What makes the summer leading up to the college football season so great is the fact that no one can prove you wrong in your season predictions. I could say Temple will go 12-0, play for the national championship and become the biggest upset story in college football history. And who's going to say I'm wrong? Ok, logically that isn't going to happen, but there really isn't any evidence against such a claim. You could say that it's nearly impossible, if not impossible, but no one really knows what Temple and their new coaching staff will do. That's the beauty of preseason prognostication, it's impossible to disprove a prediction until the events actually take place. This is why psychic hotlines still stay in business...
This is why it isn't that difficult to sit down and write a preseason publication for a horde of college football teams. A writer can overrate, underrate and substantiate a number of teams knowing full well that the validity of their argument won't be disproved until at least the start of the college football season. And every year this is the case as the preseason pundits latch onto a favorite and mold them into the college football darlings of that season. Sometimes their preseason favorite proves to be right, but often it's not. Especially when there really isn't a clear cut national champion favorite, yet this never stops the predictions from flowing.
This season it seems the hype has been built around Notre Dame and their triumphant head coach Charlie Weis. He won over the media's hearts by steering his Fighting Irish to a 9-3 season that included a Fiesta Bowl appearance. On the surface, this does indeed look like a solid turn around from the 6-6 team he inherited. However was that season really anything special?
Let's take a look at Notre Dame's schedule, its wins and losses.
Notre Dame opened the season up with a surprising win over top-25 ranked Pittsburgh on the road. This was an impressive win at the time because the Panthers were coming off an 8-4, Fiesta Bowl season the prior season. Even though they had a new coaching staff, it was generally perceived Notre Dame upset the Panthers. That seemed to be the general consensus until Pittsburgh lost to Ohio the very next week. No, not Ohio State, Ohio from the MAC. The same Ohio that went 4-7 last year.
Notre Dame continued its stunning start by walking into the Big House and shocking Michigan 17-10. This was the win that convinced the college football world that Notre Dame was finally back. Yet the win looks less impressive when you realize that a 6-6 Notre Dame team beat a Michigan team that went 9-3 in 2004. That's the same Michigan team that won the Big Ten and played in the Rose Bowl. Last season, Michigan wasn't nearly as good, going 7-5 and losing to a slightly better than average Nebraska team in the Alamo Bowl.
Notre Dame followed up that "great" victory with a loss against Michigan State. Michigan State would go on to finish with a losing record for the second straight year. Losing to a 5-6 Michigan State team is hardly what I would call impressive.
Wins over Washington (2-9) and Purdue (5-6) were a prelude to Notre Dame's epic battle with USC. And while the Irish played a damn near flawless game and went toe to toe with the Trojans, they ultimately lost the game. Granted it's debatable whether USC should have won, but regardless of that the Irish still finished with a loss.
Notre Dame followed the USC game up with wins over BYU (6-6), Tennessee (5-6), Navy (8-4), Syracuse (1-10) and Stanford (5-6) before getting blown out by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Notre Dame beat only two teams that finished with a winning record last season, Navy and Michigan. Michigan, as stated above, was rather mediocre and Navy really can't compete with the Fighting Irish when it comes to talent.
With the talent Notre Dame has, it shouldn't be a surprise that they went 9-3, what is a surprise is that people expected less. The Irish were a good team and Weis is a good coach, but are they a legitimate top-5 team this year? I'm skepitcal of that, because I don't think Notre Dame is where they need to be to compete for a national championship.
I've already pointed out that Notre Dame had a fairly pathetic schedule last season, however this year it won't be a cake walk.
Notre Dame opens the season against Georgia Tech, a team that can defeat Miami and Auburn in the same season they lose to Utah. This is not an easy game for the Irish and with Gailey's track record of defeating teams he shouldn't, I wouldn't be surprised if the Irish are stunned in week one.
The very next week the Irish travel back home where they'll play Penn State. The Nittany Lions won't come close to what they did last season, but they also shouldn't be taken lightly. This is a game the Irish should win, but a loss shouldn't be surprising, either.
After Penn State, the Irish play Michigan in a grudge match with most likely a much improved Wolverines team. It won't get much easier for the Irish as they then travel to East Lansing to play Michigan State. And while the Spartans probably won't do much under a poor coach like John L. Smith, they could stun the Irish once again.
Notre Dame's schedule eases up a bit, but not by much. Stanford, Purdue and UCLA are all solid teams and if you'll remember Stanford nearly stunned Notre Dame last season. This year, like Michigan, they should be improved and so should Purdue.
Notre Dame ends the year against the Trojans on the road. Not an easy schedule for a program that some are predicting will play for the national championship. I guess I just don't see Notre Dame having the talent to run through their schedule, especially against teams that should be improved over last year.
Realistically I don't see Notre Dame going undefeated or finishing with one loss. I guess it could happen and maybe these writers will be proven right. However to quickly crown Charlie Weis the Golden Child of college football after one year does seem a bit premature. Especially when you realize Ty Willingham won 10 games in his Notre Dame debut and actually had more impressive wins than Weis had in his. Some of those wins were against Maryland (11-3), Michigan (10-3), Pittsburgh (9-4), Air Force (8-5) and Florida State (9-5). If Willingham can win 10 games in his debut, then tank the rest of his career at Notre Dame, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that Weis suffers from the same fate.
I do hope Weis succeeds because outside of the Utes, Notre Dame is my 2nd favorite team. I grew up in an Irish Catholic family and have an uncle who graduated from Notre Dame. Yet I can't help but feel that the hype surrounding them this season is rather hollow when you start looking at the facts. Of course, watch Notre Dame prove me wrong and not only dominate, but win the national championship.