For the second time in three years, Notre Dame has started the season 6-0 and has now loosely acquired the No. 5 spot in the latest AP Poll (serving as the possible first team out of the College Football Playoff).
While starting the preseason with the No. 17 overall ranking was somewhat warranted—Notre Dame returned its star quarterback, Everett Golson, from academic suspension—jumping 12 teams over the course of seven weeks for what its resume provides thus far isn’t justified.
In short: There is (and always has been) a bias toward the Fighting Irish, and it’s completely ridiculous because I can confidently say that they will lose at least three games in the regular season.
@Tyler_Waddell Notre Dame is overrated. (this is not a repeat from 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002..)
— Patrick Gordon (@gx5) October 15, 2014
That’s right. With six games remaining, I expect the beloved Irish to do what they’ve done best over the last two decades—prove that they’re overrated. And no, I’m not doing this to get a reaction. (OK, maybe I am a little bit.) But the writing has been on the wall for several weeks now. Let me explain.
For one, what has Notre Dame done to deserve the fifth-best ranking out of 128 FBS teams? Dominate arguably the worst Michigan product we’ve ever seen? Beat Purdue thanks to a second-half comeback? Outscore one of the nation’s worst defensive teams 50-43?
According to the Jeff Sagarin ratings, Notre Dame has played the 51st-most difficult schedule to date. Opponents have combined for a 17-21 record, and only one of those teams (Stanford) is above .500. The Irish have three straight games with an outcome of two scores or less.
ESPN’s FPI Rankings says that Notre Dame ranks 29th in offensive efficiency, 30th in defensive efficiency, 23rd in special teams efficiency, and is 15th overall in this category. Not fifth in anything.
It also says that it owns the No. 21 strength of remaining schedule—a 143 percent increase in difficulty. Factor in that it struggled for a half against Purdue, couldn’t kill Syracuse, looked incredibly sloppy against an offensively challenged Stanford, and couldn’t stop North Carolina, and you have several losses in the latter half of the season.
@Tyler_Waddell somewhere, Lou Holtz is spitting all over someone more than usual.
— Zach Rastall (@zrastall17) October 15, 2014
Notre Dame has a 3.2 percent chance of winning out, which ranks 36th of all teams and last among the remaining undefeated teams. It has a projected 9.7-2.3 win-loss record, with a 26.9 percent chance of beating Florida State this weekend and 40.1 percent chance of leaving Southern Cal with a win in the season finale.
But I digress.
Matt Hayes of Sporting News tends to agree with the statistics, and he’s putting it on the shoulders of Golson, who though has improved his passing efficiency, has been turning the ball over way too often and putting the Irish in uncomfortable positions.
“We know nothing of Notre Dame with its horrible schedule. We’ve heard everything of quarterback Everett Golson’s new game,” Hayes wrote. “Irish coach Brian Kelly has heard enough, too. Minutes after Notre Dame’s shootout victory over North Carolina last weekend, Kelly admitted he ‘got after’ Golson in post-game. This is what happens when you continue to make bad decisions that lead to turnovers — nine to be specific, in the last three games.
“This is what happens when your next game is your first true road game of the season, and it’s against defending national champion Florida State,” he added. “So, yeah, Kelly has heard enough of the new Golson. It’s time to see it.”
Hayes continued to write that Golson has looked better throwing the ball compared to the 2012 national championship season, increasing his completion percentage (62.5 percent), third-down conversion rate, and pointed out that he already has four more passing touchdowns (16) than he did two years ago (12).
“But know this: he’s not getting away with another multiple turnover game against FSU,” said Hayes. “If it happens again, we’ll know all we need to know about Notre Dame.”
Was Notre Dame overrated in 2012? It finished 12-0 during the regular season, beating four ranked teams in the process before being exploited in the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama. Overrated might be a harsh term in this case considering the Irish were the only undefeated team in the country (other than an ineligible Ohio State).
There’s a big difference in the way the 2012 Notre Dame team played versus how the Irish are performing today. Two years ago, they beat four AP Top 25 teams by an average of 12.0 points during the regular season, and the defense held those opponents to 8.8 points per game.
Notre Dame is doing close to the same (+17.3 margin) against mediocre talent, and looked absolutely horrific against a re-tooling Stanford roster—its one win over a ranked opponent in 2014.
AP poll hs Notre Dame No.5. Why? Because Irish haven’t lost? Old school polls, in a nutshell. — Matt Hayes (@Matt_HayesSN) October 12, 2014
If Brian Kelly can somehow leave Tallahassee this weekend with a win on Saturday night, then I’ll retract some of my comments made. But that’s not going to happen—the Irish are a 12-point underdog, and College GameDay will be creating an unbeatable atmosphere in favor of the Seminoles.
Notre Dame will then have to travel to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis following a bye week (as part of a nasty three-game road trip) to play Navy, which though has struggled, will be excited to host the Irish.
Expecting it to avoid the letdown, Notre Dame then has to journey all the way to Phoenix to face Arizona State and the best offense it will have seen to date. Whether its Taylor Kelly or Mike Bercovici under center, the Sun Devils are going to send the Irish home with their second loss.
Northwestern and Louisville are both wildcards because neither team has shown consistency, but when the two are actually playing well, there’s no saying what they’re capable of. The Wildcats defeated Wisconsin a few weeks ago and played tough against Minnesota, and Bobby Petrino-led teams have a tendency of coming up big in primetime moments.
We can assume Notre Dame will win both of those—though every bone in my body says it will go 1-1—and move on to the regular season finale, where another cross-country road trip is in store.
The Irish have won three of four against USC, but the Trojans are 2-0 against Top 25 teams this season and junior quarterback Cody Kessler—who leads the 39th-ranked passing offense—has been superb, throwing just one interception in 207 attempts.
If he can continue that streak and get some turnover production from his defense (USC is No. 15 in turnover margin; Notre Dame has already turned it over 11 times this season), then the Irish will be leaving The Coliseum with (at least) their third loss.
At 9-3, Notre Dame won’t be considered for the College Football Playoff—instead, it would likely be accepting an initiation to play in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
This is why the Irish are No. 16 in my latest Top 25, and not No. 5.