Over on SI.com Stewart Mandel does a pretty good job debunking four common myths about this Notre Dame team: 1. Notre Dame doesn't have enough talent. 2. Notre Dame's defense is hopeless. 3. Notre Dame didn't prove anything last year. 4. Notre Dame's coach isn't the genius he's cracked up to be. He misfires in his excusal of Willingham's recruiting dropoff ("Contrary to popular belief, however, former coach Tyrone Willingham did upgrade the talent level considerably during his first two years", etc), but his main points are solid rebuttals to the grousing about the Irish from other fans. I especially enjoyed his spirited defense of Notre Dame's schedule last year:
But you can't blame Notre Dame for the quality of its opponents. By some bizarre coincidence, the Irish managed to catch traditionally formidable foes Pittsburgh, Michigan, Washington, Purdue, Tennessee and Syracuse in each of the programs' worst stretches in recent memory. The only thing the Irish could control was the score, and they did, winning seven of their games by at least three touchdowns. The only victory that was closer than it probably should have been was the regular-season finale against Stanford (38-31). And then there were the three losses.Overall, I appreciate the effort here from Mandel, but ultimately it doesn't matter. Dyed-in-the-wool ND bashers will not be swayed, no matter the logic in the arguments to the contrary. The main bone of contention and the source of kvetching from the rabble is ND's high preseason ranking: #3 in the Coaches poll, and probably somewhere similar once the AP comes out.
Two, to Michigan State and USC, came in OT or at the last second. And two of their three conquerors, the Trojans and Ohio State, finished the season among the nation's top four teams. Was it the season to end all seasons? Hardly. But it also wasn't nearly as forgettable as some would have you believe.
Is ND overrated? I'd say yeah. Probably. Maybe a little. But selfishly speaking, I like it. I'd rather be in the catbird seat to start the season than have to climb up through the ranks, stepping on the backs of inferior opponents like Georgia Tech and Penn State, who suddenly aren't as formidable after we beat them (see: ND opponents, 2005). A high ranking puts the onus on us to live up to the billing, and that's a good thing. As somebody once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." It's in our hands.