The Factual Case for Notre Dame in the BCS Title Game

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.

manti-teo-notre-dame

Manti Te’o has led Notre Dame’s dominant defense in 2012, which for some reason isn’t getting the usual benefit of the doubt afforded the Irish. (Image credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE via SportingNews.com)

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.

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach reasoned:

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?

Wrong.

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.



About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.

Comments

  1. Kansas State held TCU out of the endzone for 59 minutes…and even then they only got that score because they started at the Kansas State 20ish as a result from a rare fumble…TCU was dominated by defense that entire game and won with the most vanilla offenseive play calling they have used all year. They shut down the Nations most TD tossing QB, Seth Doege as they blew out Texas Tech. They turned the nations leading offensive yardage per game team, Oklahoma State 5 times and then blew them out. They humiliated the former Heisman and two of the best receivers in the country at west Virginia. They were the First Ranked team to Win in Norman in the Bob Stoops era…and our starters on both sides of the ball were already out of the game in the 4th quarter versus Miami. Kansas State has not needed overtime against any unranked teams nor the help of the officials as in the Stanford game to win any ball games. Notre Dame is right where they belong.

    • Jon Washburn says:

      I don’t disagree with anything that you said. It goes back to my original point…that by the “eye test,” Oregon (and Kansas State to a lesser degree) might appear to be better than Notre Dame.
      However, Notre Dame and Kansas State BOTH beat Miami by almost 40…no distinction can be made between the two teams in that comparison.
      Notre Dame and Kansas State BOTH beat Oklahoma on the road…no real distinction can be made there either. (You say they were the first ranked team to win in Norman during the Stoops era…that means that Notre Dame was the second…you can’t penalize the Irish for playing them later in the year.)
      Notre Dame held not one QB without a TD, but five.
      Statistically, Notre Dame’s defense is CONSIDERABLY better than Kansas State’s. And this is without the advantage of playing any FCS schools or North Texas.
      Again, Kansas State might win prettier, and Collin Klein is most definitely better than any of Notre Dame’s offensive players…but objectively, Kansas State is not better than Notre Dame.

  2. Mark Johnson says:

    USC is better that Notre Dame and will beat the Irish. Then the illusion will be over

  3. I agree with Mark, USC will beat Notre Dame

  4. The only real argument you have is the common opponent argument, but that hardly holds water. Thats like saying since A&M defeated Alabama, A&M is better than all the other teams Alabama beats or loses to by a lesser margin. SOS makes more since, but just because ND didn’t play any FCS schools does not mean that they didn’t play any cupcakes to up their numbers (also, ND has only played 2 true away games). By no fault of their own, their schedule turned out to be weakish. They have only played 2 (currently) ranked opponents and their final game could very well be against a 4 loss USC (and Stanford may not be ranked with 5 losses at season’s end). K-State has played 3 (currently) ranked teams and will finish with Texas a top 15 team, maybe better. The Ducks have played one (currently) ranked team, most likely ending their season with 2 or 3 total. Then it comes down to the “eye test”, both Oregon and K-State have that, despite a stronger SOS. Sorry bro, ND just isn’t more deserving this year. There will be others, sooner more than later. I would have loved a KSU/ ND Championship… my grandparents wouldn’t know who to root for!

  5. Luckily it won’t matter now that ND is #1 in the BCS. Unfortunately I worry about the curse. I thought Pitt was going to be it this year, but I forgot ND likes to wait to get #1 before blowing it. Hope I’m wrong, but now I’m actually more concerned since Barkley won’t be playing Saturday.

  6. Patrick Williams says:

    After all is said and done, more is said than done! God Bless Our Lady!

    • Congrats to ND, Grandpa and Grandma won’t have that problem anymore! Good luck guys, hope you put a spanking on who ever you end up playing. I was a little disappointed in the dirty play (dirty, not illegal) against USC there in the end zone and hope its all legit and clean in the national title. Give’em hell fellas!

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