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The last time the Notre Dame Fighting Irish won the national championship…

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Notre Dame played in its first College Football Playoff game last year and hope to make playoff appearances a regular occurrence in the years moving forward. But the search for a national championship continues on into its third decade in South Bend. The last time Notre Dame was crowned champion of the college football world was 1988 with Lou Holtz in his third season as head coach of the Fighting Irish.

Of course, the highlight of Notre Dame’s national championship season was their matchup with No. 1 Miami. Catholics vs. Convicts in South Bend was the ultimate clash of college football’s old school history and tradition against the new brash ways of the dominant Hurricanes. It became a game that inspired documentaries about it and took the college football world by storm. It was a magical time for the sport of college football with two national powers colliding with the stakes as high as they can get.

Only a couple of teams were capable of going toe-to-toe with Miami that season. No. 1 Florida State was dismantled in the opener, 31-0. No. 15 Michigan (after losing to the Irish, lost by one in Ann Arbor. No. 8 Arkansas kept it within two points. But only Notre Dame could send Miami home with a loss, even if it was with some controversy that is disputed to this day.

Notre Dame went on to take down No. 3 West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to put a cap on their national title run. With Barry Alvarez as the defensive coordinator, Tony Rice at quarterback, Ricky Waters at running back, Michael Stonebreaker at linebacker, Chris Zordich at defensive tackle, the Irish had a memorable run. Little did anyone know it would be the last time Notre Dame won it all.

Here’s what else was going down in 1988 as the Irish were on their way to their most recent national title…

Last National Championship: 1988 (31 years and counting)

Who was President?

Ronald Reagan was in his final year in the White House, wrapping up the last full year of his second term in office as President of the United States. His Vice President, George H.W. Bush would run for president and win the 1988 election with Dan Quayle as his running mate.

In 1988, current President Donald J. Trump was watching his first wife, Ivana Winklmayr become a naturalized United States citizen.

What was on TV?

There were some big debuts on the various networks in 1988. Roseanne, The Wonder Years, and Murphy Brown all made their debuts. Another show that made its debut on Disney Channel was Good Morning, Miss Bliss. That show would go on to evolve into Saved By The Bell, a fan favorite for a generation.

The year also saw some iconic shows come to an end, including St. Elsewhere, Magnum P.I. and The Facts of Life.

What movies were hot?

The big winner at the box office in 1988 wasn’t “Big” (that was No. 4 in the box office earnings), but “Rain Man” starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. The Academy Award-winning film beat out “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” for the top spot in the box office charts that year, with Eddie Murphy and “Coming to America” coming in third.

But 1988 was also the year one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time was released in theaters, with Bruce Willis starring in “Die Hard.”

Tim Burton also directed one of his more iconic films, “Beetlejuice.” Meanwhile, Ron Howard bombed with “Willow.”

Baseball fans also got a couple of movies to soak in with “Bull Durham” and “Eight Men Out.”

What else happened in 1988?

Notre Dame defeated two conference champions in the 1988 season with victories over Michigan (Big Ten) and USC (Pac-10) book-ending the regular season. Other conference champions in 1988 included Clemson (ACC), Nebraska (Big Eight), Arkansas (Southwest), and Auburn and LSU splitting the SEC title in the pre-SEC Championship Game era.

Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders ran away with the Heisman Trophy after rushing for 2,628 yards and scoring 37 rushing touchdowns in just 11 games (bowl game stats were not included in official records at this time). Current Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was the starting quarterback for the Cowboys that season.

Current Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was just a few years into his coaching career that would eventually lead him to South Bend. In 1988, Kelly was a graduate assistant and defensive backs coach for Grand Valley State. In just a few more years he would become the head coach of the program and lead them to Division 2 dominance as a national title contender.

For the first time ever, a night game is played in Wrigley Field between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets. Kirk Gibson and the Los Angeles Dodgers push past Jose Conseco and the Oakland Athletics in the World Series later that season.

The San Francisco 49ers would go 10-6 in the regular season but go on to win the first of back-to-back Super Bowls with a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Former Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana continued to be among the best players in the NFL you did not want to bet against.

