One and seven. 1-7. Eight games played, one victory. One W, seven Ls. Winning percentage: .125. Six games below .500.
No matter how you slice it, the first eight games of the 2007 campaign have been an utter disaster for the Fighting Irish. There's no way to dress it up, to somehow salvage a silver lining or a handful of moral victories. Sure, you can trot out some excuses, but you'd only be deluding yourself. By any measure Coach Charlie Weis, his staff, and this team have failed to put a competitive football team on the field. Sure, we've been the underdog in every game played. Yes, we're relatively young and inexperienced. Yes, the talent level of our upperclassmen is not where we expect it to be at Notre Dame. But I've made the point before, and it needs to be made again: There are plenty of other teams playing football with less talent than the Irish who aren't getting embarrassed every week. After eight games, Notre Dame is a team that cannot pick up a yard on 3rd-and-1. We still have no bread-and-butter plays. Every toss sweep, off-tackle dive play, and 5-yard out pattern is an adventure. While the defense is, I think, good enough to win games, it isn't good enough to win games by itself, and the offense has, for the most part, been incapable of providing any assistance. The Irish offense simply cannot move the chains.
But how bad is it really? According to Jeff Sagarin, Notre Dame has played the toughest schedule in the country so far this season. We're #1! Also according to Sagarin, Notre Dame is ranked #99 in the country (I generally use Sagarin's "predictor" ratings rather than the more politically correct ratings that throw out margin of victory as a factor). According to Sagarin, The Irish rank just behind Wofford, Elon, Buffalo, McNeese State, UNLV and South Dakota State. Thank goodness we don't have to play any of them.
Clearly, Notre Dame isn't as good as the schedule it has played (Thanks Dr. White!). But I don't think there are 98 teams in the country better than the Irish. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. So I want to just do a quick breakdown of the Irish schedule to date to see how depressed we should really be, or perhaps even to look for some kernel or nugget of hope that we can cling to for the future.
Week 1: Georgia Tech, @ Home.
OC Domer pre-season expectation: "Irish win by a touchdown. Call it 24-17."
OC Domer pre-game expectation: Same.
Las Vegas line on the game: Georgia Tech by 1 pt.
Actual Result: Irish lose by 30 (33-3), with 122 total offensive yards, including a net minus-8 yards rushing.
Georgia Tech today: #39 in Sagarin, 5-3 record (2-3 in the ACC). Barely a Top 40 team today, a 30-point loss to this team really stings. When you consider that Coach Weis had the entire off-season to get ready for this game and bungled it so badly, it's hard to find anything good coming out of this contest.
Week 2: Penn State, @ Happy Valley.
OC Domer pre-season expectation: "I expect a workman-like win by Notre Dame, 21-13."
OC Domer pre-game expectation: "We compete, and we return to respectability, but we lose by a touchdown."
Las Vegas line on the game: Penn State by 17.5 pts.
Actual Result: Irish lose by 21 (31-10), with zero net rushing yards.
Penn State today: #30 in Sagarin, 6-3 record (3-3 in Big 10). Penn State was a nice story for a while, but the losses to Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio State clearly indicate that they aren't anywhere near the elite team that many PSU fans were hoping for this year. A 21-point loss to a #30 team is nothing to feel good about. But it's better than a 30-point loss to the #39 team, I guess.
Week 3: Michigan, @ the Big House.
OC Domer pre-season expectation: "It's another epic game in the series, but the Irish fall by less than a touchdown, 30-24."
OC Domer pre-game expectation: "Notre Dame wins by a touchdown, 24-17."
Las Vegas line on the game: Michigan by 9.5 pts.
Actual Result: Irish lose by 38 (38-0), with 79 total offensive yards.
Michigan today: #26 in Sagarin, 7-2 record (5-0 in Big 10). After losses to Appalachian State and a very good Oregon team to open the season, Michigan has won seven straight games and is clearly a very solid football team. Losing to the Wolverines is no disgrace, but losing by 38 points is another matter.
Week 4: Michigan State, @ Home.
OC Domer pre-season expectation: "The Irish are excited to be back home and explode on Sparty, winning 35-17."
OC Domer pre-game expectation: Undecided. "I'd feel very fortunate if we can at least look respectable in a 34-20 loss to Sparty." AND "Notre Dame explodes all over Sparty, crushing his little green heart, 31-17. Years from now we will all look back on this game as the day the new era of Irish football began."
Las Vegas line on the game: Michigan State by 10 pts.
Actual Result: Notre Dame loses by 17 (31-14), but actually shows some sign of life, with 117 net rushing yards and two offensive touchdowns.
Michigan State today: #48 in Sagarin. 5-4 record (1-4 in Big Ten). Mired near the bottom of the Big Ten rankings, Michigan State is a pretty medicore football team. Not horrible, just not very good either. The good news is we actually played some credible football against Sparty. The bad news is we still lost to a pretty weak team by 17 points.
Week 5: Purdue, @ West Lafayette.
