Eight games into the 2014 season, Notre Dame sits at a somewhat surprising 7-1 with a collection of puzzling performances. Are the Irish the team that lost to the #2 team in the country on an unfavorable flag and threw a mediocre rival into disarray with a dominant performance? Or are they the team that benefited from a favorable flag to barely escape a weak unranked team and needed a fourth down score to eke out a win against another mediocre rival? The answer, it seems, depends largely on where the respondent's allegiances lie - not just within college football at large, but even within the Notre Dame community.
Irish fans suffered through almost two decades of darkness that ran from the twilight of the Holtz era to the pre-dawn moments of the early Kelly era, often drawing battle lines against Irish coaches, opponents' fans, or even each other. Online Notre Dame communities became insular, building reputations as havens for unicorn riders or storm gatherers, and within each community there were minority factions that shouted into the wind. It was as an unhappy time for unhappy people. After the Bob Weisingham Era of Darkness, it appears that many fans are still girding their loins out of habit, even as morning has broken and we're finally able to feel the warmth of daylight again.
Look, I'm not trying to be naive. A large part of that fractious phenomenon is human nature - it exists among Alabama fans, Yankee fans, Real Housewives of New Jersey fans, the Senate, etc. - and I'm certainly not immune to it myself. It's very hard for human beings to accept prosperity, and paradoxically it's also very hard for human beings to accept constructive criticism. Much like the university we all love, though, we here at OneFootDown believe in the ability of man to overcome his inherent shortcomings and bring a fair and reasoned perspective to any discussion, even with those who are diametrically opposed to you. With that in mind, then, we'll take a look at a rational case both for and against the Irish, and we invite you to do the same in the comments. Please counter your opponents with something meatier than "that's ridiculous" - use your God-given gift of reason to support your case.
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Committee
I was cautiously optimistic about the playoff selection process, and then when the first rankings came out I turned into an enraged wild boar. Travesty! Sham! Mockery! Traveshamockery! Upon further reflection, though, my opinion changed completely; honestly, we were #6 in the AP because we're by-God Notre Dame, not necessarily because we're objectively better than teams 7 through 10. We've all complained loud and long about how the AP and Coaches' polls lack clear criteria and as such are heavily subjective, and now that the committee applies fairly clear criteria to come to a relatively objective ranking we're ticked off. What if we take a closer look with an empty mind?
The turnaround happened for me when I realized that the 1993 Notre Dame team would likely have been the #1 playoff seed even after the Boston College loss. Think about it. If you want to assault the selection committee's methodology, that's fine - no methodology for anything is ever perfect, so let's discuss. Come with something stronger than "I just know that team sucks" or "Ty hates us and is tanking the process," because that kind of argument is prima facie fully subjective and unsupportable by those troublesome fact thingies.
Bulls Make Money, Bears Make Money, Pigs Get Slaughtered
The Bull's Take On Notre Dame
- Have you seen how young this team is? They're at the beginning of the learning curve and they're bound to improve.
- True, the defense seems to have tailed off over the last few games, but those three opponents were a classic trap game, the defending national champs and Heisman winner in their house, and a gimmicky offense.
- We don't have the effective extra bye weeks inherent in scheduling FCS teams, so it's harder to be dominant every week.
- It's not our fault that just about every perceived quality team on our schedule is having a down year.
- We've made it to 7-1 even though we're missing three starters and one key contributor due to suspension (Russell, Williams, Daniel, and Hardy), and one starter and one key contributor due to injury (Collinsworth and Baratti). Few teams could survive that kind of attrition.
- The offense and defense have shown flashes of dominance - if they get it together at the same time, watch out!
The Bear's Take on Notre Dame
- Have you seen how young this team is? I'm terrified of mental errors popping up at the worst possible time.
- That was North Carolina's third-highest scoring output of the year, the defense got carved up in the second half against Florida State, and defending the option is just sound assignment football and we didn't do that too well. There's reason to be concerned about each of those games.
- The committee makes no distinction between bottom-dwelling FBS teams and FCS teams, and we shouldn't either - an elite team should have no more trouble with one than the other.
- The reality is we have yet to beat a ranked team, and our best win looks worse every week. That might not mean anything definitive about the ceiling, but it at least means we don't know what the floor is for this team.
- There's honor in winning without valuable players, but there's no rational explanation for boosting a team's ranking in consideration of guys who aren't coming back this year.
- The offense and defense have been maddeningly inconsistent, and if they don't get on the same page soon it could cost us at least one, maybe even two or three games the rest of the way.
The Overflowing Cup
There's an old Zen koan about a young man who journeys from the city to the mountains to learn from a famously wise Zen master. When he arrives at the master's monastery, he introduces himself to the master and immediately starts talking about all the wonderful ideas that they have at home, how they've considered all things and are developing a comprehensive philosophy, how brilliant the teachers are, etc. The master gestures for tea to be brought over, and begins to pour for his young guest. The guest nods when the cup is nearly full, but the master doesn't stop pouring - the tea overflows the cup, spilling over onto the tray and eventually onto the floor as the master just keeps pouring.
The young man is annoyed, and asks the master why he's making such a mess. The master smiles at the young man, and says, "You come here seeking wisdom - but how I can I give you any when your cup is full?" There are great debates to be had about our program and our season, but they will only be enjoyable if you enter them with your cup empty; please listen to and consider the opposing viewpoint, and respond to it with reason rather than rhetoric. Above all, act like the people in this community are your friends, for better or worse - because they are, or you wouldn't come back here to partake of their company as often as you do. Thanks.