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Posted: Wednesday September 9, 2009 12:07PM; Updated: Wednesday September 9, 2009 2:59PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >
COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Dissecting Notre Dame hatred, OU's chances, Miami's relevance, more

Story Highlights

The six reasons non-Domers hate the Irish … even when they're losing

Miami and FSU aren't going to contend for the title, but they're exciting

Plus: Oklahoma's prospects, the Week 1 Hot Seat, ear worms and more

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Many have viewed Charlie Weis as a villain ever since he arrived in South Bend and pronounced his schematic advantage.
Many have viewed Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis as a villain ever since he arrived in South Bend and pronounced his schematic advantage.
AP
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You may find this hard to believe (actually, you probably won't), but the team about which I receive the most e-mails is not Florida, Texas or USC. It's Notre Dame. And unlike with most schools, I receive nearly as many Irish-related queries from non-Notre Dame fans as from Domers. Generally, those particular readers aren't writing in to compliment the Irish.

Thus, in advance of Saturday's Notre Dame-Michigan duel -- a game 80 percent of the country will complain receives too much attention, but 75 percent will still watch -- I found this e-mail from Marc Perras of Somerville, Mass., to be particularly thought provoking.

Stewart, I think we agree that a perennial powerhouse for fans to love/hate makes any sport more fun. I've seen the love drift away from Notre Dame over the past decade, but the hate still seems to be of New York Yankees/Duke basketball proportions. Is it the NBC contract? Because it's certainly not the winning. Shouldn't fans be more worried about USC and Florida dominating the sport?

Marc has a point. The Yankees haven't won the World Series in a while, but at least they contend. Duke doesn't go to the Final Four every year, but the Blue Devils are usually in the mix. The Irish, however, haven't won a national championship in 21 years and have only finished in the top 10 (No. 9, in 2005) once in the past 15 years. And yet, national resentment toward Notre Dame remains as strong as ever.

Why is that? Probably because...

The Irish play by their own set of rules. Twenty years ago, Notre Dame's status as an independent was hardly unique. Florida State, Miami, Penn State and others were independents as well. But in the BCS era, when so much is made of conference strength, it frustrates fans of other teams that the BCS treats Notre Dame as a conference unto itself. Why should one school get special treatment?

The relentless media attention. While doing preseason radio interviews around the country, I was asked about Notre Dame more than any team besides Florida. No matter the media market, the Irish are a constant topic of conversation. Meanwhile, one of ESPN's most visible analysts is a former Irish coach-turned-cheerleader. In a sport where fans are perpetually paranoid about perceived media favoritism, Notre Dame is the one case where it's quite noticeably true.

The NBC contract. At this point, Notre Dame's TV contract is not nearly as lucrative as those of any Big Ten or SEC school, but that's not really the point. The fact that the Irish have their own dedicated network irks people for the same reason as my first point: special treatment.

Their (perceived) arrogance. Notre Dame fans may not have much to brag about wins-wise lately, but they're the first to point out their school "does it the right way" -- high graduation rates, no juco transfers, no jock majors. In theory, this approach should be something to which the rest of the country aspires. In reality, most people simply refuse to believe it's true and resent the fact that a vocal fan base perpetuates this "myth" (though I personally don't believe it's a myth).

The BCS bowl losses. Notre Dame is hardly the only team that's lost multiple BCS games, and Ohio State and Oklahoma have received their share of criticism for similar failures. But those Buckeye and Sooner teams were BCS-conference champions that would have played in one of the big games regardless. Every time the Irish lay an egg against an Oregon State or an LSU, there's frustration over the fact someone more "deserving" could have received that bid.

Their coach is a (perceived) S.O.B. I don't remember a whole lot of venom toward the Irish when Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham were coaching them. But from the minute Charlie Weis arrived on campus and announced his intent to out-scheme all comers -- then received a big, fact contract for almost beating USC -- he became a villain. While he's changed his tone considerably the past couple of years, first impressions are hard to shake.

There are a couple of interesting historical footnotes to add to this discussion. For one, most fans don't realize that in the 1920s, Notre Dame actively sought membership in the Big Ten, but the league's schools -- most vocally Michigan -- voted against it. And in light of the hubbub about the Irish's preferential bowl treatment, it's incredible to think that for more than four decades (1925-68), the school did not allow the team to play in bowl games, period.

But that's all moot today. If the Irish win Saturday, and if they string together more victories after that, they're going to rise up the polls, and as they do, fans around the country will inevitably grow more and more incensed.

Here's what I wonder. What would happen if Notre Dame does fulfill Dr. Lou's prophecy and reach the BCS Championship Game? More importantly, what would happen if the Irish won? Would respect finally replace all that resentment and skepticism?

I doubt it, and here's why. While no self-respecting Big 12 or SEC fan would ever admit it, there's one universal theme behind all that hatred: envy.

While OU's offensive line was unquestionably terrible against BYU, do you really think Oklahoma would not have won if Sam Bradford were healthy? I think they would have scored more with Bradford and BYU doesn't win. And if OU ends up as bad as you seem to think they'll be, is this win that impressive for BYU?
-- Tom H., Hanover, N.H.

There are games when a quarterback or other star player gets hurt, and suddenly the momentum changes completely. Oklahoma-BYU was not one of them. Obviously, the Sooners' offense would have stood a much better chance in the second half if it hadn't lost the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but it's not like the unit was trucking along with Bradford in the lineup. BYU's defense was dominating the line of scrimmage early, and continued to do so throughout the second half.

Would the game have turned out differently had Bradford not gotten hurt? Quite possibly. But how different might the game have been for BYU had the Cougars not been without star running back Harvey Unga? BYU won despite rushing for just 28 yards. You could argue Oklahoma probably would have scored more than three points in the second half with Bradford, but I'll counter that the Cougars might have scored more points, too, if they hadn't been forced to play such one-dimensional football.

Whatever the case, I would like to clarify that I don't suddenly think Oklahoma is "bad." Kevin Wilson is one of the best offensive coordinators in the business. He'll get that line playing better in a hurry, and Bradford will be back in just a few weeks (though losing tight end Jermaine Gresham for the season hurts). Remember, the Sooners have been down this road before. In 2006, they lost quarterback Rhett Bomar just before the season, lost to Oregon and Texas early, lost running back Adrian Peterson to a broken collarbone -- and still won the Big 12.

So I wouldn't count out Oklahoma in the Big 12. As for the national title ... that would likely require the Sooners winning all their remaining games. That's not going to happen.

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