I’ve been quietly keeping an eye on Notre Dame’s strength of schedule ever since it became socially acceptable to blast the 2009 slate. From the beginning, I never really saw the issue with it. Taken game by game, the Irish may have avoided a schedule packed with top five teams, but as we’ve seen as this season has played out, every single team on the schedule could beat Notre Dame, a statement that not many top 25 teams can make.
Sure enough, as the schedule actually plays itself out, my hunch has turned out to be correct. Jeff Sagarin, scheduling guru for USA Today, has the Irish schedule ranked 17th hardest in college football. In this week’s BCS standings, Notre Dame has the seventh most difficult schedule among the BCS top 25. The Notre Dame sports information department points out that five teams in the BCS top 11 have a schedule ranked 61st or lower. In other words, those cupcakes Notre Dame allegedly had scheduled? They haven’t been so soft after all.
Again, I’m not saying that this Notre Dame schedule has been the minefield that Irish teams have had to navigate in the past, I’m just saying that frankly — it doesn’t pay to navigate them. Today’s college football landscape dictates the type of teams you need to play if you want to compete for BCS bids. While supporters of teams like Florida may point to the upcoming meat-grinder that is SEC conference play, consider the road ahead for the Irish.
I’m not going to even try to make a case for Washington State, but you shouldn’t have to apologize for playing a team in the nation’s deepest conference in a neutral site. And ask Ohio State or Wake Forest if they should underestimate the Midshipmen. Pitt sits at 7-1 and looks as dangerous as they have been in years, while UConn and Stanford both present more than just a challenge for the Irish as they go down the stretch. Away games at Heinz Field and the Farm looking to be critical late season games for the Irish, and if the Irish win out, there should be no apologizing for accepting a deserved BCS bid.
This isn’t a post to validate Notre Dame’s new scheduling philosophies or to subtly defend newly schedule games from teams that hail from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Rather it’s just a reminder that in today’s college football landscape, it doesn’t pay to make assumptions about a team’s schedule.
(Even if there’s nothing else to talk about all summer…)