After its dramatic upset of Oklahoma, Notre Dame football (and its star linebacker, Manti Te’o) did move up in the rankings, although not as much as some Fighting Irish fans would have liked. Still, the Irish were ranked No. 1 in something, a category almost as important as the BCS! Let’s now break those rankings down.
After Florida‘s fall from the unbeaten, the Irish inched up only one spot—to fourth—in the USA Today and Harris College football polls. In other words, Notre Dame ranks last among the major unbeatens—Louisville not included!
However, in the BCS, the only poll that really matters, Notre Dame is ranked third behind only Alabama and Kansas State. But although Irish fans reacted with glee to see their team at number three, the experts expressed caution.
For not only was Notre Dame ranked ahead of the Oregon Ducks by the slimmest of margins (.914 to .913), but Oregon would be facing three ranked teams (USC, Stanford, and Oregon State) in the next four weeks, whereas Notre Dame would be facing only one (USC). This would diminish Notre Dame’s computer rankings (where it is currently tied with Kansas State for the top spot) and thus drop them down to four here too—unless of course Oregon (or Alabama or KSU) lost a game and Notre Dame didn’t.
The No. 2 ranking belongs to Te’o, in regard to the Irish linebacker’s Heisman chances. And although Te’o has moved up in the Heisman ranks considerably in the past few weeks, ESPN still has him trailing Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein by a wide margin.
Although Klein is certainly no more valuable to his team than Te’o is to his, I believe the reasons for this discrepancy can be narrowed down to two; namely, tradition and statistics. Simply put, the Heisman voters rarely even consider a defensive player because big numbers like 19-26-233, 2TDs and 11-83, 2 more TDs (Klein’s passing and rushing statistics last week against Texas Tech) are much more sexy than 11-1-1 (the number of tackles, sacks and interceptions Te’o has against Oklahoma). Maybe this is the year the story (Te’o's compelling struggle to play through the loss of loved ones) beats the stats—but probably only if Notre Dame keeps winning and Kansas State doesn’t.
Lastly, Notre Dame is ranked No. 1 in something besides the computer, namely player graduation rates. The University of Notre Dame athletic programs again rank as the best in the country in graduation rates, based on Graduation Success Rate (GSR) figures released today by the NCAA—including first-place ratings in the sports of football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and ice hockey.
Among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision institutions, Notre Dame had the highest percentage of its sports with 100 percent scores (for the seventh time in eight years), with a .863 figure (19 of 22).
Back to football, Notre Dame achieved a 97 GSR rating, and is actually tied with Northwestern for the top spot. Interestingly, Stanford, ranked eighth with a graduation rate of 90%, is the only other team also in the BCS top twenty.
Notre Dame’s graduation ranking not only disproves the critics who said the Irish could no longer compete for the National Title in football with its strict academic policies, but the former coaches such as Bob Davie and Charlie Weis who believed them.
Still, as happy as that graduation stat makes me, I believe former Irish coach, Lou Holtz, was right in that Notre Dame will never be a football dynasty again unless it also concentrates on recruiting the Catholic kids who grew up dreaming of playing for Notre Dame. For even if the Catholic recruits’ test scores are a few points below the Notre Dame norm, Holtz is right in thinking they would study five times as hard as the normal player if given the chance to play for Our Lady…who year in and year out, is always the Irish’s No. 1 fan.