In college football, the transitive property works in mysterious ways. For Notre Dame, it lets you posit that the Irish can play with—and beat—the elite of college football. But it also shows you that when the Irish break bad, they belong in the dregs of college football.
You can draw your own conclusions about this Irish football team. At 7-3, they've done enough to have three very nice wins on their resume. But they've also laid three eggs, none more rancid than their performance at Heinz Field last Saturday night.
Playing connect the dots tells you all you need to know about Brian Kelly's team. The Irish shut down and embarrassed a USC team that less than a month later beat up Stanford, a team that just a few days ago looked like the big bad nerds that took Oregon down and could challenge the SEC.
|Victories Over Ranked Opponents|
|Team||AP Ranking||Ranked Wins||Record|
|As of November 17 AP Poll|
Notre Dame beat a Michigan State team that has bullied the Big Ten and could end up in the Rose Bowl. The Irish could very well have beaten the Pac-12 South champ as well, with Arizona State two victories away from battling Oregon for the chance to play in Pasadena as well.
Then again, those dots lead to quite a few dead ends. The Irish's defensive ineptitude against Michigan gets uglier by the week, as Al Borges' offense has self-destructed in November. The loss to Oklahoma looks far less noble after Baylor boat-raced Bob Stoops' troops and even Mack Brown got over on the Sooners. And Pitt lost to Navy, who lost to Western Kentucky, who lost to South Alabama, who lost to Southern Utah. That gets ugly in a hurry.
If we are to believe The Natural, losing is a disease, as contagious as polio, syphilis or the bubonic plague. But if you were to listen to Brian Kelly last week, he's pinned the difficulties of the season on two things: Turnovers and giving up big plays.
"The facts are the facts. We turned the ball over eight times in our three losses and we took it away once," Kelly said. "In our seven wins, we turned it over five times and took it away seven times. In our three losses, we gave up runs or passes of 64, 63 and 54 yards. In our seven wins, we gave up one 48-yard pass to Purdue.
"Those are facts. We live in finding solution to those. We know what they are. We know how to win and what we need to do to win."
With two games to go on the season, the Irish have two very important opportunities to show a level of consistency they simply haven't exhibited this season. Show up and play like the team that beat ASU, USC and Michigan State, and there's every reason to believe Notre Dame can beat a better than average BYU and a Stanford team that's now shown twice that they aren't quite as invincible as some had believed.
But play like the Irish did when they gave up big plays to Michigan, the football early (and often) to Oklahoma, or late (and painfully) to Pitt, and Notre Dame could limp into bowl season with five losses.
That's part of living with this football team. A year after doing so many of the little things right, the basics are painfully difficult.
There are still three big opportunities for Notre Dame to salvage this season. But to have even a chance, they'll need to rid themselves of some very bad habits that already cost the Irish a chance at a very good season.