Starting this week, we're launching a debate-style feature series aimed at diving into some of the most hotly-contested topics in college football. We're kicking it off with one simple question - have Michigan's recent struggles eliminated Notre Dame from BCS title contention? We're going to give you our takes, but we're more interested in hearing what you have to say.
Simply put, yes. Here's why.
Notre Dame won all 12 of its regular season games last year, reached the BCS National Championship Game, and got absolutely manhandled by Alabama in Miami. The game wasn't competitive. It was borderline embarrassing - for both the school and the BCS. Brent Musburger talked more about Katherine Webb than he did the actual matchup, seemingly.
In college football, unfortunately, it matters where you finished last season. And to change perceptions, year-over-year, you have to go above and beyond what's expected of you. The Irish, in my opinion, would have had to go 12-0 again, and in a far more impressive manner, to have a shot at returning to the title game. They certainly didn't prove that they belonged there last year.
So when the Irish lost to Michigan earlier this season, it was already going to be nearly impossible to find a scenario in which they were able to reach Pasadena. But with the way the Wolverines have played since, it now is impossible.
Michigan, which lit up Notre Dame's defense for 41 points just a few weeks back, needed a goal-line stand to hang on against Akron and barely survived UConn a week later, needing to rally for a fourth quarter comeback in Storrs. Akron lost to UCF earlier this season, 38-7. UConn fell to FCS-level Towson by 15 points. So sure, the Wolverines are 4-0. But Michigan is not an elite team.
Alabama would not struggle with Akron or UConn. Nor would Oregon. Heck, I could rattle off 10 teams that surely wouldn't. Michigan, after defeating ND, was ranked 12th in the Coaches' Poll. The Wolverines are now ranked 17th, despite still being undefeated. Voters, too, realize that Michigan is not one of the top teams in the country.
The team that wins the SEC will almost certainly play for the national championship this year - even if it has one loss. It's been that way every season since 2005. And it's certainly possible that no team from the Pac-12, ACC, Big 12 or Big Ten goes undefeated this season - I'll acknowledge that. But if you think that of all of the one-loss squads in the country, Notre Dame is going to slide into the other title game slot after both last year's debacle against Alabama and a loss to an average Michigan team, you're dreaming.
Six of the past 10 National Championship games have featured a team with at least one loss – on three separate occasions, both teams had a loss entering the matchup, and in 2008, LSU actually had two losses under its belt. The lesson? Losing a game doesn’t knock you out of contention for the title.
Now certainly every team can’t lose a game and realistically expect to stay in the hunt – that privilege is pretty much reserved for the SEC and a select few other premium programs – Texas, Oregon, Oklahoma, USC, etc.
Oh, and coincidentally, Notre Dame is on that list.
There’s no question that the Irish would have a better chance of making the title game if they were still undefeated right now – that goes without saying. But the reality is they have a close loss to an undefeated, top-20 team on the road, in front of the largest crowd in college football history. Not to mention, the loss was in week 2, meaning the Irish will have run off 10 straight victories if this argument is to matter.
If the debate is whether or not the Michigan loss will keep Notre Dame out of the title game, you have to assume that the Irish finish the regular season at 11-1. That means that Notre Dame will have wins over Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC, Michigan State, BYU, Pittsburgh, and most importantly, will have finished the season with a win over Stanford in Palo Alto – that’s a resume that would stand up to any competition.
Admittedly, Notre Dame doesn't pass the eye test after week 4, but that's because the Irish face strong teams week in, week out -- the chance of losing each game is real. Not every other team has even faced a worthy opponent yet, which is why 29 teams are still unblemished.If there’s one thing we do know, many teams with title dreams will stumble throughout the year, and there generally isn’t an overabundance of undefeated teams at the end of November.
If you don’t think Notre Dame will reach the title game again this season, not many will argue with you – the Irish aren’t striking fear into anyone. But the loss to Michigan alone is not enough to rule the Irish out of the race – if they do finish 11-1, Notre Dame fans will likely be packing their bags for Pasadena.