Notre Dame Football: Are the 8-0 Irish Underrated?
As Theo Riddick gyrated through the Oklahoma secondary, spinning into the end zone and cementing Notre Dame's dominating 30-13 victory over the No. 8 Sooners, ABC commentator Brent Musburger made what he felt was a declaration.
"Folks, I want to tell you something right now," he delivered in a stern grave tone. "Notre Dame is relevant once again."
Musburger's comments highlight a very new phenomenon in Notre Dame history—being underrated.
The Irish have risen to eight wins in eight games, equaling their best record through two thirds of the season in exactly a decade. Along the way, Notre Dame has beaten four Top 25 opponents and has not played an FCS or "mid major" opponent.
Notre Dame has won those games on the back of the nation's second ranked defense, which is allowing just under 10 points per game, has only allowed one rushing score and six total touchdowns through eight games.
Coming into the season, it was argued by most that Notre Dame's schedule was just too tough. They were expected to fall against Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford and Oklahoma so far.
Now that the Irish have held that group to an average of 9.5 points per game, winning by an average margin of two points per game, the schedule is being called "weak."
The Irish are currently ranked third in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
They are only third because of the computer votes, as all of the human polls place them fourth of the four undefeated teams.
The computers, who favor strength of schedule rather than offensive point tally, all favor the Irish, ranking them either first or second.
Ahead of Notre Dame in the human polls are Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State. Some voters even have placed Louisiana State ahead of the Irish, despite their loss to Florida.
Alabama, until they lose, will be at the top of the rankings. The defending champions and best team from the best conference always should be.
Behind the Tide, the positions are truly up for debate.
Unfortunately, should three of four teams win out, the human polls would be the determining factor as to which team plays the already anointed Alabama squad for the title.
As it stands now, Notre Dame would be left out.
The human polls place much more value on offensive production and flash. It's simply not possible for all of the voters to watch all of the games and truly decide which team is the most deserving of their vote.
Both Kansas State and Oregon run video game offenses.
They fly up and down the field and make scoring 50 points seem as routine as taking a shotgun snap.
Still, had the Irish started with a higher ranking, there is no reason to believe that either Kansas State or Oregon should be ranked higher than Notre Dame.
Oregon opened with a gauntlet of perennial powers (in women's swimming) by beating Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech.
The Ducks managed to score more than 50 points in two of the three games (both against FCS teams) but also surrendered 34, 25 and 14 points, respectively, which is only six points shy of the Irish's season total.
Oregon's two "quality wins" so far were against then-No. 22 Arizona and then-No. 23 Washington.
They have played the bottom half of the Pac 12 and finish with USC, California, Stanford and Oregon State, which are by far the toughest on their schedule.
Kansas State also began with an FCS opponent in Missouri State before thumping common Irish opponent Miami, 52-13. The Wildcats also struggled with North Texas (35-21) and Iowa State (27-21) and obliterated Kansas (56-16), No. 15 West Virginia (55-14) and No. 14 Texas Tech (55-24).
Kansas State also shared Oklahoma with the Irish, winning 24-19 in Norman.
The Wildcats finish with Oklahoma State, at Texas Christian, at Baylor and welcome impossibly still ranked Texas to close the season.
What makes the situation difficult for Notre Dame is that the strength of the Notre Dame schedule is behind them.
If beating four Top 25 teams, including a pair of Top 10 opponents, is not impressive enough to push the Irish passed Kansas State and Oregon in human polls, consider opponent record.
Kansas State's opponents are 32-31, including FCS Missouri State's 3-6 mark.
Oregon's opponents have recorded a 28-35 record, including Tennessee Tech's 2-6 tally.
Notre Dame's opponents are 38-27. Their lowest level opponent, Navy, is 5-3.
To finish the season, the Irish host 4-4 Pittsburgh and 4-4 Wake Forest, while traveling to 2-6 Boston College and 6-2 USC.
Even if Notre Dame concludes the campaign by winning out in convincing fashion, it may not be enough.
Oregon has USC this weekend, and Kansas State has a pair of ranked opponents remaining.
The clearest path for the Irish to get to the championship game is for both Oregon and Kansas State to lose.
For this weekend, of course cheer for Old Notre Dame.
But also cheer for Oklahoma State and USC.
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