Fenway Freefall?

Did the Irish fumble away a spot in the Top 4? Matt Cashore/USA Today Sports

I’m going to take my first stab at a non-hoops story to discuss that disappointing effort by the Irish on Saturday and how it may affect their place in tonight’s rankings release.  It took me a few days to simmer down after I immediately felt that ND would drop to #7 in the polls after beating a hapless BC team by 3.  Michigan State had won on the road vs. #3, Baylor pounded #6 (also on the road), and Oklahoma was surviving against TCU, all while ND was turning the ball over in the red zone multiple times (has been a theme this year) and dropping sure touchdown passes.  So I looked yesterday at the entire body of work of the five teams that are in contention for the last two spots behind Clemson and Alabama, and while a fall in the rankings certainly is likely, it is not guaranteed.

W/L Record of Power 5 Wins

Now I know my criteria is not what the committee uses, as you hear “strength of record” and other calculations that I don’t have the time to fully understand.  Checking the W/L records of the Power 5 teams that the teams in contention have beaten seemed like a good place to start.

W/L PCT.
ND 32-44 0.421
Iowa 47-50 0.485
Oklahoma 44-41 0.518
Michigan St. 40-37 0.519
Baylor 29-35 0.453

Of the five teams in contention, ND has the worst strength of schedule in terms of their wins against Power 5 teams.  Of course, their two best wins are against Navy and Temple, so we’ll go to the second criteria.

W/L Record of Wins

Taking into account all of the wins, the Irish’s resume looks a little better, but still noticeably behind a couple of the contenders.  Iowa and Baylor both played one FCS team, so that game is not included in these W/L records.  Iowa takes a hit, as they played Illinois St. (FCS) and North Texas (1-10), while ND adds their wins over Navy and Temple (although 2-9 UMass goes into the equation as well).

W/L PCT.
ND 52-56 0.481
Iowa 48-58* 0.453
Oklahoma 55-52 0.514
Michigan St. 60-50 0.545
Baylor 35-51* 0.407

Michigan St. and Oklahoma continue to have the best numbers based on these metrics, and the Irish are now ahead of Iowa and Baylor.

Comparison of Wins

After emailing with some buddies yesterday about what the Irish should be ranked, one of them (Hey Kev!) compared ND’s best four wins with OU’s best four wins (as he correctly thinks that if both win this week, the last spot is between OU and ND), and I took it a step further.  We know that if Iowa and Michigan St. win this week, they are playing in the Big 14 championship game, with the winner getting the 3rd playoff spot (Go Huskers and Nittany Lions).  Let’s compare the best wins of ND, Oklahoma and Baylor should all three teams win out and get to 11-1.

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
ND at Stan Navy  at Temple at Pitt USC
Oklahoma at Baylor at Ok St TCU at Tenn WVU
Baylor at Ok St at TCU WVU TT  ????

It becomes clear that ND and Boomer would have more quality wins than Baylor.  I think this, plus the fact TCU is in freefall right now, eliminates Baylor in this scenario.  Between the Irish and Sooners, we then have to look at the strength of each win.

#1 OU at Baylor > ND at Stanford.  If Baylor wins out, OU gets the edge here beating an 11-1 team, while Stanford would have three losses.

#2 OU at Okla St. > ND vs Navy.  Though it is entirely possible that Navy ends up above Oklahoma St. in the rankings, a Bedlam road win would look better than a home win that looks much more impressive now than it did at the time.

#3 ND at Temple = OU vs. TCU.  Again, Temple may finish ahead of TCU, but the circumstances of these games may make them equal.  Both teams struggled to hang onto wins.  OU lost their Heisman Trophy candidate QB to injury, which the committee likely will take into account in rating this win.

#4 ND at Pitt = OU at Tenn.  These wins are nearly identical in every aspect, except for the fact that ND looked impressive (the only time in the last month) and OU pulled out a miracle win.  On paper, its a push.

#5 ND vs. USC > OU vs. WVU.  Not going to spend much time on this since it is each teams fifth best win…but ND’s win is better in name value and I’m not sure anyone thinks WVU could beat USC.

Looking at this metric, this is a clear advantage for OU.

The Texas Factor

Since we are down to ND and OU for the 4th spot, how much does the committee take into account the common opponent:  Texas.  ND annihilated them 38-3 in Week 1, while somehow OU lost to that pitiful team.  Anyone that says they know how much weight the committee will give this is purely speculating.

The Verdict

Last year proved that momentum at the end of the year has an effect on the committee (see Ohio State).  Based on the way the Irish have played in the last month, they are going to need to impressively beat Stanford in order to have a chance.  With a Bedlam win, the Sooners will have three consecutive wins over ranked opponents and two Top 10 road wins.  While I wouldn’t be surprised to still see ND ahead of Oklahoma tonight, I think the committee is going to punish ND for their lackluster performance.

Projected Rankings

1. Clemson
2. Alabama
3. Iowa
4. Michigan State
5. Oklahoma
6. Notre Dame
7. Baylor

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