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Notre Dame Football: Alabama and Ohio State Aren’t Peers. But Louisville and Nebraska Are.

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The Irish under Brian Kelly are more similar to Toledo than they are to USC. They’re more like San Diego State than Stanford.

Florida State v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

On Monday’s Irish Illustrated podcast, Scout’s Tim Prister, Tim O’Malley and Pete Sampson were asked: “Excluding Alabama and Ohio State, what programs can we more reasonably compare to ND today? Who is Notre Dame’s current peer group of schools?”

To answer that, I looked at records vs. FBS teams since 2010, Brian Kelly’s first year with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Prister, O’Malley and Sampson are correct in that the Stanford Cardinal are not a peer; they’ve actually been much better than Notre Dame.

Sampson picked the Kansas State Wildcats, which was the best guess. Prister picked the North Carolina Tar Heels, which I would consider well below Notre Dame and the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Here’s Notre Dame’s peer group, as I see it: the Louisville Cardinals, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Kansas State Wildcats, the Georgia Bulldogs, the Houston Cougars, the San Diego State Aztecs and the Toledo Rockets.

NOTRE DAME

FBS win-loss: 59-31 (.656)
Bowls: 3-3; 2010 Sun Bowl (won), 2011 Champs Sports (lost), 2012 BCS National Championship (lost), 2013 Pinstripe (won), 2014 Music City (won), 2015 Fiesta (lost)
Record against AP Top 25 teams (ranking as of gametime): 11-14 (.444)

LOUISVILLE

FBS win-loss since 2010: 56-28 (.667)
Bowls: 4-3; 2010 Beef O’Brady’s (won), 2011 Belk (lost), 2012 Sugar (won), 2013 Russell Athletic (won), 2014 Belk (lost), 2015 Music City (won), 2016 Citrus (lost)

If you’re a fan of the Cardinals, you’ve had a pretty similar experience to an Irish fan since 2010. Louisville has gone 7-6, 7-6, 11-2, 12-1, 9-4, 8-5 and 9-4 in the last seven years. The Cardinals are 3-7 against Top 25 teams since 2010.

The Cardinals’ biggest win was against the No. 4 Florida Gators in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, with a curb-stomping off the Florida State Seminoles last year probably being the second best. They are 0-2 in games against a ranked Clemson Tigers team and 1-2 against top 15 Seminoles teams.

TOLEDO

FBS win-loss since 2010: 56-28 (.667)
Bowls: 3-3; 2010 Little Caesar’s (lost), 2011 Military (won), 2012 Famous Idaho Potato (lost), 2014 GoDaddy (won), 2015 Boca Raton Bowl (won), 2016 Camelia (lost)

Despite employing three different head coaches since 2010, the Rockets are a model of consistency. They’ve gone 8-5, 9-4, 9-4, 7-5, 9-4, 10-2 and 9-4 in the last seven years. I haven’t even looked at Toledo’s 2017 schedule, but I’m pretty confident they’re going to lose four games and win about nine.

As a Mid-American Conference member, the Rockets average only about one Top 25 opponent every year. They’re 2-5 since 2010 against better opponents.

GEORGIA

FBS win-loss since 2010: 57-29 (.663)
Bowls: 4-3; 2010 Liberty (lost), 2011 Outback (lost), 2012 Citrus (won), 2013 Gator (lost), 2014 Belk (won), 2015 TaxSlayer (won), 2016 Liberty (won)

The Bulldogs play in the Southeastern Conference, which gives them plenty of opportunity to play Top 25 teams and cupcakes every season. Since 2010, they are 12-20 (.375) against teams ranked in the AP poll at the time of the game.

Georgia posted a 6-7 season in Mark Richt’s 10th season as head coach, but followed it up with 10-4, 12-2, 8-5, 10-3, 10-3 and 8-5 seasons. The 2016 season was Kirby Smart’s first as the head coach in Athens.

SAN DIEGO ST.

FBS win-loss since 2010: 56-29 (.659)
Bowls: 4-3; 2010 Poinsettia (won); 2011 R+L Carriers (lost); 2012 Poinsettia (lost); 2013 Famous Idaho Potato (won); 2014 Poinsettia (lost); 2015 Hawai’i (won); 2016 Las Vegas (won)

Like Toledo, the Aztecs have been a consistently successful program. San Diego St. has done even better in the last two years - posting identical 11-3 records and winning the Mountain West Championship in 2015. Their previous campaigns were 9-4, 8-5, 9-4, 8-5 and 7-6.

Also like the Rockets, San Diego rarely wins “the big game.” They are 2-6 against Top 25 teams, with the only wins being against the Air Force Falcons in 2010 and the Boise State Broncos in 2012.

