Clemson laid waste to Notre Dame in the Playoff’s Cotton Bowl semifinal on Saturday, 30-3. The Irish were 10.5-point underdogs against a superior team, so the loss wasn’t surprising. Star cornerback Julian Love’s first-half injury absence probably sealed their fate.
The loss continues a trend that’s brutal if you’re a Notre Dame fan and probably funny if you’re a fan of literally anyone else. The Irish moved to 0-6 in BCS, New Year’s Six, and College Football Playoff bowl games, and their futility in big bowl games really stretches back even farther than that.
They haven’t won a top-tier bowl since the 1993 season’s Cotton Bowl. Since then, when they’ve gotten to big bowls, they’ve known only disappointment. Let’s stroll down Memory Lane and rank the Irish’s last eight appearances in these games, all losses.
1. The 2012 season’s BCS Championship against Alabama, which the NCAA later vacated
The final score: 42-14 (or just nothing, per the NCAA).
Why it was devastating: The Irish had a magic carpet ride of a season. Linebacker Manti Te’o almost won the Heisman Trophy. Quarterback Everett Golson and running back Theo Riddick led a fun offense. They survived some scares, most notably an overtime game at home against Pitt that required the Panthers to miss a short field goal that would’ve ended the BCS run before it began. Then they ran into a total buzzsaw of an Alabama team. Also, Te’o’s season wound up being remembered for, uh, not his great play. Also, none of this happened, because the NCAA made Notre Dame shed its record from that year.
2. The 2018 season’s Cotton Bowl semifinal against Clemson
The final score: 30-3.
Why it was devastating: It was Notre Dame’s first Playoff appearance ever. The Irish had an honest-to-goodness chance to win the national championship, or at least compete in this game and shut up a lot of the folks who complained about their schedule strength and the ease of their path without a conference championship game. Instead, they never got off the ground and lost a blowout that only gave more juice to their critics.
3. The 1995 season’s Orange Bowl against Florida State
The final score: 31-26.
Why it was devastating: Most of the losses in this list were blowouts, as you’ve already seen and will continue to see as you scroll down. So this one deserves special placement, because the Irish actually came close to victory. The Seminoles scored 17 in the fourth quarter to deny Notre Dame what had become an increasingly likely upset. This one comes from before college football had an official system to set aside important bowl games, but the Orange has long been one of the biggest, and the Irish fell flat in it.
4. The 2000 season’s Fiesta Bowl against Oregon State
The final score: 41-9.
Why it was devastating: The Irish were 3-point underdogs. They lost by 32.
5. The 2006 season’s Sugar Bowl against LSU
The final score: 41-14.
Why it was devastating: The Irish were 9-point underdogs. They lost by 27.
6. The 2005 season’s Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State
The final score: 34-20.
Why it was devastating: As losses go, this one was run-of-the-mill. But it was Brady Quinn’s last game in South Bend, and the Irish sent him out with a loss. They went 3-9 the next year, and the Charlie Weis era never recovered. The truth is that everything on this last after No. 3 is probably interchangeable by DEVASTATION FACTOR, but this one was no good.
7. The 2015 season’s Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State
The final score: 44-28.
Why it was devastating: Any New Year’s Six loss hurts. This one wasn’t as bad as some of the others, because it wasn’t that big a game. Neither team was in the title hunt, and the Irish had already lost two games. The worst thing about this game wasn’t anything to joke about. It was linebacker Jaylon Smith suffering a serious knee injury that caused him to fall to the second round in the NFL Draft a few months later.
8. The 1994 season’s Fiesta Bowl against Colorado
The final score: 41-24.
Why it was devastating: Notre Dame was unranked and, at 6-4, was only in the Fiesta Bowl because of name recognition and the bowl’s desire to sell tickets and get ratings. It was unsurprising when the Buffaloes cruised to victory, and ND fans probably weren’t all that angry to be done with the season.