Notre Dame deserves to be in the National Championship game.
Thats it. That’s all it takes. With that simple sentence you’re either disgusted and ready to close this article or you’re mentally fist-pumping, chomping at the bit to show all the “haters” some “truth.” Whether it’s your renewed hatred for Notre Dame, tried and true loyalty, or bandwagon seat that’s been dusted off this year, the relevance of the Irish amplifies the magnitude of this national championship game for a plethora of reasons, and the timing could not be more picturesque.
It seems there is no room on the fence when it comes to Notre Dame– you either love them or you hate them. Their perfect season up until this point has forced the few fence flirters to choose a side and stand by it. Undoubtedly, some of this comes because of the unwavering obsession the media has with covering all things Irish. However, it cannot be denied that Notre Dame embodies one of the most polarizing brands in college football. This is partly due to the media mania that encompasses anything they do. Maybe it’s due to the contract with NBC, easy road to the BCS, or the several other arguably unfair advantages. Possibly it’s those shiny helmets (ask Rick Reilly about those), or Rudy, or the “Win One for the Gipper” speech.
Whether it’s fair (or deserving or whatever word you want to use) or not, Notre Dame has become relevant again this year causing the love and hatred alike to flow that much smoother. And people want to see it. When Notre Dame faced USC with a trip to the ‘ship on the line, ABC’s broadcast was the most watched since the ’06 OSU vs. Michigan game and the fifth most watched on any network since at least 1991. The drama of a backup quarterback replacing the star and possibly spoiling the resurgent Irish’s hopes of perfection was almost too good to be true. Then Lane Kiffin seemingly took the reins and chauffeured Notre Dame right to the BCS National Championship game, but that’s another story.
Likewise, within 32 hours of beating USC, Notre Dame had ticket orders for the championship game from all 50 states, 6 Canadian provinces, UK, Australia, Mexico, and Germany. Then two weeks after defeating USC, their ticket office had received over 100,000 ticket orders… and SunLife Stadium, the site of the BCS National Championship, holds around 80,000 or so.
Let’s set the stage. Entering the ring we have Notre Dame– this storied, resurgent program that’s lost 10 of it’s last 12 bowl games but has seemingly risen from the ashes this year… and waiting on them in the corner pounding its collective fist is Alabama– the closest thing we’ve seen to a college football dynasty in quite some time, as they’re going for their third title in four years.
But what’s so captivating about this particular championship game may not be the fact that it’s two traditional powerhouses in quite different stages of their programs’ life cycle. Sure the media has been eating up that story line, and if you’re like me you’re sick of all the coverage the history of these two programs has been getting. Whether it’s The Bear, Rudy, or Lou Holtz stumbling, fumbling, and mumbling through his memories of the glory days, surely it’s about time to shut up and play some football.
However, what’s most enthralling about this game is the current scope of college football–namely, the implication of the 4-team playoff beginning in 2014. The game we love is on the cusp of it’s foundation shifting, which most agree is a much needed change. I tend to agree with this opinion. Even if the pros do outweigh the cons, a change of this magnitude will most certainly cause some adverse ripples in one way or another.
Amidst this change in the landscape of college football there’s been an underlying argument in nearly every headline or story, especially over the past six years… the SEC vs. everybody else. Even as this season has unfolded it’s boiled down to a heavyweight bout between Notre Dame and the SEC, with others (namely Oregon and Kansas State) being bullied away. The fact is there and cannot be denied: 6 BCS National Championships in a row speak for themselves. But some argue the league receives kingly treatment even when it’s ‘undeserving’ in the BCS, rankings, accolades, etc. It’s extremely tough to even form a case that it’s not the best conference in football, but many seem weary of the success the conference has had and want a change. And they’re getting it. This 4-team playoff will lend more structure to the argument, due to more of it being played out on the field and a decreasing reliance on the computer rankings and polls. The arguing will shift somewhat from the fans and the media bickering whose body of work is more impressive to the committee, which will determine the four teams worthy of a shot at a title.
The best team will be decided on the field, without as much help from computers, which is what we all want and deserve. On the contrary, the regular season will be a fraction less meaningful and the underlying argument will become more watered down as it will be less centered around media and fan rants and force teams to earn their title on the scoreboard.
As we’re on the verge of this change that many have longed for, what better way to send out an era than what we have on our plate this season. I know there’s one more year until the 4 team playoff is inaugurated, but I doubt the story lines will be as rich. Two traditional powerhouses facing off: one that’s become a mainstay, and the other that’s miraculously risen from mediocrity this season. The SEC, in the form of Alabama, will try to bulldoze its way to a seventh consecutive title, while Notre Dame hopes to finish off their miraculous season and avoid becoming just another victim to the SEC tyranny. Whether you love Notre Dame or you hate them, either emotion has undoubtedly been strengthened with their success this year; or maybe you’re exhausted from the dominance of the SEC and can’t wait for the playoff because you’re holding out hope that it will somehow shift the argument back in favor of everyone else.
We’re on the foothills of a mountain of change in college football, and it would be wise to enjoy this seeming climax to the BCS selection era now, in which ratings will be high and points probably at a premium, and then worry about the playoff system and its implications when it comes.
By: Philip Matthews