The Bad Boy Detroit Pistons won the first of back-to-back NBA titles a couple of years before Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls finally broke through for their title runs. The Calgary Flames would go on to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in the 1988-89 season. It remains the most recent time two teams from Canada played for the Stanley Cup.

How close are the Irish to a title now?

Notre Dame has had their chances to grab another national championship over the past three decades. Most recently, the Irish played in the College Football Playoff last season, only to be run over by eventual national champion Clemson. And the Irish played in one of the final BCS championship games, getting steamrolled by Alabama at the end of the 2012 season. But you have to go back to the years closer to the last national title in 1988 to find when Notre Dame had a shot at the national championship.

The Irish ended the 1989 season ranked No. 2 after ending the season with a 21-6 victory over No. 1 Colorado in the Orange Bowl. As fate would have it, Miami ended the year ranked No. 1 with an 11-1 record that included a regular season-ending victory over the previously No. 1 Irish. A promising 1990 season saw the Irish start at No. 2 in the AP poll and move to No. 1 before a home loss to Penn State in November brought a run to a possible national title to a halt. A bumpy end to the 1991 season ensured a national title shot for the Irish, who had been no higher than No. 5, would remain out of reach. In 1992, a 33-16 loss to Stanford would be enough to prevent Notre Dame from sniffing a national title shot.

The 1993 season had promise as the Irish climbed to No. 2 going down the stretch of the regular season. A major showdown with No. 1 Florida State in Notre Dame Stadium was dubbed the Game of the Centruty. It was so big at the time that ESPN took its signature College GameDay show on the road for the very first time.

A wild 31-24 victory over the Seminoles bumped the Irish to No. 1 in the AP poll with just one final regular season game to be played.

Unfortunately for Notre Dame, that one game came against No. 17 Boston College, and the Eagles clipped the Irish in South Bend by a final score of 41-39.

Notre Dame could do nothing but watch as Florida State claimed the national championship with a victory over No. 2 Nebraska.

Today, Notre Dame is in a good situation even with all of the craziness that has happened through the realignment changes. The Irish are a program that will flirt with a national title shot every now and then, so winning one shouldn’t be out of the question. But their two most recent national title shots have left a stain that is impossible for many to forget about. But how much should Notre Dame be at fault for going up against two programs in Alabama and Clemson during times when they have been two of the most dominant programs the sport has seen in some time?

Notre Dame may one day celebrate a national championship, and it may even happen in the next few years. But this is certainly not the 1980s and 1990s anymore for Notre Dame. There are challenges that exist today that were not as inhibiting decades ago.

Texas A&M AD Ross Bjork puts Arkansas series at AT&T Stadium on the chopping block

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Week 5 means it’s time for Arkansas and Texas A&M’s trek to the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex for their annual conference game at AT&T Stadium but the days of the old SWC-turned-SEC West rivals meeting in the area might be on the way out.

While a number of fans on both sides have clamored for a return to campus sites for the yearly division meeting, it seems they have picked up a key ally in new athletic director Ross Bjork, who gave some pretty strong indications to the Dallas Morning News that the series is unlikely to continue after the contract runs out after 2024.

“Here’s how I should view it: we should have every SEC home game on our campus from here on out,” Bjork said. “How we do that after the contract is over is still yet to be determined. I think we should have four SEC home games every single year on our campus.”

Bjork said he has spoken about the series with his counterpart at Arkansas, who has even more of a juggling act to do given that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (a former player and prominent booster) enjoys hosting his old team at his palace of a stadium. Still, the Razorbacks have to be interested in a return to campus in at least some form given that they also play a number of games in Little Rock and have just two SEC games in Fayetteville some years — including in 2019.

We’ll see what ultimately becomes of the Arkansas-Texas A&M dance in Dallas but the comments out of College Station right now certainly put it on a path to ending in the near future.

Former Syracuse football player gives program $25 million donation

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There’s giving back as a former player and then there’s giving back to your old program.

The latter was certainly the case for Syracuse this weekend as the school announced a record $25 million gift from former offensive guard John Lally during their game against Western Michigan at the Carrier Dome.

“For Syracuse University Athletics to become even more competitive in both the ACC and on the national stage, the program needs to have first-class facilities, operations and support,” Lally said in a statement. “Laura and I are committed to Syracuse University Athletics, and in particular positioning the university to attract, recruit and retain high-performing student-athletes who succeed on and off the field, inside and outside the classroom and in their communities.”

