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.
- 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
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.]