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Take Two: Are undefeated Irish really one of the four best teams?

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Chris Finke
Chris Finke (AP Images)

Take Two returns with a daily offering tackling an issue in the college football landscape. National Recruiting Analyst Adam Gorney lays out the situation and then receives takes from National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell and a local expert from the network of team sites.

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Notre Dame is undefeated. It’s ranked third in the College Football Playoff poll. The Irish are going to play in a national semifinal.

But is Notre Dame one of the four best teams in the country? Alabama and Clemson are definitely on that list, but there are going to be plenty of arguments made for other teams. Georgia is playing the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship Game this weekend, and those are two pretty talented squads.

Oklahoma can outscore anybody in the country. And Ohio State made a huge statement in its blowout win over Michigan. The Buckeyes’ only loss came, shockingly, at Purdue in October, and beating the Wolverines the way they did was definitely impressive.

Notre Dame is in. It’s impossible to think the Irish will be left out. But they struggled against a bad USC football team last weekend. They didn’t look all that impressive against Northwestern a few weeks back. They squeaked by Pitt.

If you’re talking about the four most talented - or most dangerous - teams in college football, is Notre Dame in that conversation?


“I have no doubt that Notre Dame can compete with any team in the country. I would put all three levels of their defense — line, linebackers and secondary — up against anyone, and both Ian Book and Dexter Williams have added oomph to the offense since Week 5. I also like that ND doesn’t have to play a conference game this week, so it can rest up and heal after a pretty arduous last five weeks in which it played at home only once and twice had to travel to California.

“It’s silly to use the USC game as a barometer. It’s like saying Clemson’s defense isn't really that good because it gave up 35 to South Carolina. Or, because Clemson beat Syracuse only 27-23 with a late rally and the Irish crushed them 36-3, therefore ND is 37 points better than the Tigers. Or because Georgia lost by 20 to LSU and ND beat LSU last January in the Citrus Bowl, the Irish are better than the Bulldogs. That type of nonsense or transitive property in math does not translate to athletic competition. Every week is different, with different circumstances to evaluate. Notre Dame has earned its way into the College Football Playoff, just like the other teams that have.

“Last year ND led Georgia most of the way before losing in the closing minute, 20-19. In 2015, against an outstanding Clemson team that played for the national title, ND missed a two-point conversion in the closing seconds that would have sent the game into OT at Death Valley. This Notre Dame program is better, top to bottom, so of course it is capable of continuing to compete with such teams. As for Alabama, the residue of the 2013 BCS Championship blowout remains, but ND has hardly been the lone team embarrassed on such a big stage. I don't know what will happen in this year’s CFP, but I do know Notre Dame has earned the right to be there.”


“After watching the Irish play against USC, I’m a little bit worried whether they can hang or not. USC is a really bad football team and they had Notre Dame on the ropes. The Irish have won some close games this year against some average opponents.

“Being undefeated, being 12-0 is great, and they’ve had a great season, but I think they might get rolled by an offense like Alabama or Clemson. The way Ohio State looked against Michigan, if the Buckeyes play that way they would pretty much destroy Notre Dame, and I don’t see how the Irish stop Oklahoma. Their only hope would be to outscore somebody. Their defense is solid, but the offenses we’re talking about are the elite offenses in college football, and they’d probably have to put up 40-50 points to win a game like that.”