Usually around this time, we're mulling over my college football "Most Hated List" and trying to work out where Notre Dame is on the list.
Usually, they are a top-five team for the list. Why? Because it's so damned easy.
It's easy to hate the fact that the Irish have their own TV contract, which means that they don't have to bother entering a conference for football.
It's easy to hate the fact that while other schools are going to be furious at not making a big-time BCS game, Notre Dame fans get to laugh, knowing that if they are the top eight of the BCS, they are going to a big-time bowl.
It's easy to hate the fact that when the Irish are doing well, everyone's a freaking Notre Dame fan, and when they suck, no one really mentions them.
Then there's the Rudy factor. Which is strange, since the movie isn't exactly true (although it still makes this writer tear up a little).
And it's easy to hate the fact that Notre Dame is apparently the official football team of the Catholic Church, and therefore anyone who's a Catholic is automatically a Notre Dame fan (this point is untrue, but it's a common fallacy).
But the problem the VFA has is that somewhere in that black cloud is a certain amount of admiration.
In a world of bad coaches and worse players, the biggest problem the Irish seem to have is the wayward drinking issues of their wide receiver Michael Floyd. We don't seem to hear a peep out of Notre Dame—it seems as though they've learned since the Lou Holtz debacle of 1999.
They recruit intelligent kids. It's quite simple at Notre Dame. If you don't make the grades, you're getting your ass booted out of school. Or at the very least, you're suspended from the team until your grades DO pick up. They've got 216 Academic All-Americans at the school (although that's second to Nebraska, who has a sterling 277). What we also like is the fact that if stay for four years and get an education, then you've got a better chance at getting a better life in a world outside of football. As the NCAA keeps telling us, not all athletes go pro in their chosen sport.
If the Irish make the "Elite Eight" in the BCS by December 2011, it's probably because they've beaten some good teams on the way. Sorry folks, but Michigan's going to be a lot better in 2011 and Southern Cal is still Southern Cal.
As for other teams on the schedule, the added Air Force game and end-of-season trip to Stanford and future NFLer (if there is one) Andrew Luck is going to be even testier. And turning the clocks forward a year, they've got battles against Oklahoma and Miami, as well as a road game against the Trojans, who by now will be bowl eligible and ready to kill.
As for the TV contract, it's still stunningly large. But such is the nature of Notre Dame and its wide presence throughout college football's fanbase—whether you like it or not, the Irish are still a fixture in college football tradition. If they are winning, the lovers watch the games and if they are losing, the haters do—even if it is to cheer on their opponents!
And lastly, the Catholic thing. As a practicing non-Catholic, we can definitely respect the link between sport and religion (the VFA attends the Anglican Church (that's Episcopalian in America-speak). Above anything else, Notre Dame is a Catholic school. They aren't about to hide it. But you know what? Notre Dame isn't the only school supported by Catholics. I suspect EVERY school has a Catholic fanbase—even those in Texas!
The major question remains: Will Notre Dame remain on the hated list this year? You'll just have to wait and find out....
We're not going to sing the Notre Dame fight song, but we'll give you a moment of Rudy to keep you happy, Notre Dame fans...