What is one of the most sure-fire ways to stir up trouble on the internet? You can do it by saying that Notre Dame's days of being a National Title contender are over. This is especially true if they decide to join the Big Ten. I don't think it is likely they are joining at all. They have too many advantages to risk losing them all and further becoming an also-ran in the world of college football.
15 years ago such an argument would have been ludicrous. Since finishing #2 in 1993, however, Notre Dame has not been a serious contender for the championship. They continue to bring in four and five star talent, but no team does less with more than the Irish. Take the beloved Jimmy Montana. It was a national tragedy that he lasted in the NFL Draft until the middle of the second round. In reality, what did he accomplish? He had a losing record as Notre Dame's starter. He lost to Navy not once, but twice, something no Irish quarterback had done even once in over 40 years. He accomplished both losses at home, no less. Give me a Tim Tebow as my quarterback over Clausen any day. He does that little thing called winning, something Clausen never did consistently at Notre Dame.
These three "greats" have won exactly as many Heismans and National titles as Drew Brees. Who has had the better career?
This is more than a half-hearted attack on the Irish, however. For a program that prides itself on being above so many others they are nothing more than a middle of the pack college football team and have been for more than a decade now. They are only slightly better than Purdue, with whom they do not have a rivalry. If they joined the Big Ten they would probably be like Purdue in that every 5-10 years they could challenge for the conference crown, but they would hardly dominate the way they would demand.
First, let's look at the polls. In the BCS era (1998 forward), Notre Dame has finished in the top 25 six times to Purdue's five. This is hardly the mark of an elite program and reason for such a high and mighty perception over a middling program like our own. According to the Cosgrove Composite Poll, Purdue even has a higher composite final ranking when ranking all 120 Division 1-A teams over the past 12 seasons (1998-2009). Purdue comes in at 46.66667 while Notre Dame comes in at 47.
Let's look at preseason polls now. Again, Notre Dame has been ranked in the preseason one more time than Purdue over the past 12 years, but they have done less with that ranking than the Boilers. In 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2009 the Irish began the season as a ranked team only to finish unranked. Purdue, on the other hand, maintained their preseason ranked status into the postseason polls in all but 2005.
What is amazing when you look at these numbers is the perceived talent gap. In terms of stars alone, there is no way these teams should be this close. Purdue has recruited very poorly since about 2004 while Notre Dame was on a major upswing because of the "Charlie Weis is the newest savior" factor. Before that it wasn't like Purdue had five star guys beating down the door. The one five star recruit we have had in the last 10 years is currently in jail for a triple assault. He managed to play only in a handful of games as a reserve too. There is no way Notre Dame should accept anything less than 9 wins per season because of their talent. That is why it will be interesting to see if Brian Kelly can deliver as a coach because the cupboard should be fully stocked already.The sad thing is that is had been stocked for years. Notre Dame can out-recruit 95% of schools on name recognition alone, yet they have been barely average in the BCS era.
Okay, so Notre Dame continues to have a slight edge in terms of the polls. Surely that means they have done better in bowls, right? Nope. This is where Purdue has a significant edge. Notre Dame has one bowl win during the BCS era, and that was Jimmy Montana's magical 2008 Hawaii Bowl win. He successfully lit up a team that has long thought defense was optional. I respect hat it occurred on the Warriors' home field, but it was lauded as a game that set the stage for a huge 2009 campaign and possible Heisman season. What did they get out of it? Another 6-6 year, another loss to Navy, and a mere three point win in the final seconds over their non-rival that doesn't deserve to be on the same field with them.
Purdue, in the mean time, has three bowl wins in the BCS era. We've actually beaten a couple of teams with a pulse too. In 1998 we had the win over #4 Kansas State, who certainly deserved to be in the BCS and would have been in any other year of the system. We also have the 2002 Sun Bowl win over Washington (when Washington was still marginally good) and the 2007 Motor City Bowl win over Central Michigan. The win over the Chippewas is equal to Notre Dame's win over the Warriors.
Surely the bowl losses were close though, right? Wrong again. Purdue has been to nine bowl games in the BCS era. They have three wins, four games that came down the final possession or overtime (2000 Outback, 2002 Sun, 2003 Capitol One, 2004 Sun), and two double digit losses. The biggest loss was 24-7 to Maryland in the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl in which Purdue barely bothered to show up.
A 17 point loss in a bowl game would be cause for celebration in South Bend most years though. The Irish have played on the big stage three times in BCS games, and all three were embarrassing defeats. In the BCS era, here are Notre Dame's bowl results:
1998: Gator Bowl vs. Georgia Tech (L 28-35)
2000: Fiesta Bowl vs. Oregon State (L9-41)
2002: Gator Bowl vs. NC State (L 6-28)
2004: Insight Bowl vs. Oregon State (L 21-38)
2005: Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio State (L 20-34)
2006: Sugar Bowl vs. LSU (14-41)
2008: Hawaii Bowl vs. Hawaii (W 49-21)
That is one win and one close loss in seven games. The rest were sad efforts in bowl games that were likely undeserved.
