Notre Dame is undefeated at 9-0, but sits at No. 4 in the BCS standings. Ordinarily, the Fighting Irish would look to be in good shape in its quest for a BCS Championship game berth.
But things have drastically changed for the Irish over the last few weeks.
Notre Dame appeared to have a championship-worthy schedule in the early fall, but its strength has now taken a nose dive.
The Big Ten conference looks mediocre at best and, unfortunately, three of the Irish's opponents are from that conference. It also doesn't help that while Notre Dame beat Michigan 13-6 at South Bend, No. 1 Alabama beat Michigan 41-14 in Arlington. We hate to use transitive theories here, but the discrepancy between Alabama and Notre Dame versus one opponent is glaring.
USC was ranked preseason No. 1, but now is just trying to hang onto a Top 25 ranking. If USC loses this week to Arizona State, Notre Dame will have lost another ranked team on its schedule. Victories over BYU, Miami and Navy don't help the Irish either. Oregon State beat BYU 42-24 (with a reserve quarterback) in Provo, UT while Notre Dame beat BYU at South Bend, IN. 14-7.
Notre Dame tries to follow a 7-4-1 scheduling format that calls for the ideal schedule of seven home games, four road games and one game at a neutral site. This year, the Irish have six true home games, four road games and two neutral sites, but is Chicago's Soldier Field really a neutral site? Let's count that as a home game.
While that 7-4-1 format would work well for a team in a conference, it doesn't work well for an independent such as Notre Dame. The fact that the Irish don't have required league games to play makes it difficult to judge their schedule—there isn't a defined connection. It also means Notre Dame can pick and choose who it wants to play and where it wants to play—for the most part—while other teams are at the mercy of their conference schedulers.
If Notre Dame goes 12-0 but doesn't go to the title game, will that fuel the Irish to join a conference?
More than anything else, while Notre Dame finishes its season with USC two days after Thanksgiving, other BCS conferences will be playing the following week. Out of sight, out of mind.
One BCS conference—the Big 12—made a smart move by scheduling some regular season games on December 1, the same day the SEC, Big Ten and ACC play their respective conference championship games. The Pac-12 holds it conference championship on Friday, November 30.
Championship Saturday is the main headliner and Notre Dame doesn't have a cameo role—but one of the teams in Notre Dame's way, does.
While Notre Dame is at home eating turkey leftovers, No. 2 Kansas State will be playing Texas on December 1. A big win by Kansas State will be fresh in the voters' minds—more fresh than what Notre Dame did the week before at USC.
Unless Kansas State and No. 3 Oregon lay a stinker in the next few weeks, Notre Dame is out of the BCS Championship picture—assuming No. 1 Alabama wins out.
It's a shame the Irish's perfect record won't be rewarded if the top three teams win out, but it certainly does warrant bringing up that annual conversation about why Notre Dame football should join a conference.
This year may be the year that the writing on the wall finally convinces Notre Dame to join a conference.