In college football history, no team has received “the benefit of the doubt” more than Notre Dame.
In fact, there is actually a rule that requires Notre Dame to make a BCS Bowl if they have achieved a certain ranking by the end of the season.
Notre Dame haters won’t care about the lack of respect the Fighting Irish are getting this year. You might even say that the lack of respect is well-deserved considering all of the Lou Holtz-like love they have gotten for decades.
With all of that said, there is absolutely no way that you can objectively say that this Notre Dame team is worse than Oregon or Kansas State.
In Praise of Oregon
Before we get to the Golden Domers, let me just offer a few quick words on Oregon. Not only do I enjoy watching Oregon more than any other team in America, I actually think that they are the best team in the nation.
This is not the same team that got physically dominated by Auburn a few years ago in the BCS Title Game. This is not the same team that got manhandled by LSU a year later (they trailed by 20 late in the game before a meaningless garbage time TD).
The 2010 team averaged 47 points per game as it wore teams down gradually over the course of the game. That team only outscored teams 120-86 in the first quarter before killing teams 285-83 in the second half of games. Games were often close near and past halftime before Oregon gradually “out-depthed” and “out-athleted” people in the second half. As soon as they played a team that was as fast and deep as they were (a Cam Newton-led Auburn team), they just couldn’t find enough ways to score.
This team is different.
The Ducks are averaging an other-worldly 55 points per game – and they very often take the pedal off the gas midway through the third quarter. The 2012 Ducks jump on teams early – outscoring their opponents 190-36 in the first quarter. Their games are hardly ever close, and it’s conceivable that if they never let up, they would be averaging more than 70 points per game.
I truly believe that the 2012 Oregon Ducks could be one of the greatest teams in college football history – and they don’t even have an average defense. That’s how historically dominant this offense is.
The Ducks definitely pass the “eye test,” and it’s easy to see why they are #1 in most human polls.
On the other hand, Notre Dame (for the first time that I can remember) is receiving almost no love nationally. Not only are the Fighting Irish flying under the radar, but they have actually been the subject of criticism and scorn by many top writers and analysts.
The Schedule Argument
At the beginning of the season, analyst after analyst pontificated that if Notre Dame did go undefeated, then they deserved to play in the National Championship. Well, here we are, the week before Thanksgiving, and all of the Notre Dame haters have miraculously changed their minds.
What looked like one of the country’s most demanding schedules at the start of the season hasn’t been as arduous as many expected. Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Stanford haven’t been as good as advertised. Even beating USC, which already has lost three games, won’t carry as much weight. Notre Dame’s close wins over inferior competition (Purdue and Pitt) haven’t helped it in the human polls, either.
Sure, Michigan and Michigan State haven’t played up to their pre-season rankings. But does that make Notre Dame’s schedule easier than Oregon’s and Kansas State’s? Absolutely not.
Fact: Notre Dame is the only school that hasn’t played a provisional (FCS) school this year.
Not only did Oregon and Kansas State pad their schedules with FCS teams, but they scheduled two of the worst FCS teams in the nation to play. Both Tennessee Tech and Missouri State are 3-7 this season, and they have been blown out in many games. Say what you want about Boston College and Pitt…both schools would have handled Tennessee Tech and Missouri State rather easily.
Fact: Notre Dame’s strength of schedule is tougher than both Kansas State’s and Oregon’s.
Even though Notre Dame’s schedule hasn’t been as tough as it was originally thought, it still ranks one spot ahead of Kansas State’s and nearly 20 spots ahead of Oregon’s.
Fact: Common opponents point to Notre Dame being just as tough as Oregon AND Kansas State.
Let’s say that Schlabach is right, and Stanford and USC really are not that good. Those are the only two teams on Oregon’s schedules that are supposedly tough!
Early season wins over Arizona and Washington have proven to be fraudulent. Oregon State’s loss this past weekend has dropped them down a peg as well. That leaves USC and Stanford as the only two “tough teams” on Oregon’s schedule…and Notre Dame beat both of those teams.
You can’t have it both ways. Either USC and Stanford aren’t good teams, and their presence on the schedule doesn’t help either Notre Dame OR Oregon, or they are good teams and Notre Dame deserves a lot of respect for beating them.
On the other side of the page is Kansas State. Kansas State and Notre Dame both beat Miami by nearly 40 points. However, the Wildcats played Miami in Manhattan while Notre Dame won on a (fairly) neutral surface.
Kansas State won a close game at Oklahoma 24-19. Notre Dame handled them by 17 points at the same place.
Overall, Kansas State has beaten 4 top 25 teams including one top 10 squad – the exact same totals that Notre Dame holds.
There is just no, factual way to say that Notre Dame’s schedule has been any weaker than either Oregon’s or Kansas State’s.
The Close Wins Argument
One thing that has really hurt Notre Dame is the fact that many of their wins have not been glamorous.
They had to come from behind early in the season against Purdue and squeaked out a three-point victory. Overtime was required to defeat Stanford and Pitt. A three-point win over BYU is nothing to brag about either. Of course, nearly all of these games were on national television for America to see.
Meanwhile, Oregon has trounced team after team while most of America has been asleep.
Few of Kansas State’s games have been on television as well. Of course, they have been rolling through the Big 12…right?
Before anyone even had the Wildcats on their national radar, two late 4th quarter TDs were required to dispatch North Texas. Yes, you read that right…NORTH Texas.
The 5-5 Iowa State Cyclones led the Wildcats by four late in the game before Kansas State eked out a six-point win. Recent wins over TCU and Oklahoma State haven’t exactly been blowouts either.
Oftentimes, it is the mark of a good team that it is able to win close games. No, Notre Dame hasn’t been mesmerizing America with blowout victories, but Kansas State hasn’t exactly been lighting it up all year. But besides that, Notre Damehas been doing something that is every bit as impressive: locking teams down week in and week out.
The Defense Argument
Eight out of the last 11 National Champions have had a top 10 defense. You read that right, 8 out of 11.
In spite of the new, high scoring spread offenses and spiked point totals across the nation, defense still winds up deciding national champions.
It’s a little unfair to compare Oregon’s defense to anyone else’s, because their offense scores so quickly, and their opponents wind up airing it out hoping to catch up. Regardless, as good as Oregon’s offense has been this year, Notre Dame’s defense has been nearly as dominant.
Currently, the Manti Teo’-led Notre Dame defense ranks first in the nation, allowing a measly 11.1 points per game. (Remember, they have not played a single provisional school to pad their defensive totals.)
They have held six of their opponents – Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford (in overtime by the way), Oklahoma, and Boston College to their LOWEST point totals of the season. Five of those teams failed to score an offensive TD against the Irish.
No matter how you slice it, the Notre Dame defense has been unbelievable this season – and far better than both Oregon and Kansas State.
If defense really does win championships (and 8 out of the last 11 doesn’t lie), then Notre Dame is the most championship-worthy team at this point in the season.
Of course, Notre Dame doesn’t exactly pass the eye test. Everett Golson, while improving, has looked downright poor at times. Besides Theo Riddick, their skill players are uninspiring and lack awesome nicknames like “the Black Mamba.”
After last year’s national championship game debacle, America is ready to watch two high-powered offenses square off in some entertaining television. It’s more than likely that Notre Dame, if everyone finishes undefeated, Notre Dame will once again be treated unfairly.
Ironically, they will be on the short end of the stick this time.
The playoffs can’t come fast enough.