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When Irish-hating goes overboard

'Bag's readers have sad obsession with ND's ranking

Posted: Wednesday November 16, 2005 11:58AM; Updated: Wednesday November 16, 2005 1:16PM
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Notre Dame wideouts Jeff Samardzija (left) and Maurice Stovall high-five in celebration of their lofty ranking.
Notre Dame wideouts Jeff Samardzija (left) and Maurice Stovall high-five in celebration of their lofty ranking.
Al Tielemans/SI

It's no secret that most people who don't root for Notre Dame tend to despise the Fighting Irish. I never would have guessed it was this bad, however.

There are any number of more pertinent college football topics we could be discussing this week -- whether USC or Texas will go down, who will win the ultra-close Heisman race, Joe Paterno's quest for the Big Ten title, Bill Snyder's retirement -- but Mailbag readers are apparently far more concerned with whether a certain two-loss team is ranked sixth or ninth. In fact, based on the volume of e-mails, I would go so far as to call it an obsession -- particularly among Ohio State fans.

So, if that's all you guys want to talk about ... then by golly, that's all I'm going to talk about.

I understand that Ohio State has two losses, but those losses are to two top-five teams by a combined margin of 10 points. Notre Dame lost to an unranked Michigan State team at home. How are the Irish still ranked above Ohio State?
--Andrew, Columbus, Ohio

All right, let's look back and figure out how this crime against humanity could have happened.

As you may recall, Notre Dame began the season unranked in the AP poll; Ohio State started sixth. After the season's first weekend, in which the Irish beat then-No. 23 Pittsburgh and the Buckeyes beat Miami of Ohio, the Irish debuted at No. 20; OSU moved up to fourth. The following week, the Buckeyes dropped to ninth following their loss to No. 2 Texas, while Notre Dame jumped 10 spots to No. 10 following its win at No. 3 Michigan. It would later turn out that neither of the Irish's first two opponents were deserving of their preseason stature, but the pollsters didn't realize that at the time.

Notre Dame first passed Ohio State in the poll following the Buckeyes' 17-10 loss at Penn State on Oct. 8, a game in which OSU's already questionable (at the time) offense looked downright awful against an opponent few figured would be 9-1 right now. Notre Dame rose to ninth; Ohio State dropped to 15th. The following week the nation watched as the Irish played the consensus No. 1 team in the country, USC, to a standstill for 59 minutes, losing on a miraculous last-second sequence. AP voters, quite justifiably in my opinion, kept the Irish right where they were (I dropped them one spot.)

Since then, the Buckeyes' offense has exploded, keying a five-game winning streak in which they've gradually risen back to No. 9, but all Notre Dame has done since the USC game is blow out three opponents as well. So, while OSU has been able to close the gap between the two (currently three spots in the AP poll, one spot on my ballot), it's been unable to pass the Irish. That's pretty much how it happened.

What's with the love affair with this Notre Dame team? I think the pollsters are giving them way too much credit for the USC game. Other than hanging tough with the Trojans, who have the Irish beaten? A 5-5 Pitt team; an overrated, 7-3 Michigan team, a 6-4 BYU team; a horrendous 4-5 Tennessee team; a woeful 4-6 Purdue team and a terrible 2-8 Washington team. To me, that hardly sounds impressive. What gives?
--Jessica, Windsor, Ontario

I can't speak for other pollsters, but as for my lofty opinion of the Irish, yes, it has a whole lot to do with that USC game. You say voters are giving the Irish "too much credit" for their performance that day. I would counter, how is that possible? I don't know if you've noticed, but the Trojans have won 32 straight games. They field quite possibly the greatest offense in college football history. And yet, if Matt Leinart's fumble had gone forward rather than out of bounds,  or if he doesn't audible to the perfect call on fourth-and-9, or doesn't get that helping hand on the goal-line sneak, Notre Dame would have won that game. I was there that day, and what I saw was an extremely well-coached team that gets the maximum ability out of every player on the field. The Irish have a quarterback, Brady Quinn, who is as solid as any other in the country.

Clearly, the Irish proved against USC they're capable of beating pretty much any other team in the country on any given day, and though Notre Dame's opposition hasn't been great, I have absolutely no problem ranking the Irish sixth in the country, despite their two losses. Apparently some other people do ...