Is This Year's Notre Dame Fighting Irish Squad the 2010 Spartans?
Once, not so long ago in a land not so far away, a Midwestern college football team had a fabulous season. So fabulous, in fact, that it was rewarded with a bowl game against the best team in the SEC.
That team played solid defense, so-so offense, and had a former Big East coach trying to make a name for himself in a much tougher arena.
The team manhandled the Big Ten, and beat a number of ranked teams on the way.
Despite all the success, the team had many doubters, and even its own fans were unsure if the fairy-tale season was for real.
No need to guess, as the team would use this game against a top SEC team to tell them if they were for real.
That team was the 11-1 Michigan State Spartans of 2010, and they found out that they were real. Real bad.
The Alabama Crimson Tide wiped the floor with them, 49-7, in a game that looked like the ’67 Green Bay Packers playing a youth football team. At Lambeau, in February. The Tide out-gained MSU 546 yards to 171, and could have done the same with Bama’s seventh-string D, two equipment managers and the mascot on the field for most of the second half.
I wouldn't have been surprised to see an usher getting reps at outside linebacker.
You could safely say that if the two teams played another 10 times, ‘Bama would win 15.
Spartan fans who watched the game from their well-stocked man caves must have felt that their team got hit so hard that their couches were damaged. I'm sure many were so traumatized they still refuse to come out during daylight hours.
And yes, the MSU offense did prove that there actually is crying in football.
So with USC properly disposed of and Notre Dame lotioning up for a sunny date in Miami with the SEC champion, are the Irish looking at a similar fate?
The Similarities Are Strikingly Similar
I can’t lie: On paper, the 2010 Spartans and 2012 Irish look a lot alike.
Their coaches have a Big East pedigree, and both boasted big-time D’s and fair-to-middlin’ offenses.
Both beat up on a bad Big Ten slate, and both struggled against some mediocre competition on the way to double-digit wins.
2010 MSU had fourth-quarter comebacks against Northwestern and Purdue, and survived a Notre Dame team in overtime on a 46-yard fake field goal after the play clock expired.
2012 Notre Dame struggled to beat six-loss Purdue at home on a last-second field goal, and looked anemic against a five-loss BYU team, as well as barely edging a four-loss Wolverine crew.
The controversial overtime win against Stanford is still being heatedly debated at the Cardinal bars, and how the Irish came back from 20-6 down in the fourth quarter to beat an awful Pitt squad in triple overtime is beyond me.
Maybe coincidentally, Sparty and the Tide had one common opponent in 2010.
Sparty gave up 19 fourth-quarter points, but held off a 7-6 Penn State team to eke out a 28-22 win. MSU was out-gained 396 yards to 331.
That same year, Bama smoked the Nittany Lions 24-3, out-gaining them 409 to 283 and grabbing three interceptions from a helpless Penn State offense.
In 2012, the top SEC teams and Notre Dame also had one common opponent—the 8-4 University of Michigan Wolverines.
The Irish eked out a 13-6 win at home by forcing six turnovers despite being out-gained 299 yards to 239.
Alabama simply destroyed UM in their opener, crushing the Wolverines like a paper cup 41-14. The Tide out-gained the Wolverines 431 yards to 232, and it was 232 of the most painful yards you’ll ever see.
If you looked on paper at the 2010 Spartans and the 2012 Irish, the omens are ominous.
The 2010 Spartans Had a Great Schedule
Those of you that had the patience to read this far are probably saying, “Dan, you’re right, we have a lot in common with the 2010 Spartans that got their ass handed to them by Bama in 2010.”
You are wrong.
The 11-1 Spartans played next to nobody in 2011. If you take out 11-2 Wisconsin at home, the rest of MSU’s regular-season schedule was a combined 64-74.
The 2010 Spartans fed on cupcakes all year long.
Sparty played five teams that had six losses, three teams with eight losses, and one team with nine losses among the ragged collection of stink-pots it called a football schedule.
To actually upgrade the competition, MSU played two five-loss teams in 2010. We all know they cheated and beat 8-5 Notre Dame at home on a ballsy “Little Giant” fake 46-yard field goal in OT.
Note that the 2010 Spartan team had eight home games and went 8-0 at home. It’s nice to play nobody, but isn’t it overkill to play almost all of those nobodies at home?
When they actually had to leave the warm confines of the Mitten State, they stopped in a corn field to play 8-5 Iowa and got punished 37-6 in a game that wasn’t remotely that close.
