When the preseason polls came out in August, Notre Dame was not ranked in the Top 25, while Kansas State was ranked No. 22. As of Sunday, Notre Dame is ranked No. 3 and Kansas State is ranked No. 2.
What happened here?
Most voters would probably agree that Notre Dame's schedule looked too difficult to overcome, and thus, impossible for the Fighting Irish to have a record worthy enough to be in the Top 25. That may have been the thought process, but several things changed throughout the first two months of football: The Fighting Irish have a great defense, and their schedule included some teams that were too overvalued.
Oklahoma, a preseason Top 5 team, had already lost to Kansas State when Notre Dame played the Sooners on October 27. Moreover, two Big Ten teams ranked No. 8 and No. 13 in the preseason—Michigan and Michigan State, respectively—didn't live up to their hype and diluted Notre Dame's strength of schedule as well.
Notre Dame should get credit for playing almost all BCS teams (Navy being the exception) and avoiding any FCS teams, which is part of Notre Dame's scheduling policy. It also should get credit for reeling off 10 consecutive victories.
Did anyone see this coming?
Probably not, since there was a quarterback controversy prior to Notre Dame's season opener against Navy. Probably not, because Notre Dame has been stuck with that "overrated" label for years by a large percentage of football fans. Why should this year be any different?
Because it is.
Notre Dame is for real. But so is Kansas State.
The difference between Kansas State and Notre Dame is that the Wildcats had a great 2011 and the team is coached by one of the best in college football—Bill Snyder. We know what he's capable of, and while we didn't think Kansas State would pull off another 10-win season back-to-back, Snyder's done just that. We shouldn't be surprised at all.
Shame on us.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has championship rings from the Big East, MAC and Division II's Grand Valley State, but he's also had some controversial moments: He announced his impending departure from Cincinnati three hours after the Bearcats' annual team banquet. A student died in a tragic scissor-lift tower accident when wind conditions at a practice were reportedly in excess of what is considered a safe operation level.
We know Kelly is a winner, but there's a hesitancy to give him full approval. He coaches at one of the most polarizing schools in the country—give the haters a reason to hate and Notre Dame gets dinged without hesitancy. It's really unfair.
This year, Notre Dame looked iffy at quarterback, had an impossible schedule, and despite conference expansion's continual metamorphosis, its football program remained independent.
The quarterback situation is under control. The impossible schedule is now doable—but certainly no cupcake—and a lot more difficult than Alabama's. Notre Dame still doesn't play in a conference, and thus, will escape a conference championship game. That may be prove to be problematic if the two teams above the Irish win out.
Despite Kansas State also not having a conference championship game to play in, the Wildcats still play in a BCS conference and can't control their schedule like Notre Dame can. Despite the Wildcats' perceived tougher schedule, Notre Dame's schedule (No. 28) is ranked higher in the Sagarin ratings than Kansas State's schedule (No. 29).
Notre Dame and Kansas State's 10-0 record shouldn't have surprised us, but it has for one reason, and one reason only.
Notre Dame and Kansas State gave us all the signs, but we were just too narrow-minded and short-sighted to see them. Our attention was turned toward the SEC and who can beat its teams.
Which team surprised you most in 2012?
The long-running, perennial punch line of Notre Dame's irrelevancy is now gone. The Fighting Irish will be taking another BCS or at-large team's spot in a BCS bowl if they can stay in the BCS Top 8 rankings.
Notre Dame's return to prominence was inevitable. Bill Snyder being Bill Snyder was inevitable. The SEC's dominance in the BCS era trending down, while the Pac-12 and Big 12 trending up were also inevitable.
College football is cyclical.
Nobody should be surprised at the Fighting Irish and Wildcats' successes.