Early computer love for the Irish

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This Sunday, the first BCS standings will be released to the public. For many, it’ll be the start of the second-to-last opportunity to kick dirt on one of the more ridiculous achievement measurements in sports history. For others, it’ll start the official countdown until the NCAA adopts its four-team playoff in the 2014 season.

But for some Notre Dame fans, it could be reason for an early celebration. After starting the season outside the top 25 and racking up five straight victories, the BCS rankings will likely look favorably on Notre Dame’s early season work.

How favorably? According to Pat Forde‘s most recent column, the Irish currently find themselves in the mix for the top spot in the rankings. Expect that to create a little hysteria with both Irish fans and haters.

Despite the overwhelming belief among human voters that Alabama is the best team in America and Oregon is No. 2, the computers aren’t buying it. At least not yet. The Dash looked at five of the six rankings that are used by the BCS – Wolfe doesn’t release its first public rankings until Sunday – and four different teams are ranked No. 1: Alabama (Sagarin), Florida (Anderson & Hester), Oregon (Billingsley) and Notre Dame (Colley and Massey).

That’s right, Notre Dame is first in more computer formulas than Alabama. Don’t tell Harvey Updyke or he’s liable to graffiti the Golden Dome. And Oregon is only ranked higher than sixth by Billingsley.

A lot can change this weekend, but as of right now the computers rank the top five this way (throwing out the high and low ratings for each team, per the BCS formula):

Florida (1). Difference from the USA Today coaches poll: plus-five spots. The microchips are impressed by the four Southeastern Conference victories – well, at least by three of them. Beating Kentucky probably doesn’t do much for the strength of schedule.

Notre Dame (2). Difference from the USA Today coaches poll: plus-five spots. The Fighting Irish benefit from having played four major-conference opponents – if indeed the Big Ten counts as a major conference in 2012. And they could conceivably move up to the computer top spot with a victory over highly ranked Stanford on Saturday.

South Carolina (3). Difference from the USA Today coaches poll: none. The Gamecocks could leapfrog the Irish and the Gators with a computer-pleasing victory at LSU on Saturday.

West Virginia (4). Difference from the USA Today coaches poll: none. Beating Texas on the road was a big boost.

Alabama (5). Difference from the USA Today coaches poll: minus-four spots. The two big September games turned out to be blowouts of disappointing teams – Michigan and Arkansas – and the rest of the schedule has been easy.

Of course, if you’re looking for a reason why Saturday’s game — already a game you can argue is the most important on the schedule — has ramped up the stakes, look at these rankings. The Irish won’t be anywhere near the head table if they slip up and lose to Stanford this weekend, but will bolster their already sterling resume with a win.

It’s interesting to look at these early rankings more from a scheduling perspective than anything else. Florida, who opened this season barely in the top 25, vaulted all the way to the top spot, thanks to victories over Bowling Green and four SEC teams, including then No. 2 LSU.

The Irish have followed a similar formula: Roll past Navy, then beat three Big Ten opponents (Michigan State was No. 10, Michigan started the year in the top ten), while also pasting Miami. There’s no quicker way to climb computer rankings than impressively defeat an impressive schedule, even if the pollsters are lagging a few spots behind.

South Carolina hurt its own cause by playing East Carolina and UAB. But if they’re undefeated in two weeks, they should be at the top of the food chain because they’ll need to run through No. 9 LSU and No. 4 Florida, the BCS’s best team via spreadsheet.

And Alabama fans can rest easy. Playing Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic is beneath a team of this caliber, but they didn’t get much help from Arkansas or Michigan either. The Crimson Tide’s schedule stays manageable until its battle with LSU, which comes after road games at Missouri and Tennessee, and a date with upstart offense Mississippi State.

Get excited over this at your own risk. But it’s good to see teams playing difficult schedules are getting rewarded for their efforts.