“But Dan, we all know MSU’s defense carried them in 2010. That’s what the Irish are.”
Sorry, but no. That feared MSU defense was way more reputation than reality. Against some awful offenses it was the 39th-best scoring D in the country, coming in at a less-than-disruptive No. 85 in sacks and 86th in tackles for loss.
The 2010 Spartans defense was as fake as the muscles on their goofy-ass mascot.
The Similarities Are Strikingly Unsimilar
The 2012 Irish are nothing like the 2010 Spartans.
While Sparty’s opponents have a collective losing record, ND’s opponents are 80-63 this year, and ND played 9-2 Oklahoma and 7-5 USC on the road, in addition to pounding the Spartans in East Lansing.
Although many of Notre Dame’s 2012 opponents did not live up to preseason expectations, it is still a formidable set of opponents for any team.
And just to let you know, ND’s 2012 defense is not the overhyped collection of smoke and mirrors that Sparty was in 2010.
While Sparty’s 2010 defense depended on a boatload of bad offenses, Notre Dame has played nine teams that average 25 points or more and is still second in the country, giving up only 10.3 points per game.
Six of the 13 teams on Sparty’s mediocre 2010 schedule scored better than their season averages when Sparty took the field.
No team on this year’s Irish schedule has scored their season average against Notre Dame. Not one.
Yes that’s right, and along the way, the Irish held 41-points-per-game Oklahoma to 13 points on their field, and USC’s 34 PPG track stars checked in with 13 points, including getting stoned with six chances from the two late in the fourth quarter.
Michigan’s 30-plus points-per-game offense didn’t score a touchdown, nor did Miami’s 31.4 PPG pass-happy gang. Stanford’s physical 29 points-per-game offense checked in with just 13 in an overtime game.
Notre Dame is 14th in the country in sacks and 21st in interceptions. They’re disruptive and impolite to a fault.
Watching teams try to score on ND this year is like watching the bad end of a bar fight.
Offensively, the 2010 MSU team had to ride their ground game to set up their play-action passes. Against Iowa and Alabama, when the O-line couldn’t get any push and the ground game sputtered, all was lost and they just accepted a horrible beating.
ND’s offense has gotten good production up front against some of the stouter defenses in the country, and the passing game has improved with every game. If one has sputtered, the other has picked up the slack.
No defense is going to pants Notre Dame's offense the way Sparty got stoned in 2010 by teams with solid defensive fronts.
College Football Isn’t 6 Degrees of Separation
Yes, Bama obliterated the same Michigan team that gave Notre Dame all it could handle.
The Crimson Tide steamrolled Michigan 41-14 and made the Wolverines look like a local high school team in the process.
Notre Dame misfired for much of the UM game with a shell-shocked rookie quarterback playing his first home game, surviving a 13-6 slugfest at home that featured six Wolverine turnovers to gift wrap the win.
By my math, Bama won by 27, ND won by seven, putting the Tide 20 points better than the Irish, not including any arguments about a home-field advantage versus a neutral site.
Of course, using the same line of reasoning, the Irish beat Purdue 20-17 at home, and Michigan pounded Purdue 44-13 at Ross-Ade Stadium, making UM four touchdowns better than Notre Dame in 2012.
Guess that tells you how sound that line of reasoning is.
Aside from all that, the Michigan team that played Notre Dame wasn’t the same one that opened in Texas against the Tide, any more than the Irish team you just saw stop USC was the same one that opened against Navy.
Frankly, the Michigan/Alabama game will tell us next to nothing about a potential Notre Dame/Crimson Tide matchup.
Watching the 11-1 defensively oriented 2010 MSU team walk into the Capital One Bowl against a 9-3 Alabama squad and get squashed like a bug does make one wonder if the Midwest can field a team that can compete with the physicality the SEC brings to the table.
They can. More specifically, Notre Dame can.
The key to beating the SEC is simple: You must hold your own in the trenches. Michigan State couldn’t do that on either side of the ball, and Alabama ran wild.
The 2012 Irish have much better personnel up front both offensively and defensively than the 2010 Spartans, and can compete with the SEC’s athletes at the skill positions.
Notre Dame has played a much more demanding schedule than the 2010 Spartans faced, and ND has beaten them all, consequently, there is no formula out there for beating Notre Dame.
They have the athletes and the schemes to compete with the Bamas and the Georgias of the world, and if they play their game, they can beat them too.
Notre Dame, you are no Michigan State. Not this year, not any year.
You are ND. Now go play like it.