ND is No. 1–and the underdog against Bama

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.






© 2013, Mark. All rights reserved.

  6 comments for “ND is No. 1–and the underdog against Bama

  1. MaroonNGold
    January 6, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Though I hold no brief for ND, it’s hardly fair to them to say that they think of themselves as a BC type school.

    Their self esteem is higher than that.

  2. Chris Columbo
    January 5, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Notre Dame has a lot of team speed on Defense which is what has made their team special, this will minimize Alabama’s offensive strength. I don’t think Notre Dame has the offensive firepower to get enough points to win though. Brian Kelly is the real deal as a coach having won impressively everywhere he has been. As long as he is at the school ND will be a top 15 program.

    Yes the arrogance is back to where it used to be in football. It never left and has been simmering below the surface for a long time. They have invested heavily in non football facilities and I believe that finding a home for those teams is what the primary driver of moving to the ACC was all about. Also they wanted to be in a better neighborhood academically. ND fancies themselves as a Duke, UNC, Boston College,UVA type of school . The football deal was strictly about picking up the 5 easy teams on the schedule each year, as it is expensive to bring in visiting teams. ACC will be an easier basketball conference for ND upside, yes they have UNC, Duke and soon Syracuse. However, the Big East ,even in its diminished state ,provides a consistently much tougher stretch of opponents each year and it is battle to break out from the middle of the pack.

  3. CAG
    January 5, 2013 at 10:17 am

    stuff happens. jersey guys deal with it.

    • Ben Dover
      January 5, 2013 at 8:27 pm

      you make some good points

  4. January 4, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    Notre Dame players actually have to learn in school. My dog could graduate from Bama.

  5. Dennis
    January 4, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    This is like trying to pick between China and Russia. I can’t stand either one of them but maybe I can’t stand Bama a little less. ND is so so arrogant in everything they do, The sense of entitlement is sickening to me. As much as I am sick of the SEC hoarding the BCS title, I just can’t root for Notre Dame. There is an old line that goes “Cheer cheer for Old Notre Dame, where never a contract is ever the same…” I just wish Stanford had been awared that touchdopwn in OT at South Bend in October….then maybe we would be seeing Oregon and Bama on Monday…which is probably what should have happened.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *