Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Reality Check: A Decade of Mediocrity

Talk about a slap in the face. I was in the car this morning, listening to Colin Cowherd's radio show, and he was talking about the top college football programs of the last decade. Apparently the management at ESPN has asked folks there to rank the top college programs of the past decade from 1 to 120. Colin had his top 15 done, and he had Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde on as guests to talk about their lists. Forde and Maisel each had their lists done only to about 15 or 20 as well. It was an interesting segment, with LSU, USC, Ohio State, Florida State, Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma (and others) figuring prominently in the discussion. But not Notre Dame! I was incensed at this blatant display of anti-Irish bias from ESPN (again!).

I resolved to write an e-mail to "The Herd" setting him straight about why the Irish, despite their recent struggles in big games, deserved to be at least in the Top 15 or 20 programs over the past decade. After all, we play a very tough schedule year-in and year-out, and although top programs USC and Michigan have basically owned us recently, we did very well against them early in the decade.

That's when reality slapped me in the face. Hard. I set about gathering the facts to plug into my e-mail, and I discovered that I did not have a leg to stand on. Using George Macor's Notre Dame Football Database to research game results for the past 10 seasons (1997-2006), I rapidly came to the conclusion that, despite our tremendous tradition and football heritage, despite our commitment to doing things "the right way" on and off the field, Notre Dame's football team has been pretty darn mediocre for a decade. "Blasphemy!" you say. I'm afraid not. Here are the cold, hard facts.

  • From 1997 - 2006 the Irish played 122 games, earning 75 wins against 47 losses, for a .615 winning percentage.
  • At home, the Irish were 45 wins against 17 losses, for a winning percentage of .726.
  • On the road, 24 wins and 23 losses. Winning percentage of .511.
  • Against unranked opponents we played 77 games, winning 58 and losing 19 (.753 winning percentage).
  • Against opponents ranked at the time in the Top 25 Notre Dame had 17 wins against 28 losses. That's a "winning" percentage of .378.
  • Against opponents in the Top 10 at the time the Irish had 5 wins against 16 losses (winning percentage of .238).
  • Against opponents in the Top 5, Notre Dame has 2 wins and 12 defeats (winning percentage of .143).
  • Notre Dame has played in seven bowl games over the past ten seasons, but have lost all seven games. The average margin of loss was just over 17 points.
But what about my "memory" that we had done pretty well against Michigan and USC early in the decade? Must have been some other decade I was remembering. Here is how the Irish have done against selected opponents over the past ten seasons:
  • Michigan: Irish 4 wins, UM 4 wins
  • USC: Irish 3 wins, Trojans 7 wins
  • Michigan State: Irish 3 wins, Sparty 7 wins
  • Boston College: Irish 3 wins, Fredo 5 wins (including the last 4 games)
  • LSU: Irish 2 wins, Tigers 2 wins
  • Purdue: Irish 6 wins, the Big Drum 4 wins
  • Oregon State: Irish 0 wins, Beavers 2 wins
Wow. I guess we've really owned Purdue, haven't we? Needless to say, I never quite got around to sending that e-mail. So what's the point of all this negativity? I guess the point is that Notre Dame football dug itself a pretty deep hole under Bob Davie and Ty Willingham, and we really aren't anywhere near climbing out of the hole yet. Certainly Coach Weis has brought us hope, and better talent, and glimpses of a bright future. But I've been deluding myself. I have been rationalizing that although we haven't yet broken into the ranks of the elite, Top 5 caliber programs, those depressing losses to USC, Ohio State and LSU shouldn't obscure the fact that we are a solid Top 10-ish team. Aren't we?

The bottom line is we need some big wins. We need to beat G-Tech, Penn State and most importantly, the Wolverines. We have to beat the Wolverines. And if we don't beat USC, we have to make a game of it. And Notre Dame has to win a bowl game. Against somebody. Against anybody. Even if we lose a game or two we shouldn't, it will be much more important to the program if we can also win a couple of big games we shouldn't. The streak against Navy, the game against Stanford almost don't matter. You can explain the odd loss to a bad team as a letdown, or as looking ahead. But you can't explain, year after year, getting your ass handed to you by the big boys.

I'm usually the blogger in the rose-colored glasses, and I try to be very positive where the Irish are concerned. But I was very surprised by the reality of the past decade. In my mind, the streak of 12 wins, 0 losses and 1 tie against the Trojans from 1983 to 1995 is recent history. Beating the Trojans 15 out 19 games from 1983 through 2001 is still fresh in my mind. But this morning I sniffed the smelling salts, and the rosy glasses fell of of my face. I really hope that Coach Weis and Notre Dame can write a much better history over the next decade. Starting on September 1st.

[ADDED 7/11: Welcome to those readers who have linked in from the forums at BlueandGold.com. I'm not a registered member there, so I have no idea what the discussion looks like, but I hope they're treating me fairly. And I hope you'll bookmark OC Domer and come back often!]

[ADDED 7/13: Welcome Rakes of Mallow readers! And thanks to Rakes for the kind word and the link. I hope you'll all stay a while, and come back often.]


Andy said...

Excellent summary. Did you attend Sunday's ND coaches' dinner in Beverly Hills?

Sir john said...

Boy you are good when you write. i can't disagree. Tore my thinning hair out so many times whatching boobie plays by boobs

OC Domer said...

Andy - I did not attend, unfortunately. I loved the write-up at HerLoyalSons.com. Sounds like it was a fantastic evening. It would have been really neat to meet Ara.

Sir John - Thanks for the kind words. Always appreciated.

schuylkillirishman said...

oc domer, you were right on with that write up. I was depressed reading through it when I suddenly realized these stats can actually be beneficial to the Irish in a way. It could make them more hungry to get back to the point the team once was and should be. I believe Charlie and co. have the golden domers going in the right direction between coaching, recruiting, preparation, and of couse execution. As you said, the boys need to win some big ones this year. A PSU or Michigan win this season really would go a long way.

Will said...

so... are we talking about the last 25 years, or the last decade?

i think considering the last 25 years would be more favorable

ps- don't listen to cowherd, ever

Anonymous said...

We need more of your kind. Kudos

-A Michigan Wolverine