The final BCS season is half over, and many of the usual suspects look to play a pivotal role in the race for one of the 10 coveted spots in the Bowl Championship Series. Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State are all gearing up for a BCS run. It also looks as if Notre Dame could also be planning a party crash of sorts.
Detractors love to hate Notre Dame for some reason, and two early losses have the haters giggling like teen girls overcome with barely contained glee. But before the rest of us write off the Fighting Irish, it's important to remember where they fit into the whole BCS formula.
The BCS is finally coming to an end and, for most of us, not a moment too soon. College football's highest division will soon be joining its lower division brethren in finally instituting a playoff of sorts. But if the first half of the 2013 season is any indication, the final installment of the Bowl Championship Series is going to be a doozy.
Notre Dame, of course, is the only program that figures into the BCS formula without a conference affiliation. The official selection process singles out Notre Dame for an automatic berth in the BCS as long as it finishes among the top eight in the final BCS Rankings.
Otherwise, Notre Dame simply needs to qualify as at at-large BCS team like any other "automatically qualifying" program, but without the added hindrance of ensuring it's not the third deserving team in a conference (SEC fans will tell you all about this rule), or by being forced to win a conference title.
Notre Dame entered 2013 much the same way it did 2012; the Irish are sporting a pretty tough schedule, just the kind needed to earn respect from pollsters and computers alike. Just how tough is that schedule? According to Phil Steele, Notre Dame ranks No. 13 in the FBS in terms of strength of schedule.
For the sake of comparison, Alabama ranks No. 40, Oregon is No. 58 and Ohio State is No. 67.
Notre Dame playing a difficult schedule isn't anything new. Despite irrational haters finding any reference on the internet to a terrible strength-of-schedule rating, it's important to remember that in the BCS era, the only SOS calculations that matter are those used by BCS selectors.
Schedule strength of top #BCS teams: Notre Dame (30th) Alabama (39th) Georgia (42nd) Florida (13th) Oregon (31st) K-State (24th) — Sagarin— BCSKnowHow.com (@BCSKnowHow) November 26, 2012
Strength of schedule is so important to BCS selections, only a team's win-loss record eclipses it in value. In seasons where there are three undefeated teams from power conferences, combined with a plethora of one-loss AQ programs, two losses might be more than enough to sink the Irish and their hopes of reaching the BCS. Thanks to Week 7, it doesn't appear likely 2013 will be one of those kinds of season.
With the six BCS AQ conferences, there are just 11 unbeatens left in the nation. The Florida State-Clemson game in Week 8 will further shrink that number down to 10. Florida State and Miami will meet on November 2, possibly reducing the number further.
Texas Tech and Baylor remain the only undefeated programs in the Big 12, and those programs meet on November 16. UCLA and Oregon, the lone remaining Pac-12 programs with spotless records, meet on October 26. Houston and Louisville meet on November 16 in the American Athletic Conference.
It just doesn't appear as if losing a game or two will lock a team out of the BCS this season.
There's also quite a bit of precedence for two-loss teams earning a spot in the BCS. Heck, back in 2007, LSU lost two games during the season and still managed to not only earn a BCS invite, but a trip to the BCS title game.
Notre Dame, as a two-loss team, also has a particular spot in BCS history. Notre Dame was 9-2 in 2000, yet played in the Fiesta Bowl, as was the case in 2005. In 2006, Notre Dame finished with a 10-2 record, yet found its way to the Sugar Bowl.
If Notre Dame's previous BCS experience has come on the heels of two-loss seasons, why should 2013 be any different?
Notre Dame fans can themselves be an irrational bunch. Perhaps as a counterweight to those who hate the Irish simply for hate's sake, Notre Dame fans are almost incomprehensibly convinced of the program's superiority. But even compared to last season's incarnation, Notre Dame isn't quite what it once was.
A less-than-impressive win against Temple to start things off only led to further underwhelming performances from the Irish. But even when it comes to the BCS, the Irish's past life isn't completely irrelevant.
The BCS selection committee is "ecstatic" at the concept of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish competing in a BCS Bowl... http://t.co/Vn15gFs7— Ryan Dell (@Ryan_SHollow) November 2, 2012
Notre Dame has one of, if not the biggest following of any college football program in the nation. As previously mentioned, there are plenty of diehard fans all across the nation. There are also just as many, if not more people who will tune in to watch Notre Dame just to cheer for whoever the Irish happen to be playing.
For that reason, bowl committees—and even the BCS itself—are pulling for Notre Dame to grace their game with its presence.
When Notre Dame comes to town, so too come tens of thousands of fans, millions of television viewers and tens of millions of revenue dollars that might otherwise be going elsewhere. The economic impact of Notre Dame participating in the BCS can't be overlooked, and the pressure on the powers that be in the BCS and on bowl committees to generate that profitable output shouldn't be underestimated.
When it comes to balance sheets, profit statements and television ratings, it really doesn't matter what Notre Dame's strength of schedule is; as long as the BCS executives can find a way to get the Fighting Irish into the system come Selection Sunday, you can rest assured they will.
Five losses didn't keep Wisconsin out last season. Four losses didn't keep out Connecticut after 2010 or Virginia Tech after 2008 or Florida State after 2005 and 2002. Three losses didn't keep out a plethora of other teams. Since its inception, the BCS has seen 62 teams participate with at least two losses.
There's no reason Notre Dame's 2013 team can't be No. 63.
Does Notre Dame have the team this season to finish the year with only its two current losses? That's an entirely different matter.