Notre Dame will win the BCS Championship Game*

Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Maybe. But if you use a certain title team from 10 years ago as a comparison, this one might not seem all that improbable.

Full disclosure: I don't like Notre Dame. At all. I'm the guy (among thousands of others) on Twitter who goes full sarcasm font with "Notre Dame is BACK" when they lose their first game of the year, and I chide my Golden Domer friends when they speak of a program that hasn't been National-Championship-Relevant since 1988, when most of said Domers were just learning how to talk. So writing that headline was among the more difficult things I've had to do since I started writing for this site. Please take that as your grain of salt.

All of that said, however, I am firmly in the belief that, if they continue to take care of business and get a little help along the way, the 2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish will not only make it to the BCS National Championship Game, but they will win it. Why? Because they look so much like another title-winning, underdog team that it's almost as if fate is making this happen.

...

Sorry, I just puked in my mouth for the third time since starting to write this.

The 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes should be a favorite team of anyone who regularly reads this site, or calls themselves a Buckeye fan, not just because they won a championship, but because the team itself represented such a huge leap from the years before. It was a team that was built on bone-crushing defense, more than capable offense, and the right amount of luck to survive the rigors of a long regular season, and see those efforts ultimately culminate in a championship against an incredibly strong foe in January.

If you look closely at the 2012 Notre Dame squad, you will see a lot of similarities. Just on the surface, there are some nice coincidences:

  • Mike Doss, Ohio State senior DB, back for his final year, arguably one of the best defenders in the country, part of one of the nation's best defenses.
  • Manti Te'o, Notre Dame senior LB, back for his final year, probably going to New York for the Heisman ceremony (and he may just win it), part of one of the nation's best defenses.
  • Craig Krenzel, Ohio State junior QB, had to battle for his starter position the year before, capable dual-threat abilities.
  • Everett Golson, Notre Dame sophomore QB, had to battle for his starter position over the course of the year, very capable runner, improving passer.
  • Maurice Clarett, Ohio State freshman RB, record-setter at the position with 18 total TDs on the year.
  • ...Ok, there's not real comparison to Mo, but between Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and Golson, there's plenty of talent on the ground in South Bend.
  • Jim Tressel, Ohio State Head Coach, in his second year of trying to revive a program with a tremendous chip on its shoulder.
  • Brian Kelly, Notre Dame Head Coach, in his third year of trying to revive a program with a tremendous chip on its shoulder.

These are just the surface comparisons, but if you look at the statistics, things line up even more.

Through eight games, here are the notable per-game offensive and defensive statistics for Notre Dame:

2012 Notre Dame Games PASS Cmp Att Pct Yds TD RUSH Att Yds Avg TD Total Points Points/Game
Offense 8 15.3 26.4 57.8 193.3 0.8 40.5 196.5 4.9 2.1 211 26.4
Defense 8 19.8 34.4 57.5 197.8 0.6 30.4 95.3 3.1 0.1 79 9.9

Now, here are the same statistics (through all 14 games) for the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes:

2002 Ohio State Games PASS Cmp Att Pct Yds TD RUSH Att Yds Avg TD Total Points Points/Game
Offense 14 12.4 20 61.8 173.2 1 44.9 191.3 4.3 2.2 410 29.3
Defense 14 22.5 39 57.7 243.1 1 29.9 77.7 2.6 0.4 183 13.1

Pretty damn close. Offensively, we can see that both teams were not as reliant on the passing game to put points on the board, both averaging right around one passing TD per game, whereas the running game was a huge element, accounting for an almost identical two scores per game. When passing, both teams were above 57% (slight edge to ND), and when running, both teams averaged over four yards per carry (again, slight edge to ND). Both teams were fairly balanced in terms of yardage passing and running, and both teams but up over 25 points per game (edge to OSU).

On defense, Notre Dame is statistically better than what was probably the best Ohio State defense in the last two decades. But the similarities are there, too. Both teams held opposing teams to almost identical completion percentage, while each defense was almost impenetrable against the run, Ohio State holding opponents to 78 yards, and Notre Dame holding opponents to 95 yards. If you wanted to score against either team, you had to do it through the air, as Ohio State would only allow a rushing score every other game, and Notre Dame has only allowed a single rushing touchdown on the year, last week in Oklahoma. Notre Dame is giving up an absurd 9.9 points/game, just a field goal better than OSU's 13.1 points/game in 2002.

I don't want to admit it, but when you look at the surface comparisons, as well as the stats from both teams, the similarities are hard to ignore.

Now this Notre Dame team still has some games to play, including a tough last game at USC (kind of like 2002 Ohio State had against Michigan), with a few could-be hiccups in between. They haven't really had a "Holy Buckeye" moment, unless you count the late field goal against Purdue. But they do have an overtime defensive stand against Stanford, like Ohio State had against Illinois in 2002. And in the BCS title game, should they get there, Notre Dame will probably be an overwhelming underdog against a team looking for a dynasty-making championship (yes, in this situation 2012 Alabama = 2002 University of Miami, and that would also be a fun comparison to make, by the way).

I am not on a bandwagon for this Notre Dame team at all. It could be that Pitt is going to beat the Irish back into national-somewhat-relevancy this weekend. But if Notre Dame can take care of their business and get a little bit of help from the rest of the top-five, don't be surprised if the Irish actually have a chance to play for a championship today, instead of just like one.

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