immediately.

The blue light of the scoreboard lit up the empty stadium just after Midnight on Sunday, starting the celebration not long after the 24-17 victory over the Trojans on the West Coast.

At 12-0, the Irish completed just their second perfect regular season since their last National Championship in 1988. Only in 2012 had Notre Dame run the table. The 1993 Notre Dame team got a game away but lost the finale to Boston College, just as the 1989 Irish squad, both would whom would finish second in the polls.

Brian Kelly will get the chance to change that, and perhaps end the school’s 30-year championship drought. With the win, Notre Dame clinched their first College Football Playoff berth, with their seeding to be determined based on the conference championships this weekend.

“It’s hard to win 12 games,” said Kelly of the season. “There are so many things out there that can distract not only kids but coaches. I’m just really pleased and proud of my football team and everybody that is associated and everybody that’s associated with it.”

It completes a two-year turnaround for Kelly and his football program, which was in a bit of limbo in 2016 after a 4-8 record. That included a decisive 45-27 loss to USC where it appeared that the coach’s job might be a bit in jeopardy.

But a strong 2017 season (10-3) gave the program a boost that continued through 2018. Even a quarterback switch from Brandon Wimbush to Ian Book couldn’t stop the Notre Dame momentum as they went onto nine-straight victories after starting 3-0.

“We didn’t reinvent the wheel here. We got our players to play at a higher level with better execution,” said Kelly of the turnaround. “So behind the scenes, we did make some tweaks, but the players need to get…they’ve won 22 of 25 games on the backs of players making plays.”

Now they’ll need two more games full of those to pick up the elusive championship. One thing Kelly believes could have his Irish ready for the challenge is his team’s response to a difficult travel schedule late in the season, which they navigated a number of long trips to remain undefeated.

“We’re like a ‘On Broadway’ show. We open in a city near you,” said Kelly of the Irish. “We were in New York last week, Chicago, San Diego. Travel affects people, and it doesn’t affect this group. So if you give us a little bit of a rest and allow us to play in a neutral site, I think we’ll play even better.”

That’s encouraging, considering the team couldn’t have been any better in the regular season.