SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Between 1988 and 1993, Notre Dame went 64-9 with a national title and five top six rankings, and achieved double-digit gains each year, but one.
Since then, a pattern has developed every time Notre Dame wins 10 or more games. Profits often fall sharply next year. That was 2003 (5-7), 2007 (3-9), 2013 (9-3) and 2016 (4-8). Apparent breakthroughs have turned into facades. The Irish are building on nothing.
That's why the season 2018, which on Saturday night against No. 14 Michigan began to be so significant for Notre Dame. This was not the project that took place after the debacle of 2016. That was all about the next step, from good to big, from 10 wins to something more.
"Change was not the word this year," said coach Brian Kelly ESPN.com this spring. "It was really more about how we can continue to grow and expand last year."
If the opener is a clue, Notre Dame can actually raise. Led by a lightning fast defense and a rejuvenated quarterback Brandon Wimbush, the Irishman controlled game against Michigan, built a quick 14-0 lead and held on late to win 24-17. Notre Dame looked like a team that understands that it's going at full speed and shows aggressiveness in both playing and running. Meanwhile, Michigan came out for the time being. When the Wolverines attacked on both sides, it was too late.
The players of both teams prepared for it later, but the contrast was strong.
"This team has done a great job," said Notre Dame far receiver Jafar Armstrong, who had two touchdown runs on his college debut. "Coach Kelly said we've had 90 workouts since January, 30 have a few, we've been well prepared."
About 80 yards away, in the cramped interrogation room outside of Michigan's locker room, Wolverine's senior defense team Chase Winovich complained that his team could not adjust to the moment.
"The first game is always the hardest," said Winovich, "because no matter how hard your camp is, the first game is always harder Maybe [Notre Dame] has done better The job adapts to him."  Notre Dame had two main goals on Saturday: After a poor end to last season, Wimbush restored his confidence and increased his defenses, despite coordinator Mike Elko's departure to Texas A & M. He achieved both.
Offensive Coordinator Chip Long called an aggressive and effective first half that used Wimbush's athletics to attack the edges and his arm to stretch the field. Notre Dame scored two touchdowns in the first 7 minutes, 51 seconds, and Wimbush, who struggled with accuracy last season, completed six of his first eight attempts, finishing half of 10 for 15 for 148 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions and 39 Yards against a burly Michigan front.
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We have seen a freshman, JT Daniels has led an explosive USC offensive, Auburn's defensive has closed Washington and much more out of the top 25 teams of week 1.
Alabama and Clemson hold the top two places while There were disagreements about who finished the last two places.
"He played with an edge to him, a confidence," said Kelly. "He got the ball tonight and he really had some energy for him that the group brought with them."
But the safest sign Notre Dame could avoid his typical relapse is the defense. Led by Khalid Kareem (two sacks, a quarterback hurry), Notre Dame harassed quarterback Shea Patterson of Michigan. The Irish only played one game longer than 24 yards and did not run longer than 10. A Kareem sack brought Michigan out of the field in the first half. Michigan drove to Notre Dame's 2-yard line on its next possession, only Jerry Tillery dismissed Wimbush, forcing a possible field goal.
Wolverines run back Karan Higdon repeats the word "chaos", the theme of the Offseason of Notre Dame, to describe the Irish approach. "It seemed like everyone down there, they flashed," said Higdon.
"We saw in their body language that they were somehow defeated," Kareem said, "so we just kicked our throats and kept coming."  Notre Dame sacks in total jumped from a miserable 14 in 2016 to a respectable 24 last fall. Although only Kareem and Tillery drew sacks on Saturday, four had other quarterback expressions.
Clark Lea, Elko's protégé and first-year coordinator, will not put up with such an experienced and talented group. Lea has set a goal of three sacks per game and told ESPN.com last week that it's realistic with the returning players.
"We are an aggressive defense," security Alohi Gilman said. "Trainer Lea likes it that way."
In the run-up to Saturday, the players of both teams had recognized the importance of this opener, the renewal of a rivalry and a game that led to judgments and overreactions. After that, Michigan spoke of beginnings, not endpoints, and room for growth. After his summer comments asked that the opener would set a trajectory for Michigan, Winovich smiled.
"Sometimes quotes are not very old," he said.
There was no tormented grin on the Notre Dame side. The Irish are growing up as they watch their first playoff appearance.
There is simply no way back for Notre Dame.