OK, here’s my plea to those who join me as Notre Dame football junkies: Don’t believe the blue and gold hype. Cover your ears until the final gun for the Fighting Irish this season. You know, whether that comes after their last regularly scheduled game at Southern Cal, or during one of those major bowls not associated with the College Football Playoff (CFP), or as a member of the Final Four, or following the national championship game.
This universal hugging of Notre Dame is a setup.
Yeah, it is.
You flip the radio dial. You watch the sports channels. You read the blogs, the tweets and the posts, and according to the general consensus, it’s only a formality that fifth-ranked Notre Dame (6-0) still has games on its schedule through the rest of October and into late November. According to that consensus, the Irish should run the table the rest of the way, and they should become one of the four teams collecting at least $6 million for making the playoffs, and they should do all of this with ease.
Sorry, but I’m not listening.
Neither should you.
Since the days of Knute Rockne in the 1920s, when the legendary Notre Dame coach wrapped an eternal aura around the football program, the Irish have generated strong feelings of love and hate throughout the planet. In fact, the slew of folks who aren’t into Golden Dome stuff can’t wait to use their tired cliché of “Notre Dame is overrated,” so they set traps for the Irish. They do so by declaring what Notre Dame should do against this team or that one, especially for those not among the elite. Through it all, they never throw this into the mix: THE NOTRE DAME GAME is the Super Bowl on everybody’s schedule.
There are no gimmies for Notre Dame.
Two words . . . Boston College.
Twenty-five years ago, after the No. 2-ranked Irish slipped past No. 1-ranked Florida State at Notre Dame Stadium in what was billed “The Game of the Century,” the general consensus was that Notre Dame should win the national championship. Never mind the Irish had a final regular-season game against a mostly mediocre Boston College team. As Notre Dame haters watched with glee, the Irish lost on a field goal with no time left after the Boston College kicker sent the game winner toward Touchdown Jesus!
Since then, the Irish have lost to South Florida, Tulsa, Navy (four times after a 43-year winning streak), Northwestern (twice), Duke, North Carolina State during a hurricane and a shaky Louisville team without Terry Bridgewater.
Thanks to that 1993 Boston College bunch, none of these other teams over couldn’t care less if The Gipper was a Notre Dame icon or the name of a soft drink in Tokyo.
With that in mind, let’s analyze each of Notre Dame’s final six games, and I’ll tell you why ESPN’s College Football Playoff Predictor is nuts for saying the Irish have a 62 percent chances of making the playoffs.
The truth is, they’ll become the “Fighting” Irish . . .
As in, fighting for their football lives.
Pittsburgh (3-3) at home: Yeah, well. Here’s all you need to know about the Panthers: During each of the previous two seasons, they beat the No. 2 team in the College Football Playoff rankings. They stopped Miami (Florida) last year, and they handled Clemson the year before that.
Navy (2-3) in San Diego: This one always gives me the creeps, because the Irish can’t truly win it. When they do beat Navy, it’s because they should. When they don’t, well, that has happened too many times in recent years. The Midshipmen have that option offense that hardly anybody else uses, and it forces Notre Dame to prepare for it closer to the Fourth of July instead of Labor Day.
Northwestern (2-3) in Evanston, Ill.: Yes, the Wildcats lost to Duke and to Akron, but neither of those was THE NOTRE DAME GAME. As bizarre as this sounds, Northwestern has a two-game winning streak over the Irish, and both of those victories came at Notre Dame Stadium in 1995 and 2014. Oh, and Northwestern upset No. 20 Michigan State Saturday on the road.
Florida State (3-3) at home: These aren’t the Seminoles of Bobby Bowden, Deion Sanders and Charlie Ward. These are the ones in transition with new coach Willie Taggart, but they nearly won Saturday at 17th-ranked Miami. Plus, during their last trip to South Bend in 2003, they ripped Notre Dame 37-0.
Syracuse (4-2) in New York: Ask Clemson about the Orange. Two weeks ago, the Tigers nearly were knocked out of the CFP by Syracuse in Death Valley before a late-game rally. In addition to everything else, THIS is the trap game.
Southern Cal (3-2) in Los Angeles: Notre Dame has played these guys every season since 1926, and the Trojans are the Irish’s biggest rivals. Imagine the extended partying around Hollywood if Southern Cal leaves the Irish just shy of the CFP.
So the Irish likely won’t go undefeated.
If they do . . .
Let’s pretend this column never happened.