Let's be clear again that Purdue and Notre Dame do not have a rivalry. We can never consider it one. There is no way we should ever be competitive with them on the field, at least in the eyes of most of their fans. In the BCS Era Purdue has wins in 1999, 2003, 2004, and 2007. That is 4-8 for a competitive series. You also have one possession losses in 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2009 in which Purdue pretty much beat themselves with dumb mistakes. In 1998 Drew Brees threw two interceptions in the final minutes, one with the lead that set up the winning score. In 2000 Purdue played a terrible game it had no business losing since ND started a tight end at quarterback. The Boilers lost on a last second field goal. In 2002 Purdue gave up 21 pints on defensive scores in a 24-17 loss. Finally, in 2009 a dumb timeout gave the Irish enough time to score on fourth and goal in the closing seconds. This particular loss would be celebrated as Jimmy Montana's greatest win, except for that time he almost beat USC. One different play in each of those games means a Purdue victory and a seismic shift in the series over the last 12 years. It also likely costs Notre Dame their 2000 BCS berth and saves them a passionate ass-whipping at the hands of Oregon State.
There have been two major blowouts in that time. In 2004 Purdue vented in Notre Dame Stadium 41-16. The next year Notre Dame returned the favor with a 49-28 win in West Lafayette that was the most pathetic defensive effort I have ever seen out of a Purdue team. That ended up being one of the few wins Notre Dame has over a ranked team in the BCS era (we were ranked at kickoff), and Purdue would finish 5-6.
Notre Dame has built their current national profile on a single game in the last decade. The sole reason they were considered a title contender at all was the fact that they almost beat an all-time great USC team. We can be thankful today that the Bush Push was successful, otherwise we would never hear the end of it.
What happens if Notre Dame joins the Big Ten?
Last season was supposed to be the year for the Irish. They had a "decided schematic advantage", tons of talent in place, and an easy schedule against just two ranked teams, and a clear path to the title game. They finished 6-6, including 2-1 against Big Ten foes. The loss was against one of the worst Michigan teams ever, while last second wins over mediocre Michigan State and Purdue teams were hardly convincing.
Unless Notre Dame settles on a coach instead of pulling its firing trigger every three to five years they would be a middle of the pack Big Ten team at best. Playing eight conference games against the Big Ten is a lot different from playing Washington, Washington State, Nevada, Navy, and Connecticut. You also have to factor in they would likely want to continue their rivalry with USC as a marquee non-conference game. Their days of scheduling 6-9 wins would be long over. Sure, they would get Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota on the schedule, but they would also get Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. Those are teams that are already well ahead of the Irish while Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan aren't exactly light years behind.
Would Notre Dame be satisfied with $22 million every year at the sacrifice of playing in the Insight Bowl? According to coach Kelly, probably not.
There are tons of arguments for bringing the Irish into the conference. They do have a national fanbase and appeal even if their days of glory are long dead. They have actually had days of glory, which is more than many teams in the conference (Purdue included) can say. I think they would actually do themselves a disservice by joining the Big Ten. Right now, they are news just because they are who they are. They are talked about almost daily with all these expansion rumors because of their tradition, appeal, and fanbase. If they join the Big Ten, however, and have another 10-20 years of mediocrity in the middle of the conference they become like Indiana is in basketball right now: a national non-entity.
I could be wrong, however. I am man enough to admit that.I know the main reaction from lots of people before the comments even begin pouring in:
You're an idiot
Notre Dame at least has tradition and history
What has Purdon't ever done (one of my favorites)
You're just jealous
At least Notre Dame has titles.
...and so on. They very well could join and reel off five conference titles in a row. Brian Kelly really could be the savior, although with the way Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis were lauded as saviors I'll reserve my judgment until later. This is why it is fun to be a blogger. I know that Notre Dame has loads more tradition, history, and national appeal than Purdue. That is what makes them so pathetic right now because they have nothing to show for it since 1994.
The sad fact is that Purdue has been ranked in the top ten (in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005) at some point in more seasons during the BCS era than Notre Dame (2005, 2006, and 2008). I cannot respect their current product because they have delivered nothing on the field for more than 15 years despite having more advantages than anyone else. Their sense of entitlement has expired. Purdue isn't great, but we've at least improved over the past 15 years. I can only present evidence and opinion and either be loved or hated. This will probably make me hated, but it is just one man's opinion.
As for the season opener, give me a team with positive momentum and an experienced quarterback over an entire team learning a new system. And if Purdue "upsets" Notre Dame in the opener the honeymoon for Brian Kelly will be over on September 5th.