Notre Dame played its best game of the season in Saturday’s 45-3 obliteration of Pittsburgh, yet the Irish dropped a spot in the Associated Press and Amway coaches polls.
The No. 4 Irish (5-0) were leapfrogged by No. 3 Ohio State (1-0), who defeated Nebraska 52-17 in its season opener Saturday.
The promotion of Ohio State seemed inevitable at least in the AP poll. Eight of the 62 poll voters chose to omit from their ballots teams who had yet to play games because of COVID-19. With the Big Ten and Mountain West conferences starting their season this past weekend, a whole new crop of teams will have chances to impress.
The coaches, like the AP voters, saw enough from the Buckeyes on Saturday to push them ahead of Notre Dame and No. 5 Georgia. No. 1 Clemson (6-0) and No. 2 Alabama (5-0) stayed put at the top of both polls.
The games played by Big Ten and Mountain West teams will also prompt needed caveats when citing national statistical rankings. Averages will be skewed when comparing teams who have played six games as opposed to one game.
For instance, Notre Dame improved its scoring defense average from 11.5 points per game to 9.8 points per game after allowing Pitt to score just three points Saturday. But in a week’s span, the Irish dropped from No. 4 in the FBS in scoring defense last Sunday to No. 6 this Sunday. That’s because the top four teams — Northwestern, San Diego State, San Jose State and Wisconsin — put up strong defensive performances in their first games over the weekend.
The only team ahead of Notre Dame in scoring defense who has actually played as many games is Marshall for allowing 9.4 points per game.
Without the proper context, statistical rankings will become as subjective as the polls. In such an unusual season, both require even more examination than normal.