FORT LAUDERDALE–Their pedigree suggests they should get more respect. Eleven national championships, 7 Heisman Trophy winners, 865 victories, dating back to 1887. And after posting a 12-0 record, which elevated them from an unranked team to No. 1 in all the polls, Notre Dame does come into its BCS title game against Alabama on Monday night with lots of positive acknowledgements.
But they are also more than a TD underdog against SEC champion once-beaten Alabama, which is getting the respect that comes from being not only the defending national champion, but the winner of what almost everyone concedes is the best conference in college football.
The problem–if you want to call it that–facing the Irish is that their 12 victories have been characterized by what many doubters suggest is as much luck as skill. Three point wins vs. a very average Purdue team and a less than great BYU team, three overtimes to beat a middle of the Big East pack Pittsburgh team, another overtime win against Pac-12 champion Stanford.
“Everybody thought everybody was better than us,” said ND defensive tackle Louis Nix III, perhaps trying to find an explanation of why ND was unranked in the pre-season polls. “Oklahoma was better than us. (a 30-13 ND win in Norman) USC was better than us. (a 22-13 ND win in Los Angeles).
“We get it. We know how everyone thinks. We’re just Notre Dame. Over rated Notre Dame. No one gives us credit for anything. Just the luck of the Irish, I guess.”
Adding to the negative vibes is ND’s record in its last four BCS bowl game appearances-a 41-14 loss to LSU in the Sugar Bowl in 2007, a 34-20 loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl in 2006, a 31-26 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl in 1996 and a 41-24 loss to Colorado in 1995.
Still, considering their history and their sense of confidence which spills out despite the “we don’t get any kind of respect” chatter, it is hard to cast ND in any kind of underdog role at any time. The same thing can be said about Alabama, which has won 14 national championships.
The arrogance factor in Monday night’s game on both sides will be overflowing on the winner’s sideline.
Alabama exudes the Roll Tide/Bear Bryant mystique with Bama coach Nick Saban–who has won a pair of national championships at Alabama as well as one at LSU. With the SEC on a 6-consecutive year streak of winning national championships, it is easy to understand why there is almost a sense of entitlement by the SEC folks.
Some ND backers, however, make the Tide boosters sound modest. Suddenly we are being bombarded with the theory that Notre Dame brand of the way of doing business is not only the right way, but the best way.
After almost two decades of mediocrity and, even worse, irrelevance of Irish football with a series of coaches named Davie, Willingham and Weis, rather than Rockne, Leahy and Parseghian, the emergence of the Irish in Coach Brian Kelly’s third season in South Bend has produced an overflow of confidence and arrogance.
The fact that almost no one–even in the inner sanctum under the Golden Dome–expected a 12-0 season this year, makes it even more delightful to the Irish subway alumni. A win on Monday night will just speed up the process of “We are ND and the rest of you aren’t” mentality which was part of the fabric of college football for generations.
Yet during this revitalization of Irish football, we have seen some recognition that the world of college football is much different than it was a generation, or even a decade, ago.
The decision by ND to jump from the Big East to the ACC in all sports but football was a quiet way ND officials could find a bowl home for future ND teams not of BCS quality. A key part of the arrangement–perhaps a deal breaker–was that in exchange for playing selected ACC teams each season, ND would be put into the ACC bowl rotation each season for teams that were not BCS worthy.
What did ND give up to get this arrangement? Virtually nothing, other than to play a 5 game rotation against ACC schools each season.
Whether ND emerges or is exposed on Monday night remains to be seen. Alabama is perceived as a better team. The only common opponent-Michigan–gives the edge to the Tide. Alabama posted a 41-14 pounding over the Wolverines on Sept. 1. Three weeks later, ND barely held on for a 13-6 victory.
Kelly, who has succeeded in producing winning programs at every place he has been, does not hide the “underdog” role he has used with the Irish.
“I’ve used the technique before during my time as head coach,” said Kelly. “I don’t know that is pertinent because it’s a one-game deal. It’s all or nothing.”
Well, almost all, and not quite nothing, but Kelly will certainly use anything he can to prove that being No. 1 and unbeaten does mean something, no matter what anybody else thinks.
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