Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why Notre Dame needs to join a conference

I know this is heresy to Notre Dame alumni and fans, but Notre Dame needs to join a conference. Why? Two simple words: National Championships. If the Irish want to stay relevant in the National Title hunt, they need to play a big time schedule.

Let’s look at this season. Had Charlie Weis managed the clock better and the Irish had beaten Michigan, and then they beat USC and finished the season undefeated, in my opinion they would not have played for the National Championship. They simply will not have had a strong enough schedule. They will play one game this year against a ranked opponent and that’s next week against USC. And let’s not forget that USC is just one amazing fourth quarter drive against Ohio State from being unranked with two losses right now. That is not a BCS quality schedule. That is Boise State territory. Utah and TCU will play more games this year against ranked opponents.

If the season ended with an undefeated SEC champion, an undefeated Big 12 Champion, and an undefeated Notre Dame, who would you put in the title game? Certainly not Notre Dame. Even a one-loss SEC or Big 12 Champion probably would have deserved a spot in the national title game ahead of an undefeated Notre Dame. Would they have gotten it ahead of the Irish? Hard to tell. It’s hard to imagine an undefeated Irish team not playing for the championship, even if they didn’t deserve it. Notre Dame has a lot of pull. Had Notre Dame played for the title, they would have gotten killed, and it would never have happened again.

Even now if Notre Dame beats USC and finishes with one loss, they will not play in a BCS game. They simply do not have the schedule to finish ranked 8th or higher (what they need to be rated to get an automatic spot in a BCS game).

By picking a few teams from different conferences and playing a schedule against teams that don’t play each other, the Irish have no guarantee year in and year out of playing a tough schedule. Ever since they dropped Miami from their schedule, they rely on two teams to make their schedule legitimate: USC and Michigan. When one of those schools falls on lean years, like Michigan has, it hurts Notre Dame, a lot.

Teams in major conferences don’t have that problem. If a perennial powerhouse has a few off years, there’s another school in the conference to pick up the slack. They know they’re going to play several games every year against ranked opponents, and if they’re going to win their conference, they’re going to have to beat some.

Notre Dame will never have that certainty. Even if a miracle occurs and the NCAA institutes a playoff system, Notre Dame’s only way in as an independent will be reliant on some sort of subjective ranking that will factor in strength of schedule.

At some point, Notre Dame is going to have to decide what is more important to them: their national TV contract or National Championships.

**UPDATE - 11/16**

Notre Dame did play another ranked team last weekend in #8 Pitt and if Stanford manages to beat Cal this weekend they’ll likely be ranked when the Irish play them Thanksgiving weekend. That makes their schedule somewhat more respectable.

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