The last time Notre Dame finished the regular season unbeaten was 2012, and Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly received The Associated Press Coach of the Year for his work.
Six years later, history is repeating itself.
Kelly, who has Notre Dame sitting at 12-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country, once again took home AP Coach of the Year honors on Monday, edging Alabama’s Nick Saban.
Kelly received 16 of 58 first-place votes, the same number Saban received. But Kelly received 81 total points in the voting, while Saban got 66. First-year Central Florida coach Josh Heupel was third with 33 points (five first-place votes).
Kelly, Saban and TCU’s Gary Patterson are the only two-time winners of the award, which was established in 1998.
Not coincidentally, Kelly, Saban and Heupel coach three of the nation’s four remaining unbeaten teams. Clemson, the nation’s other team with a perfect record, will face the Irish in one of the College Football Playoff semifinal games, the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29.
Top-ranked Alabama plays Oklahoma in the other semifinal, the Orange Bowl, also on Dec. 29. Central Florida, ranked No. 8, plays No. 11 LSU in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1.
As far as history repeating, Kelly and the Irish hope that stops now. After the 2012 season, before the CFP was implemented, Notre Dame played Saban’s Crimson Tide in the BCS championship game but fell 42-14.
“I think I’m a better leader of our program,” Kelly told The AP. “The organization has gotten so much bigger. The ability to create the right energy and day-to-day culture is difficult. I think I’ve gotten a lot better a leading that large group on a day-to-day basis.”
In nine seasons in South Bend, Ind., Kelly is 81-34. After a 4-8 season in 2016 during which rumors of Kelly’s job security were a weekly topic, the Irish are 22-3 since the beginning of last season. They also topped out at No. 3 in the rankings last season before finishing No. 11 after beating LSU 21-17 in the Citrus Bowl.