Notre Dame: “The best SEC team in the country”

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Notre Dame isn’t just in control of its own destiny this weekend, it’s in control of the entire college football world. A Notre Dame victory on Saturday guarantees that the Irish will find its way into the national title game. Everybody else — with Alabama having the inside track — will have to fight for the other spot.

With a rash of one loss teams all politicking for one spot, the inevitable beauty contest has begun in earnest, with conference affiliations, attractive losses, and other subjective measures all coming into play. And while the standard “SEC!” battle cry has been bellowed for weeks on end, it’ll be especially bombastic for the next few weeks.

Right now, the most widely accepted argument is that Alabama, the toast of the SEC, is the best team in the country. That logic, based on the conference’s unprecedented run on national titles, and the Crimson Tide’s impressive record the past two seasons, certainly makes a lot of sense.

But before people start discussing how many touchdowns the Tide will be favored by if and when they face Notre Dame in Miami on January 7th, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples, a guy that knows plenty about the SEC, had an interesting take on the No. 1 Irish and the Southeastern Conference.

“I think Notre Dame is the best SEC team in the country, Staples told ESPN’s SVP & Russillo. “A couple of weeks ago I told you they were the second best SEC team in the country, but now that Alabama has lost, Notre Dame is the best SEC team in the country. A ferocious defense, an offense that kind of slides by and does what it needs to do, and that’s the SEC blueprint.”

It took some coming around from the national media, but finally people have started to realize that Brian Kelly built his team not based on his hurry-up, spread offensive background, but on the very tenants that help the SEC dominate.

That’s part of the reason why Staples thinks a title game including the Irish will end up being closer than most people expect.

“I think they match up pretty well there, and I think it would be a fun game to watch,” Staples added. “I don’t think the SEC is as great at the top as probably everybody else does. A lot of those teams are beatable.”

That might be an opinion that’ll fill up the phone banks on Paul Finebaum’s show, but it also goes to show you that maybe — just maybe — this college football season lacks a clear-cut great football team, especially when you consider the dearth of elite quarterback play.

“I can make a legitimate argument for probably top twelve teams about why they’re the best, and probably some of the two-loss teams, like Texas A&M and LSU,” Staples said. “I don’t think there’s any clear cut team. Everybody assumes that there’s this huge line of demarcation between teams, it’s not like that. It’s a couple bounces one way or the other.”

For the Irish, they’ve capitalized on the luck that they’ve been given this season, while creating their own along the way thanks to a stingy defense and still developing offense. Yet even without their most recent good break, an injured Matt Barkley, beating the Trojans is far from a lock. Even with Max Wittek at the helm of the Trojan defense, USC is one of the most dangerous teams in college football, and their inconsistencies on both offense and defense make predicting what happens this weekend even more difficult.

But that’s today’s college football. Funnily enough, that’s today’s SEC as well.