If you watched College Football this weekend, the odds are good you watched some excellent college football games: Oregon at Ohio State, Iowa at Iowa State, and Appalachian State at Miami. The odds are also good that you missed one of the best games of the weekend since it was broadcast exclusively on Peacock: Toledo at #8 Notre Dame.
The game was fun to watch; the Fighting Irish jumped out to an early 14-6 lead versus the Rockets but trailed 14-16 at the half after a 27-yard interception return in the waning seconds of the second quarter. In the second half, Notre Dame recaptured the lead 24-16 but lost it again with just 1:51 remaining in the fourth quarter falling behind 24-29.
Thankfully for the Irish, they were able to score in a three-play 75-yard drive in under just half a minute to win the game 32-29.
This game comes immediately after Notre Dame required OT to put away the unranked Seminoles despite having an 18-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
These two games back to back are hardly the sort of performance that I would expect to see out of a team that boasts a top ten ranking in the country, yet ND sits at #10 in the coaches poll and #12 in the AP Poll.
That seems absurd to me; after those two performances back to back, ND should have fallen more in the rankings. To me, ND seems to be overrated.
To declare someone as overrated, I first need to establish a definition for overrated. For me, overrated simply means that you are over ranked based on a team’s current performance. When I say ND is overrated, I think ND is merely overvalued, not that they are a terrible team.
I think ND is a solid football squad, and they should be ranked, but not in the top-10, rather somewhere in the top-20, the high teens.
For me, the top-10 should be elite, legitimate championship contenders. To be a championship contender, you need to be genuinely dominant on one side of the ball, like Georgia on defense or Alabama on offense.
After their first two performances, ND cannot claim to be dominant on either side of the ball.
I would argue that in the past few years, ND has not exactly been an offensive powerhouse. ND has had great defensive teams over the past few years.
But don’t take my word for it; take the word of College Football References Defensive Simple Rating System (DSRS). The DSRS is one component of the SRS, which evaluates teams based on the strength of schedule and point differential. A team is considered above average when they have a positive rating, below average when negative, and average when exactly zero.
The DSRS rating has evaluated the ND defense quite favorably over the years; the last time ND’s DSRS was negative was in 2016 when ND went 4-8. Other than that, the Irish have ranked in the top-15 every single season after, including a top-6 placement in 2018.
However, this season ND has not had a defense entirely up to scratch.
They allowed 38 points to an FSU team that Jacksonville State only allowed 17. They allowed Toledo 29 points. They struggle against explosive plays.
So far, this is not the typical Notre Dame defense.
That’s okay, though; not every contender has an elite defense. Look at Oklahoma; when they have made the CFP, it is typically on the back of a great offense and typically poor defense.
Unfortunately, ND is not precisely an offensive powerhouse. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, ND ranked 9th, 25th, and 20th, in OSRS respectively, good placements. The bottom sort of fell out in 2020 when ND ranked 49th, a pretty terrible rating for a school of NDs caliber.
ND was poised to improve their offense this season with transfer QB Jack Coan and a strong group of Wide Receivers. However, it is more than safe to say that ND has struggled offensively. Yes, they have put up some solid passing numbers, but the run game has been mediocre, and the offensive line has, without question, struggled.
Turnovers were also a problem against Toledo: Coan threw a pick-six, and Notre Dame fumbled twice.
These problems are NOT against top-tier defenses like Georgia or Alabama; they are coming against FSU and Toledo. That feels like an indicator of struggles ahead for the Irish.
And it isn’t exactly like ND has a top-tier strength of schedule. Had ND found a last-second way to beat Georgia at home and Oklahoma took them to OT, no problem.
But it was FSU and Toledo, two teams who thus far only have ONE win combined. Sure, Toldeo had an easy victory against an FCS opponent, but FSU lost their game to Jacksonville State. Those are not high-caliber opponents, and it is safe to say ND lucked into those wins.
Take Arkansas, for example. Arkansas beat Rice 38-17 (your easy home win, i.e., Toledo) and then beat then ranked #15 Texas 40-21.
Arkansas was ranked #20 in the AP Poll and #24 in the coach’s poll. They are significantly lower than ND despite having a much more impressive resume.
I do not understand why.
If Notre Dame doesn’t have an elite defense and an incredible offense, what can they hang their hat on? Nothing. Then why are they ranked top-10 by the coaches poll and #12 by the AP Poll?
I would argue legacy. ND gets grandfathered into a high ranking because of Notre Dame of the past rather than the present.
That needs to stop.
To walk around like an elite program, you need to be an elite program once in a while. Elite programs do not lose 14-42, or 30-3, or 14-31 to other elite programs.
And they certainly don’t almost lose as a 16.5 point favorite at home to Toledo.