I think everyone is anxious to put the 2007 season behind us. The latest batch of recruits is getting ready to sign on the dotted line, and Spring football feels like it is just around the corner. But I don’t want to just forget that the 2007 season ever happened. I don’t want to just block it out of my memory, as if the experience didn’t have a lot to teach us. I think there are some valuable lessons to be learned from a historically bad campaign, and in order to get better we have to have a full understanding of what the heck just happened back there. This post will take a brief look at our 2007 opponents, and seek to answer the question:
Were they who we thought they were?
Who beat the Fighting Irish, and what does it really mean? Who did we beat, and can we take any comfort at all from that? We’ll just take a quick look at the pre-season expectations regarding each opponent, where they were when we played them, and how they ended up their season.
Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets came into the first game of the season ranked #27 in both the AP and USA Today/Coaches polls, ranked slightly ahead of Notre Dame. The Irish were a 2.5 point favorite in the game, no doubt because the game was played at Notre Dame. The Ramblin’ Wreck proceeded to wreak havoc on Notre Dame’s offense, and put a 33-3 beat-down on the Irish. The loss certainly raised a lot of alarm bells for Irish fans, but based on Week 1, Georgia Tech looked like world beaters and a Top 25 team for sure. Except they weren’t. Georgia Tech went 7-6 against the 62nd toughest schedule in the country, including a 40-28 loss to
Purdue. Another mediocre Big Televen team, Purdue was 4-0 against a weak schedule when the Irish came calling. Pre-game analysis of the match-ups indicated that this was the Notre Dame’s best chance for a win. Notre Dame played its best game of the year (so far). After falling behind 23-0 at half time, the Irish pulled to within one score (26-19) with 7:58 remaining in the game, only to lose 33-19. While the running game was still deplorable, the ND QBs were 34 of 52 (65.38%) for 377 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INT. The Purdue win elevated them into the Top 25 for the only time all season. But after starting 5-0, the Boilers lost 5 of their final 8 games. They won the Motor City Bowl against
UCLA. The Bruins entered the season ranked #14 in the AP pre-season poll, and #17 in the USA Today poll. They returned ten (10) starters on both offense and defense from a team that shocked the world with a 13-9 win over the USC Trojans in
Navy. Unranked Navy went 8-5, and finished at #77 (against the 89th toughest schedule) in the Sagarin rankings. A loss to Navy, even an overtime loss, is not acceptable at Notre Dame.
Air Force. Unranked but still credible USAFA went 9-4 and finished at #51 in the Sagarin rankings (about 40 spots higher than ND). Irish lose 41-24. There’s nothing like back-to-back home losses to two service academies.
Duke. The Blue Devils went 1-11 on the year, defeating only Northwestern. They finished at #105 in Sagarin. This should have been the most lopsided win of the year for the Irish, and it was. ND wins 28-7. For the first time this season, the Irish did what they are supposed to do. After an ugly first half, the Irish took physical control of this game and pushed around an inferior opponent. We dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and our skill players made plays. We out-blocked them, out-threw them, out-ran them, and out-hit them. But it was Duke, which is nothing to write home about.
Stanford. Stanford was 3-7 going into the Notre Dame game. They ended the season 4-8. Notre Dame’s 21-14 win on the road to end the season was nice, given the alternative, but otherwise not very noteworthy. Stanford ended the season #69 on Sagarin’s list.
Analysis. Notre Dame fans knew their team faced a very tough schedule going into the 2007 season, and our expectations were realized. But going 3-9 may have caused the Irish faithful to lose sight of the fact that our schedule actually ended up being a little softer than expected. Only
In trying to make some sense of this season’s results, I broke down the teams we played into three categories: Ranked Teams, Mediocre Teams, and Bad Teams. Ranked teams finished the season ranked in the Top 25 of one or more of the major polls (USC, UM, PSU, BC). Mediocre teams were unranked, but still credible opponents finishing in or around the Top 50 according to Sagarin (UCLA, Purdue, AF, MSU, GT). Bad teams are a cut below mediocre, not even sniffing Sagarin’s Top 50 (Duke, Stanford, Navy). I also broke the game results into categories: Strong Wins (by 14 or more points), Close Wins, Close Losses, Sound Defeats (by 14 or more). One can certainly quibble with the categories, but I wanted to take a crude cut at it to see if any conclusions can be drawn.
Against Ranked Teams, the Irish were 0-4. Only one of the losses (BC) was a “Close” loss; the remaining three (PSU, UM, USC) were sound defeats (or even blowouts).
Against Mediocre Teams, the Irish were 1-4. The single win (UCLA) was a “Close” win, although it was right on the borderline of being a “Strong” win. One loss was “close” (Purdue), and three of the losses (AF, MSU, GT) were sound defeats.
Conclusions. Notre Dame had only a single truly strong win on the year, and that was against a Duke team that was by far the weakest team we faced, and which was in fact nearly the weakest team in all of Division I-A. Even against “Bad” football teams, Notre Dame could only manage a 2-1 record, barely putting away Stanford and suffering a historic loss to Navy. In five games against “Mediocre” football teams, the Irish were soundly defeated three times, won one close game and lost one close game. That’s a combined 3 wins and 5 losses against Bad and Mediocre teams. In any “normal” year of Notre Dame football those are the games on the schedule that you mark down as “Wins” when the schedule comes out. We should be 8-0 against these teams in a normal year, with the season being made or broken by the games against the ranked teams. To lose five games against Bad and Mediocre teams is a cause of significant concern. One of the most refreshing/assuring features of the 2005 and 2006 seasons under Coach Weis was that for the most part he was winning the games he was “supposed to win,” with the only glaring exception being the 2005 loss to Michigan State. Every other loss in 2005 and 2006 was to a highly ranked team. The surest sign of progress next year won’t be whether we’re winning games against ranked teams, but instead whether we return to normalcy and once again put mediocre teams in their place. It would also be nice to do better than 38-0 against USC and Michigan.
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