As Jason Whitlock so humorously pointed out, “Indiana University is #1 in basketball, Notre Dame is #1 in football, and the Pacers stink. It’s the 1970s all over again.”
For the first time in nearly twenty years, the Fighting Irish are on top of the college football world.
Haters Gonna Hate
It could be incredibly short lived. Just as Kansas State, Oregon, and Alabama have done before them, Notre Dame could very well throw their own destiny away this week in Southern California.
Rivalry games are never a sure thing, no matter how bad or injured one side may be.
With all of that said, Notre Dame is, at least for the moment, the #1 team in college football. And no matter what the haters say, that’s exactly how it should be.
Aside: I understand the Notre Dame hate. As a Notre Dame fan, I would be the first to admit that the amount of coverage they get is more than a little ridiculous at times – especially when one considers their complete lack of relevancy for the last two decades. But trust me, Notre Dame haters are not the only fans in America that wish that Lou Holtz would shut up every once in a while. Just as Duke fans often despise Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale for their nauseating homerism to both Duke and the ACC, most Fighting Irish fans just wish that Lou Holtz and Mark May would go away for good.
As Oregon and Kansas State put the finishing touches on their season-altering losses on Saturday night, the haters came out in full force.
- “Notre Dame is the luckiest team in college football!”
- “They don’t deserve to be #1…they barely beat Pitt and Purdue!”
- “Good, I can’t wait for them to be smashed by Alabama.”
On and on the vitriol spewed.
In so many people’s minds, Notre Dame was receiving the benefit of the doubt - just because they were Notre Dame.
Here’s the problem: That may have been true in 2002, but it’s simply not the case any more.
Ever-Shifting Media Bias
In fact, Notre Dame has been a victim this year. At this point, people are so fed up with the Irish and their media love that the backlash has swung the complete other way.
That’s why Notre Dame, more than any other team in 2012, has had to actually overcome the biases of the media and the college football world.
Now don’t feel bad for Notre Dame (not that you were planning on it…). This is how college football works. The media, led by ESPN, is always about five years late to the party.
In the early 90s, the state of Florida and the University of Nebraska dominated college football. Because of this, 6 of the first 10 teams to play in the BCS Championship games were named Nebraska, Florida State, or Miami.
Then came the run of the Big Ten and USC. After Ohio State knocked off the mighty Hurricanes in 2002, Ohio State, Michigan, and the Trojans took turns sharing the #1 ranking in the nation.
This bias led to something crazy – a team actually went through the SEC undefeated and wasn’t even invited to play in the Title Game.
After a few SEC teams took turns wiping the floor with the Big Ten, ESPN “saw the light” and college football has been dominated by the SEC ever since – culminating with last year’s “All SEC” National Championship Game.
Of course, the dirty little secret that nobody wants to talk about this year is that even though the SEC is, AS A WHOLE, stronger than any other conference, it simply doesn’t have that dominant team this year.
- Alabama has looked downright mediocre at times with an offense that’s ranked 40th in the nation (just six spots ahead of Notre Dame whose offense is, according to many people, atrocious).
- Georgia got absolutely waxed by a South Carolina team that will probably lose to Clemson this week.
- Florida’s offense is ranked an astounding 104th in the nation, and their defense isn’t on par with the elite of the elite.
- LSU, Texas A&M, and the aforementioned South Carolina Gamecocks all have two losses.
While the SEC’s dominance as a unit is without question, it still doesn’t have a convincing #1. The SEC has become liability insurance to every one of its teams. If you are in the SEC and you are winning, that means you are one of the best teams in the country. If you are losing? You’re only bad because you’re in the SEC.
In fact, many of you were probably already thinking that about the offensive numbers I listed above.
Such is life in 2012. The SEC always gets the benefit of the doubt. If this was 2003, it’s very likely that Florida State, Nebraska, Texas, and Oklahoma (all teams with one or two losses) would be ahead of most of the SEC teams. In 2012? The SEC gets the bias.
And in 2012, Notre Dame receives bias as well – only the other way.
Anti-Notre Dame Bias in 2012
It might be hard to remember at this point, but Notre Dame started out the season unranked in the AP Poll. Even Kansas State was receiving some love with Coach Snyder back at the helm. Meanwhile, the SEC had five teams in the top ten, including this season’s most disappointing team, Arkansas.
It wasn’t until a week 3 beat down of then #10 Michigan State that Notre Dame jumped into the top 15. And then, after narrowly defeating Michigan (a team that was ranked #8 in the preseason, got a first place vote, and is still 8-3 with losses to Notre Dame and Alabama), the anti-Notre Dame sentiment kicked in.
Before the year started, all the talk was that Notre Dame’s schedule was SO TOUGH (their over/under for wins was 8), that if they did go undefeated, they deserved to play in the championship. But as soon as Notre Dame jumped out to a surprising 4-0 start, the media changed their tune.
All of the sudden, Michigan and Michigan State were frauds. Notre Dame’s offense was terrible. The Irish didn’t pass the eye test.
The media went out of its way to diminish what the Irish had accomplished.
Rather than giving an offense with a brand new, redshirt freshman at QB the benefit of the doubt, everyone started looking ahead for games that Notre Dame’s defense couldn’t win for them…hopefully.
Complete domination of Miami on a neutral field only moved them up one spot. An outstanding victory (which looks better and better by the week now) over Stanford only vaulted them two positions.
And then, they went to Oklahoma and laid the smack down on one of the best offenses in the country. The victory only bumped the Irish up one spot in the AP Poll as the media whined that they couldn’t do it against an SEC team.
Now I understand that this is somewhat due to how college football works. Your preseason ranking can completely affect how easily you move up, and if there are other undefeated teams in front of you in week one, it’s hard to just jump them no matter how impressive your wins are.
But if you are on the positive end of the media bias, it’s quite easy to vault your way to the top. South Carolina moved up from #6 to #3 after beating Georgia in Week Six – a jump that is almost unheard of that close to the top of the ranks. The best example was Texas A&M – who moved up an incredible 8 spots after a win over Alabama.
Bias usually exists for a reason. Many times, stereotypes are based off of truth.
The SEC has dominated college football for the last six years. But don’t let the past paint how you look at this season.
The 2004 Auburn Tigers could share a thing or two with you about that.
Irish Have Earned #1 Ranking
Notre Dame has been criticized all season. Their offense hasn’t been good enough. Their wins haven’t been pretty enough. Their schedule wasn’t tough enough.
But despite the lack of love, they have done what no other team at this point has been able to do – win every game that they have played.
Just two weeks ago, ESPN’s Mark Schlabach criticized the Irish for their schedule, claiming that Michigan, Oklahoma, and Stanford just weren’t that quality of wins. The media is once again late to the party. Schlabach and everyone else is stuck in 2009.
You might not like Notre Dame – and that’s fine.
You might not think that they can beat Alabama – and you might be right.
But those are the only two things you have right now – your hate and your skepticism. Because objectively, they are the best team in college football.
At least until Saturday at 11:30.