NEBRASKA

FBS win-loss since 2010: 57-31 (.648)
Bowls: 2-5; 2010 Holiday (lost), 2011 Capital One (lost), 2012 Capital One (lost), 2013 Gator (won), 2014 Holiday (lost), 2015 Foster Farms (won), 2016 Music City (lost)

Remember when the Cornhuskers fired Bo Pelini because he could only win nine games? As a Notre Dame fan, I thought they were crazy! Mike Riley has been the head coach for just two years. But so far, he also has not been able to get over the nine-win ceiling.

It would have been quite an honor to have Nebraska in one’s peer group in the 1990s. Now, it just means you’re about as good as the third best team in the Big Ten West.

HOUSTON

FBS win-loss since 2010: 55-30 (.647)
Bowls: 3-2; 2011 TicketCity (won), 2013 BBVA Compass (lost), 2014 Armed Forces (won), 2015 Peach (won), 2016 Las Vegas (lost)

It’s probably better to be a Cougars fan at present than an Irish fan. Houston had two 5-7 campaigns that sandwiched a 13-1 finish, which is weird. There’s been two 8-5 finishes — something Irish fans are sadly accustomed to. The Cougars went 13-1 in 2015 and 9-4 last year. They are 7-5 against Top 25 teams since 2010, having won their last six matchups. And they’ve won a New Years Six bowl, which is more than Notre Dame can say.

KANSAS STATE

FBS win-loss since 2010: 54-30 (.643)
Bowls: 2-5; 2010 Pinstripe (lost), 2011 Cotton (lost), 2012 Fiesta (lost), 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings (won), 2014 Alamo (lost), 2015 Liberty (lost), 2016 Texas (won)

The Wildcats have had a bit of a rollercoaster decade under Bill Snyder’s continued tutelage. They went 7-6, 10-3, 11-2, 8-5, 9-4, 6-7 and 9-4 -- almost mirroring seasons that Notre Dame has turned in under Brian Kelly. The main difference seems to be Snyder’s inability to win “the big game.” The Wildcats are 2-5 in bowls and 7-21 against AP Top 25 teams since 2010. Consider that in their Fiesta Bowl year -- 2012 — they went 4-1 against ranked teams.

Wins vs. Football Bowl Subdivision Teams, 2010-2016

Rank School Total Wins FCS Wins FBS Wins FBS Losses FBS win pct. Coach
Rank School Total Wins FCS Wins FBS Wins FBS Losses FBS win pct. Coach
1 Alabama 86 7 79 10 0.888 Saban
2 Ohio State 79 1 78 14 0.848 Tressel, Fickell, Meyer
3 Stanford 76 2 74 17 0.813 Harbaugh, Shaw
4 Florida State 78 8 70 17 0.805 Fisher
5 Boise State 74 2 72 18 0.800 Petersen, Gregory, Harsin
6 Oklahoma 72 1 71 20 0.780 Stoops
7 Clemson 76 9 67 19 0.779 Swinney
8 Oregon 73 7 66 20 0.767 C. Kelly, Helfrich
9 LSU 69 7 62 21 0.747 Miles, Orgeron
10 Wisconsin 72 5 67 24 0.736 Bielema, Alvarez, Andersen, Chryst
11 Oklahoma State 67 5 62 23 0.729 Gundy
12 Northern Illinois 71 6 65 25 0.722 Kill, Matukewicz, Doeren, Carey
13 Michigan State 68 5 63 25 0.716 Dantonio
14 Baylor 65 7 58 26 0.690 Briles, Grobe
15 TCU 64 7 57 26 0.687 Patterson
16 USC 62 0 62 30 0.674 Kiffin, Helton, Orgeron, Sarkisian
17 Louisville 63 7 56 28 0.667 Strong, Petrino
18 Toledo 61 5 56 28 0.667 Beckman, Campbell, Candle
19 Georgia 64 7 57 29 0.663 Richt, Smart
20 San Diego St. 63 7 56 29 0.659 Hoke, Long
21 Notre Dame 59 0 59 31 0.656 Kelly
22 Nebraska 62 5 57 31 0.648 Pelini, Riley
23 Houston 61 6 55 30 0.647 Sumlin, Levine, Herman
24 Kansas St. 60 6 54 30 0.643 Snyder
25 Michigan 58 1 57 32 0.640 Rodriguez, Hoke, Harbaugh
26 Virginia Tech 61 6 55 32 0.632 Beamer, Fuente
27 Texas A&M 60 7 53 31 0.631 Sherman, Sumlin
28 Auburn 60 6 54 32 0.628 Chizik, Malzahn
29 Navy 59 7 52 31 0.627 Niumatalolo
30 South Carolina 58 7 51 32 0.614 Spurrier, Elliott
@andrewwinn