Analysis: Does perception match reality for Notre Dame?

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The louder the College Football Playoff discussion gets, the more absurd it seems to evolve.

And maybe in a world where supposedly invincible UFC star Ronda Rousey can get Buster Douglas-ed and Bob Davie is bowl-eligible with two games to spare after taking down Boise State on Saturday night — on the road — there’s a ratings-a-geddon scenario ahead that will make everyone’s head hurt.

What makes mine hurt now is inconsistent methodology.

So many in the media want to isolate the argument down to a single fragment: Comparing best wins. Comparing hideous losses. Making a conference championship mean everything, even if determining one in some leagues is flawed.

For example, by no fault of its own, Iowa could be crowned a Big Ten champ having skipped all but one of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.

Had Maryland been in the mix, the Terps would have had to play all four of the East Division bullies as well as Iowa and Wisconsin from the West, just to get to the league title game.Big 

Meanwhile the consistent knock against CFP No. 4 Notre Dame (9-1), up one spot Sunday to No. 5 in the AP and coaches polls, is supposed lack of quality wins.

But are the detractors really looking close or just too distracted by the newest shiny objects in a particular week — North Carolina’s recent scoring surge and Big 12 points-fests, this past weekend?

Heading into Saturday night’s Fenway Park matchup against admittedly a non-quality opponent — Boston College (3-7) — Notre Dame has amassed four victories against seven-win FBS teams (and a two-point road loss against a fifth, No. 1 Clemson), with a sixth, in Stanford (8-2), still to play.

ND’s four — Navy, Temple, USC, Pitt — constitute two more than the Big 12’s four top 15 teams — Oklahoma (1), Oklahoma State (1), Baylor (0), TCU (0) — have combined.

Now, Big 12 also-rans Texas Tech (6-5) and West Virginia (5-4) could eventually get to seven wins, as could a couple of Big 12 non-conference opponents, but currently those top Big 12 teams are all on a trajectory to each play a total three seven-win teams. Only Oklahoma and Okie State have a shot at three victories against such teams.

And only Alabama, among teams in the new AP top 15, has more victories over teams with at least seven wins (5) than Notre Dame.

Clemson, Iowa, Michigan State and Stanford each have three.

New ratings darling, North Carolina (9-1) has one. One pundit felt a victory over Clemson in the ACC title game could put the Tar Heels possibly into the playoff.

A team playing very well right now, but with a non-conference schedule of North Carolina A&T, Delaware, Illinois and South Carolina? With a loss to that 3-7 South Carolina team? And currently zero Top 25 wins?

Another national media member said he wasn’t a fan of using common opponents as a basis of quantifying teams, when asked about Notre Dame’s 38-3 throttling of Texas being a connector to how the Big 12 teams played the Longhorns.

Really, not at all? Then how do you compare teams that play vastly different schedules? By the swimsuit competition or the evening gowns?

Common opponents shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all comparison piece, but it should be in the discussion.

Admittedly, both Notre Dame’s résumé and eye test are not without flaws.

The area the Irish continue to least look like a playoff team is run defense. Yes, again. Their No. 60 standing in yards per game allowed (163.4), despite having played five teams in the bottom half of rush offenses nationally, is a statistical red flag.

Even more so is the 4.49 yards-per-carry allowed, 78th best nationally.

Against Wake, the Irish allowed only 2.8 yards per carry, but the nation’s No. 120 rushing offense was able to run consistently enough to keep the Irish offense off the field and limit them to a season-low 49 offensive plays.

At least Irish head coach Brian Kelly got more consistent safety play Saturday against an admittedly offensively challenged Wake team.

Junior Max Redfield had eight tackles against the Demon Deacons, his best output since a career-high 14 against Clemson on Oct. 3.

“You know, we needed to be a little bit tighter on a couple third-down situations in the red zone late in the game, but secondary play was improved,” Kelly said Sunday.

So what would a step forward look like against a BC Eagles team that ranks first nationally in rush defense, total defense and tackles for loss and dead last in total offense?

A dominant, well-rounded performance.

The highest point total BC has yielded this season is 34. They gave up only 14 against Everett Golson and Florida State early in the year. The Eagles’ widest margin of defeat is 17, also to Clemson (34-17).

Against Louisville, they amassed 79 total yards, yet managed 14 points in a three-point loss, via a blocked punt for a TD and a fumble return that set up a short score.

For Bostonian Kelly, there’s a huge nostalgia factor going back to coach where he has so many memories, at Fenway. But he’d probably trade those for a victory that shows his Irish are distancing themselves from the team that eked past Virginia on Sept. 12 or labored against Temple on Halloween night.

Having said that, of the six seven-win teams ND will eventually play, only Pitt does not control its own destiny when it comes to winning a conference championship. And so even though the Irish don’t play in a conference, it’s possible they will have played three conference titlists this season (AAC, ACC and Pac-12) and beaten two of them.

On the mend

Kelly confirmed on Sunday that starting linebacker James Onwualu will miss the Boston College game, at the very least, with a second-degree MCL sprain of his left knee, suffered Saturday.

The junior was replaced in the lineup Saturday against Wake with sophomore Greer Martini (4 tackles).

• An MRI confirmed a grade-three shoulder separation for freshman wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, whom Kelly said will undergo surgery and be sidelined six weeks.

• Kelly listed three players as probable for BC who were held out of Saturday’s victory over Wake Forest because of concussions — running back C.J. Prosise, nose guard Daniel Cage and tight end Nic Weishar.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer (14) pumps his fist as he is lifted up by teammates after running in his second touchdown during Notre Dame's 28-7 victory over Wake Forest, Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. EST; Fenway Park, Boston

TV: NBC Sports Network

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Line: Notre Dame by 16