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Mulvena: Herbstreit underestimates Notre Dame

| Friday, November 16, 2018

Another week of games, another week of college football playoff rankings and another week of Kirk Herbstreit finding a way to explain how Notre Dame will not make the playoff. But fear not, I am here to call him out as the charlatan he is.

On Tuesday’s ESPN broadcast, Herbstreit said, “I thought Notre Dame is the one team of all the teams that is not only playing against their opponent — they’re playing against themselves and they’re playing against perfection, as Lee Corso likes to say, because they haven’t had that marquee opponent outside of Michigan. They have [played] big name brands, but unfortunately many of those teams are down this year, including USC, who’s hanging on at the end of the year. So, I think with Notre Dame … that they need a strong statement at the end just to solidify themselves in case there is any potential nasty messy stuff on the last weekend.

“ … Head to head and conference championships (only) matter when teams get to that last weekend and it’s a cluster, a cluster meaning two teams are so close to one another that [the committee is looking] for anything that can differentiate Team A from Team B. In Notre Dame and Michigan’s case, they would have to view Notre Dame and Michigan so close to one another that they could then use the head to head. They could very easily collectively in that room say, ‘Hey guys, I know in Week 1 Notre Dame beat Michigan, but it’s just my opinion, Michigan has been a dominant team, one of the best teams in the country,’ if they were to win out.”

This isn’t the first time Kirk has implied an undefeated Notre Dame is in jeopardy of being left out of the playoff at the end of the season. He did the same after the first set of rankings came out, when he said that if Washington State, Oklahoma and Michigan were to win out and win their conference, one could consider putting them in over Notre Dame. I thought his comments were unjustified then, and I think his comments this week are similarly unjustified.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish senior running back Dexter Williams sprints past the defense during Notre Dame’s 42-13 win over Florida State on Nov. 10 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Let me tell you why Herbstreit is wrong, once again, this week.

First off, Kirk, “Notre Dame” is a collective noun, so it doesn’t take the pronoun “they,” obviously. It takes the pronoun “it.” Pick up a textbook, one time for me, Kirk. Or maybe you were too busy being the back-up quarterback at Ohio State for three years before losing to Georgia in the Citrus Bowl your senior year to pick up a textbook. Sheesh.

Second of all, to offer the argument that Notre Dame’s resume is weak considering many of the big programs it played this season are in a “down” year is patently ridiculous. Sure, Stanford, Virginia Tech and USC haven’t had the best seasons in their respective programs’ histories. But when Notre Dame beat Stanford and Virginia Tech, both programs were ranked and in contention for conference championship appearances. Plus, part of the reason we consider these programs to be having a down year is that Notre Dame beat them. If you beat teams, they drop in the rankings — that’s how this whole system works. So if you beat a good ranked team early in the season, and that team falls out of the rankings later on, partly because you beat them in the first place, you can’t claim that those were weak wins later in the season. And on top of his flawed reasoning, if you compare Notre Dame’s resume in terms of strength of record to that of Michigan’s, ND has the upper edge even beyond its victory over Michigan. According to ESPN, as of week 12, Notre Dame is ranked third in strength of record and Michigan is ranked fourth. Check the stats, Kirky.

Also, if you want to talk about how Notre Dame doesn’t have a “marquee” win outside of Michigan, fine. But what wild marquee wins does Michigan have this season? The Wolverines beat Northwestern by three points after the Wildcats led for most of the game, and I’m sure I don’t need to remind Kirk that Notre Dame beat Northwestern by 10 in a game in which the Irish always held control. Beyond that, the Wolverines beat a Nebraska team which has had an all-time bad season, probably placing them among the bottom 10 of power-five conference teams, a Michigan State team certainly in a “down” year, and Wisconsin and Penn State who have struggled mightily as well. So to say that Michigan’s “marquee” wins outdo Notre Dame’s is shortsighted, especially in light of the obvious fact that Notre Dame handled Michigan even before junior Ian Book took the reins at quarterback.

An undefeated Notre Dame team ought to be a shoo-in for the playoff, and if it is left out in the end, the committee needs to reevaluate its criteria. To say Michigan has been playing some of the best football in the country as of late isn’t enough. There should be no reason that a one-loss, conference champion Michigan gets a spot over Notre Dame. Conference championships are important, and so is recency of strong victories, but when that is taken as far as to forget about key early-season wins, the entire rankings system loses credibility.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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