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Have I Given the Fighting Irish Their Due?

When casting this week's BlogPoll ballot, I had this to say about Notre Dame:

If Charlie Weis is such a coaching genius, why is it that, over the course of this season, he has barely survived tussles with such mediocre lightweights as Chan Gailey, John L. Smith, and Karl Dorrell? If Georgia Tech, Michigan State, and U.C.L.A. had head football coaches who exhibited mere competence, Notre Dame would have four losses right now. The 2006 Fighting Irish are the most overrated squad to come out of South Bend since the 2005 Golden Domers.

Unsurprisingly, this drew a response from the Rakes of Mallow, the fine fellows behind the MaxwellPundit award, who also happen to be Notre Dame fans. Wrote the Rakes:
I love the use of the words "would" and "should" in relation to college football. . . . Yes, Notre Dame probably "should" have lost four games already this season, but whether that be total incompetence from the other sideline or, I don't know, Notre Dame making plays when it counts, they haven't. Just to point at Kyle's team, the Georgia Bulldogs, they probably "should" have lost to Colorado and Mississippi State - teams that have combined to be God awful this year - at home, and if a hold on a punt block here or deep ball there go the other way, they might have lost at Ole Miss. Then again, if a couple of balls don't get tipped and the defense can get one break to go their way, UGA "would" have possibly beaten Rocky Top and not been in such a distraught state they lost to Vanderbilt the following game.

On the whole, this is a fair analysis, although some nitpicking is necessary for purposes of clarification. The Rakes cleverly sneaked the weasel word "should" into their retort, conflating it with the word "would" in a misleading manner.

For the record, I never used the word "should," which is an airy attempt to arrive at the way things ought to be in the sort of perfect world envisioned by George Bernard Shaw or Bobby Kennedy but not expected by flinty realists like Lord Falkland and the Founding Fathers; I used the word "would," which is a concrete expression of the course events were almost certain to have taken had a single defined variable been altered.

Georgia probably should have lost some games, much as the Rakes say the 'Dawgs should have . . . but no one can claim that, say, Dan Hawkins or Sylvester Croom cost his team the game due to his lack of coaching acumen. By contrast, I find it difficult to believe that even the most devoted Fighting Irish fan could argue with a straight face that the outcome of the Michigan State game was the result of Charlie Weis's greatness rather than John L. Smith's incompetence.

Was it Coach Weis who called for the Spartans' quarterback to hit an Irish defender in the hands with the pass that sealed the deal?

Charlie Weis is a good coach and I have never suggested that he isn't. I have, however, questioned whether a man whose most noteworthy career wins came against Navy last year and against Georgia Tech this year truly is deserving of all of the accolades that have come his way.

My assertion was a simple one: Notre Dame was down against Georgia Tech, Michigan State, and U.C.L.A. teams the Fighting Irish were expected to defeat handily. The Golden Domers came back to win, for which they deserve and received credit, but surely it is not unreasonable to suggest that some of Coach Weis's luster must be tarnished ever so slightly by the fact that he found himself on the ropes when matching wits with Chan Gailey, John L. Smith, and Karl Dorrell, whom no one regards as coaches in Charlie Weis's league.

I believe it is fair to say that, had the Yellow Jackets, the Bruins, or (especially) the Spartans been coached by a man with the abilities of, for instance, Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson, the Fighting Irish would have lost those games. I suppose reasonable college football fans may differ upon this point, but, since Notre Dame quite clearly benefited from a "quality loss" to U.S.C. last year, should it really be so controversial to punish the Golden Domers for unimpressive victories this year?

The Rakes point to the Bulldogs as an example of a team that has played several games that might well have gone the other way. This is a fair point, which deserves to be examined in greater detail.

After their 34-0 win over U.A.B., I ranked the Red and Black 10th on my BlogPoll ballot. Following Georgia's close shave against Colorado, I dropped the 'Dawgs to 16th. The following week's narrow escape in Oxford caused me to leave the Bulldogs stranded in the mid-teens.

While I believed Georgia was still a top 25 team after the loss to Tennessee, I did not rank the Red and Black following their loss to Vanderbilt and their subsequent win over Mississippi State did not leave me sufficiently impressed even to list Georgia alongside B.Y.U., Maryland, Tulsa, Virginia Tech, or Washington State among the teams deserving of consideration for a top 25 ranking.

Believe me, I haven't forgotten about giving up 51 points at home.

In fact, because of the Bulldogs' consistently poor play in recent weeks, I left the Classic City Canines languishing in oblivion, despite their 6-2 record and their shutout road victory over a South Carolina team with a 5-2 record, which I ranked 23rd.

As my treatment of my own team demonstrates, I consistently penalize good teams for playing poorly against lesser opposition . . . which brings us to the heart of the matter.

What Fighting Irish fans find truly maddening about the treatment given to their team on my BlogPoll ballot is that I insist upon holding Notre Dame to the same standard as every other team in college football.

Some fans of the squad from South Bend simply find this infuriating. Notre Dame is the only school with its own T.V. contract. In an era in which such other major independent powers as Florida State, Miami, and Penn State all felt compelled to join conferences, Fighting Irish football remains defiantly without a league affiliation, despite its natural ties to the Big Ten and the Big East.

The mainstream news media have shown such slavish devotion to giving the Golden Domers the benefit of a double standard---1966, anyone?---that followers of the Fighting Irish find it difficult to wean themselves from the idea that their team is entitled to such preferential treatment as a matter of course.

I don't believe Notre Dame is entitled to any particular benefit of the doubt by virtue of the fact that it's Notre Dame . . . not any more than I believe that Georgia is deserving of special consideration on account of the fact that it is my alma mater.

We have bad murals in Athens, too.

Notre Dame fans love their football team and are true to their school. This is to their credit and I respect the Rakes for standing up for their coach and their program. However, the scarlet sin of which I am guilty is judging Notre Dame by the same guidelines that I apply to every other Division I-A team, my own not excepted.

I refuse to genuflect at the altar of South Bend. I refuse to be awed by a program that has been "returning to glory since 1993." E.S.P.N. may be blinded by the glint off of the Golden Dome, but, to me, the Irish are just another team that's 0-1 against the Red and Black.

I'm simply not buying the hype. Knute Rockne made up the story about the Gipper. The green jerseys make the Irish look like Gumby. Rudy was offsides. Notre Dame is like marijuana . . . they both get smoked in a bowl. Jesus Christ doesn't care when a touchdown is scored in South Bend. The 2005 Golden Domers were not---and, so far this season, the 2006 Golden Domers are not---worthy of a B.C.S. berth.

The Fighting Irish are just like everybody else and, here at Dawg Sports, they will be judged accordingly. Sometimes the truth hurts, but, painful or not, truth is still truth.

Go 'Dawgs!