Lally made his money as the owner and president of PCB Piezotronics Inc., a company he founded after playing offensive guard for the Orange from 1977 to 1981.

While the extra large gift didn’t have any specifics attached to it, the size certainly points to at least some minor facilities upgrades. According to Syracuse.com, Lally already donated nearly $1 million for renovations to the Carrier Dome prior to writing an even bigger check on Saturday in the middle of the Orange’s victory over the Broncos.

It’s not uncommon but for players, especially those in the NFL, to pony up for a new locker room or weight room at their old program but the size of Lally’s generosity is certainly notable in a very welcome gift for Syracuse.

Ole Miss officials not happy with Pac-12 refs after ending against Cal

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There were some absolute bonkers endings in the Pac-12 this weekend, from the #Pac12AfterDark special that was UCLA’s comeback against Washington State, to Colorado stunning Arizona State to California remaining the league’s only undefeated team thanks to a goal line stand against Ole Miss.

While the Golden Bears escaped Oxford with a 28-20 win, the victory was not without controversy — something Rebels officials want answers on.

For those who didn’t catch the action, Ole Miss was down eight in the final minute. After a big pass play got the team into the red zone, the Rebels faced 3rd-and-goal from the three yard line with just 17 seconds left. QB John Rhys Plumlee rolled out and quickly threw it to Elijah Moore right at the goal line.

Officials, who were from the Pac-12, ruled Moore short of the end zone however and marked him down inside the one yard line. The home team had no timeouts left and scrambled to get a QB sneak in, which was stuffed by Bears linebacker Evan Weaver.

Ole Miss interim athletic director Keith Carter took to Twitter to express his frustration over Moore’s catch not being reviewed (which would have stopped the clock) as to whether he broke the plane or not, not holding back at all at the Pac-12 officials involved.

The conference has already acknowledged an error their crew made in Arizona State’s victory over Michigan State last week, where Pac-12 refs missed a call that would have allowed the Spartans to get a first down on a missed field goal. Something could be released on Sunday afternoon but that’s unlikely to appease the Rebels, who now sit at 2-2 on the year and face the always brutal SEC slate over the coming months.

All of which Pac-12 fans probably shrug their shoulders over and say get in line Ole Miss given the mistakes the league’s officials make on a weekly basis out West.

Cal shoots up to No. 15 in latest AP Poll, UCF sinks to No. 22 after loss to Pitt

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AP Poll voters shook up their ballots quite a bit after a fairly wild Week 4 of action in college football.

Among the biggest risers are No. 15 Cal, which celebrated a controversial victory at Ole Miss on Saturday to become the Pac-12’s only unbeaten and now the conference’s second-highest ranked squad after No. 13 Oregon. The folks out West had a number of movers and shakers when all was said and done, with previously ranked Arizona State and Washington State dropping out after losses and No. 21 USC returning to the top 25 after beating a Utah squad now ranked No. 19 on Friday night.

One of the big drops came at the hands of new No. 22 UCF, which had been sitting in the top 15 prior to losing at Pitt on Saturday in a wild one from Heinz Field. That left new No. 16 Boise State as the highest ranked Group of Five team. Michigan State also returned to the rankings at No. 25 while Kansas State is now ranked in both the AP and Coaches Polls after an idle week. No. 23 Texas A&M hung on to a number in front of their name after a second loss to a top 10 team while Michigan dropped nine spot and sat at No. 20 after being destroyed by Wisconsin.

In the top 10, Notre Dame stuck around after their close loss to Georgia, the Badgers moved to No. 8 and Oklahoma and Ohio State flipped spots in the 5/6 range after the Sooners were off and the Buckeyes scored 76 unanswered against Miami (OH).

Here’s the full AP Poll heading into Week 5:

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Georgia
  4. LSU
  5. Ohio State
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Auburn
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Florida
  10. Notre Dame
  11. Texas
  12. Penn State
  13. Oregon
  14. Iowa
  15. California
  16. Boise State
  17. Washington
  18. Virginia
  19. Utah
  20. Michigan
  21. USC
  22. UCF
  23. Texas A&M
  24. Kansas State
  25. Michigan State