OC Domer pre-season expectation: "Irish win 31-20, while trying not to look ahead to Pasadena."
OC Domer pre-game expectation: "Notre Dame manhandles Purdue and gets its first victory of the season, 31-27."
Las Vegas line on the game: Purdue by 21.5 pts.
Actual Result: Irish lose by 14 (33-19), but actually out-gain the Boilermakers 426 yards to 371. For the first time, Notre Dame plays above expectations.
Purdue today: #29 in Sagarin. 7-2 record (3-2 in Big Ten). Purdue is a decent football team, but they didn't put up much of a fight against Michigan (48-21 loss) or Ohio State (23-7 loss).
Week 6: UCLA, @ The Rose Bowl.
OC Domer pre-season expectation: "Irish lose a close one, 24-21."
OC Domer pre-game expectation: Notre Dame wins, close.
Las Vegas line on the game: UCLA by 21 pts.
Actual Result: Irish WIN by 14 points! (20-6).
UCLA today: #19 in Sagarin. 5-3 record (4-1 in Pac 10). You want to feel really good about the win over the Bruins. And we do. But you can't get too excited. UCLA is perhaps the most inconsistent team in the country, and the Bruins played most of the game against us without their top 2 quarterbacks. With their #3 QB in the line-up, this obviously isn't a Top 20 team. Washington State (Sagarin #75) beat the Bruins by 20 yesterday (27-7). The Irish were 3 of 17 on 3rd down conversions and had just 140 total yards. The defense won this game, not the offense.
Week 7: Boston College, @ Home.
OC Domer pre-season expectation: "Footballs will be in the air and we'll see some scoring. Notre Dame 31, Boston College 17."
OC Domer pre-game expectation: "I expect a great game, and although it will be closer than I expected in my pre-season analysis, I do think the Irish get a VERY, VERY important second win tomorrow."
Las Vegas line on the game: Eagles by 13.5 pts.
Actual Result: Notre Dame loses by 13 (17-14), with 27 net rushing yards and 222 total yards. Notre Dame played a strong second half and actually made a game of it until late. Except for the UCLA win, the best game of the year for Notre Dame.
Boston College today: The polls love B.C., they are #2 in the BCS (before Thursday's win over VaTech). Sagarin has them at #16. Either way, at 8-0, the Eagles are a very good football team. I don't think they're elite, but they are Top 10 in my opinion. The fact that the Irish actually played ball with the Eagles and made a game of it is a very good sign.
Week 8: USC, @ Home.
OC Domer pre-season expectation: "Trojans talent and depth eventually wear us down and we lose by just under two touchdowns, 30-17."
OC Domer pre-game expectation: "If we can rattle them, anything can happen."
Las Vegas line on the game: Trojans by 16.5 pts.
Actual Result: Irish lose by 38 (38-0), mustering 165 total yards and turning the ball over three times.
USC today: Sagarin #15. 6-2 record (3-2 in Pac 10). With losses to Stanford and Oregon, the Trojans no longer dominate the Pac 10 conference, although they are still a very strong football team. Losing to USC is not a disaster. Getting shut out and losing by 38 at home is a disaster.
Conclusions: It is very tempting to grab onto Notre Dame's #1 ranking in strength of schedule and conclude that the Irish have simply run into a buzz saw schedule-wise, and that if we had played a more balanced slate of games we would not look nearly as bad. But I'm not so sure. Yes, the Irish looked decent for stretches against a very good Boston College team. But take a step back. The win over UCLA came against a walk-on QB. We "competed" against a Spartan squad that is barely a Top 50 team, and still lost to them by 17. Purdue is barely a Top 30 team and they beat us by two touchdowns. Against a single win we have losses by margins of 30, 21, 38, 17, 14, 13 and 38 points. In our eight games we have scored 3, 10, 0, 14, 19, 20, 14, and 0 points. Are we the 99th best team in the country? No. But I don't think we're any better than about #50, either.
The future: The Irish faithful have been clinging to the notion that after our ridiculous eight-game gauntlet to start the season we would win the last four games. Navy, Air Force, Duke, Stanford are all "easy Wins." But are they?
- Navy: #80 in Sagarin (19 spots above Notre Dame) with a 4-4 record. Navy put up 52 points against Delaware yesterday. The Irish have scored 53 points TOTAL in our last four games.
- Air Force: #58 in Sagarin (41 spots above Notre Dame) with a 6-3 record. USAFA has defeated TCU, Utah, Colorado State and Wyoming.
- Duke: Sagarin #85 with a 1-7 record against the 4th toughest schedule in the country. Duke beat Northwestern and lost to Wake Forest by 5 and Miami by 10.
- Stanford. Sagarin #61 (38 spots above the Irish) with a 3-5 record including a win over USC. You remember - the USC that beat us by 38 points last week.
How bad is it really? It's so bad that I'm writing a blog post publicly wondering whether the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame can beat Duke. At home.