Dec. 2, 2002
Notre Dame has beaten as many teams ranked in the current Associated Press top 25 poll as any other team in the country:
*4 by Notre Dame (#21 Maryland, #13 Michigan, #25 Pittsburgh, #16 Florida State) and Miami (#23 Florida,
#16 Florida State, #15 West Virginia, #25 Pittsburgh)
*3 by Ohio State (#7 Washington State, #10 Penn State, #13 Michigan), Oklahoma (#14 Alabama, #9 Texas, #12 Colorado) and USC (#20 Auburn, #12 Colorado, #11 Notre Dame)
*2 by Iowa (#10 Penn State, #13 Michigan) and Georgia (#23 Florida, #20 Auburn)
*1 by Kansas State (#5 USC), Washington State (#5 USC) and Texas (#6 Kansas State)
This marks the first time since 1992 the Irish have beaten four ranked opponents in one year. Notre Dame itself spent 10 straight weeks in the AP top 10, the first time an Irish team accomplished that since a 16-week stretch in 1993-94.
Notre Dame’s 10 regular-season wins mark its most since 1993 (when the Irish finished 11-1 with a Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M) and the most in Notre Dame history by a first-year Irish coach. The Irish have won 11 games only six times in history, the last time in 1993.
Notre Dame already has doubled its victory total from the 2001 season (5-6 record). It’s the biggest one-season improvement in the victory column since 1964 when Ara Parseghian’s first Notre Dame team finished 9-1 compared to 2-7 in ’63. The Irish are 6-1 in games decided by eight points or less, tying the all-time Notre Dame record for wins in that category.
Among Notre Dame’s most decorated individuals this season include:
? First-team All-America cornerback Shane Walton (he ranks sixth nationally in interceptions with seven after tying the single-game Irish record with three vs. Maryland)-one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Year Award by the Football Writers Association of America
? Linebacker Courtney Watson (he’s Notre Dame’s leading tackler with 90, despite missing the first two games of the season), one of three finalists for the Butkus Award that goes to the top linebacker in the country
? Center Jeff Faine, a finalist for the Dave Rimington Award as the top center in the nation (he also was a Lombardi Award semifinalist)
Notre Dame’s October victories at Air Force (then ranked #18) and at Florida State (then ranked #11) marked the first time in history the Irish defeated ranked opponents on successive Saturdays in the opponent stadium.
Notre Dame’s team defense has been outstanding, with the Irish ranking 6th in scoring defense (15.75 points) in NCAA national statistics, 7th in pass efficiency defense (95.20) rating, 11th in rushing defense (98.00) and 13th in total defense (298.58 yards). Notre Dame has scored four times on interception returns, twice on fumble returns and once each on a kickoff, punt return and blocked punt. Vontez Duff is the first Notre Dame player ever to return an interception (Purdue), a kickoff (Navy) and a punt (Maryland) for TDs in the same season. In 12 games (84 possessions) Notre Dame permitted only six offensive touchdowns in the first half of games.
Here’s how some of Notre Dame’s current team averages rank against recent Irish numbers:
— 98.0 in rushing defense is best since 89.6 in 1993
— 15.75 in scoring defense is best since 15.3 in 1989
— 298.58 in total defense is best since 270.0 in 1996
Notre Dame has kept seven of 12 opponents below the 100-yard mark for team rushing (bests of 14 by Rutgers, 16 by Maryland after averaging 220.73 in ’01). Only one Irish opponent has reached its rushing average against the Irish – with Air Force (then leading the nation with a 339.17 average) managing only 104 and Florida State (then averaging 230.71) managing 93. Those numbers came despite the fact the Irish faced seven teams ranked among the top 50 nationally in rushing when they played Notre Dame.
Notre Dame’s offense features:
? One of the top single-season pass receivers in Irish history (Arnaz Battle with 48 receptions, currently fifth on the single-season list)
? The seventh 1,000-yard rusher in Notre Dame history (Ryan Grant with 1,017 yards, including four 100-yard games and three others with 90 or more yards)
? Improved quarterback Carlyle Holiday whose completion total (126) ranks among the top 10 single-season figures in Notre Dame history while he has thrown only five interceptions (he threw for a career-high 272 yards vs. Navy and ties the all-time Notre Dame record for with four TD passes vs. Rutgers). Holiday in 2002 set the all-time Notre Dame record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception (126), breaking Steve Beuerlein’s record of 119 from 1985.
Notre Dames kicking game has been outstanding in 2002, with punter Joey Hildbold 29 times depositing punts inside the opponent 20-yard line, 11 times inside the 10. Kicker Nicholas Setta has a current string of 87 PATs on his resume -and also boasts 35 career field goals (fourth all-time at Notre Dame), including 12 in 2002 -five of them vs. Maryland.
Notre Dame in 2002 played eight teams that are now bowl eligible:
#21 Maryland – 10-3
Purdue – 6-6
#13 Michigan – 9-3
#25 Pittsburgh – 8-4
Air Force – 8-4
#16 Florida State – 9-4 (ACC champion, will play in BCS game)
Boston College – 8-4
#5 USC – 10-2 (Pacific-10 co-champion, at least)
Ticket demand for home games is such that all of the top 10 figures for demand for contributing alumni tickets have come in games between 1997 and 2002, including the Boston College and Michigan games in 2002 (they ranked third and fourth in Notre Dame history in terms of demand).
Away from home, Notre Dame has played before four record-setting crowds the last two seasons- with games in 2002 at Air Force and Florida State and in 2001 at Nebraska and Texas A&M establishing all-time records for those facilities. The Notre Dame game at Michigan in 1999 drew, at the time, the largest regular-season crowd in NCAA history. Meanwhile, Notre Dame has played in front of 166 straight sellout crowds at Notre Dame Stadium and 214 sellouts in the last 215 home games dating back to 1966.
ESPN’s telecast of the 2002 Notre Dame-Air Force game drew a 4.07 rating making it the network’s highest-rated, regular-season college football game in three years (since Notre Dame-Tennessee in ’99).
NBC Sports achieved a 3.1 national rating (8 share) for its six telecasts of Notre Dame home games in 2002 – representing a 29 percent increase from 2001. That represented the largest increase among broadcast networks in 2002 (ABC was up 13 percent, CBS up 7 percent).
Notre Dame has sold more than 120,000 of the bright green “Return to Glory” shirts as part of a student activities project that raises money for charity. The initial run of 44,000 shirts sold out in six weeks.