Can Notre Dame Get Back on Top?
The start of football season usually comes with guarantees: someone flips a switch and a chill comes back into the air; my friends and I ponder how Ron Zook still has a job; and, Notre Dame is usually ranked in the pre-season polls, and then usually chokes somewhere along the line. And by “chokes” I mean the team doesn’t win the national title or BCS bowl that it’s expected to.
This past weekend was no exception, when the Fighting Irish entered the season ranked 16th and then lost to South Florida, 23-20. USF is not exactly a perennial Big East powerhouse, and the Irish need to get back on track, and quickly, if they want to live up to the expectations being put on them via the third coaching change since 2002 (seems excessive, no?).
I first started paying attention to college football with the level of lunacy I now devote to sports across the board during the 2001 season. I obsessively watched Miami cake walk to its national title against Nebraska, and then figured they could repeat during 2002, because, as my friend Chris liked to say, if he had the offensive line that Ken Dorsey had, he too could have grilled a burger in the pocket, and completed just as many passes.
It was during the 2002 season, when Miami and Ohio State were neck and neck in the polls as they raced to the Fiesta Bowl, that I would literally spend all day every Saturday watching football. The only logical thing to do was root against all undefeated teams so that if Miami won out, they were guaranteed a shot at a second consecutive BCS title.
That season, Notre Dame was one of those teams. They started 8-0 and then lost to BC in a down-to-the-wire game that I still remember watching. It was Tyrone Willingham’s first season, lured away from his successful stint at Stanford, and then two later he was gone (despite being the only first year coach in Irish history to win ten games).
Why haven’t they lived up to their expectations? Who knows? I mean, fine, 10-3 is not a horrible season. Most schools (ILLINOIS) would love a 10-3 season. However, losing to NC State in the Gator Bowl is probably not what they had in mind. Nine consecutive bowl losses are not what they had in mind.
They have their own TV contract, refuse to join any of the Big 6 (though at this point, who can blame them), and are still eligible to play in a BCS game if they finish in the top eight. It doesn’t even matter if another school has a better record as we saw in 2005 when they leapfrogged Oregon into the Fiesta Bowl and wound up losing to Ohio State in (a school which also had a worse record than Oregon, if you’re interested).
Before 2008, ND had not won a bowl game since 1994, and the national championship since 1988, yet only Ohio State and Michigan have appeared in the AP poll more. Notre Dame has one of the oldest and richest traditions in college football, and that alone might be enough to keep them around in the polls, regardless of if they have the talent to back it up.
And speaking of talent, this would be a good time to point out I know nothing about the fundamentals of football. I cannot sit here and pretend to tell you that ND’s Spread Offense is not working and they should switch to the 2-3 zone (oops! Sorry! Wrong sport!). I’m better with numbers – like the aforementioned bowl and title droughts. But, because they’re Notre Dame they’ll find their way back to the No.1 ranking, and will shut up the critics lurking in the corner (me) who scoff at a 10-3 season, just because they are Notre Dame, and won’t settle for less than perfection.