I have a bad feeling about Vanderbilt, mostly because it's ... Vanderbilt.
|Jimmy Clausen and the Figthin' Irish are 4-1 after Saturday's win vs. Stanford. (US Presswire)|
No, they do not play each other. Somehow that matchup eluded the network honchos this season: Catholics vs. Calculus ... The Beatitude Bowl: Will the geeks inherit the earth?
They have little in common except their academics, the place where Vanderbilt might -- might -- be a slight seven-credit hour favorite.
There is no doubt that Vandy is the better story at the moment. It doesn't have an athletic department. Notre Dame has eight wire-service national championships.
Vandy just beat Auburn -- with a backup quarterback -- for the first time since 1955. ND just outlasted Stanford. The hype needle is definitely pointing toward Nashville, Tenn.
Call it skepticism, a sense of history or pure madness, but I think Notre Dame is in a more favorable position right now. Its chances of getting to a BCS bowl are better than Vandy getting to any bowl. That's not to disparage the Commodores after their historic win over Auburn. The 14-13 victory left Vanderbilt one win away from bowl qualification.
Six victories and it's in, somewhere, playing in the bowl-laden SEC. But that's the point. Vandy hasn't been to a bowl in 25 years, even when the bar was set ridiculously low. Instead of celebrating a fresh, new team in the top 25, I'm looking for something to go wrong. Instead of assuming those six victories, I'm looking at a remaining schedule that includes games against Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Wake Forest. I still can't convince myself the 'Dores will play in their first bowl since 1982.
|Dodd's Power Poll|
|6. Penn State|
|8. Ohio State|
|11. Texas Tech|
|15. Michigan State|
|16. South Florida|
|17. Oklahoma State|
|20. Boise State|
|22. Ball State|
|23. Virginia Tech|
|25. North Carolina|
|(Out: Wisconsin, Oregon, Oregon State, Connecticut)|
I know, that makes me sound like Scrooge on acid. I'm just warning you ahead of time when you see a 9-3 Notre Dame basking in the Phoenix sun in three months.
What? Vanderbilt is No. 13 in the AP. Notre Dame is 35th, among those getting votes. Vandy, though, has a history too, mostly bad. It started 4-0 in 2005, then lost six in a row. It started 3-1 last season, then finished 5-7. That should give you an idea how hard it is for the Commodores to get over a hump that has grown to the size of Mt. McKinley.
Notre Dame? I'm getting this feeling in the pit of my keyboard that it's headed for the Fiesta Bowl. As long as Oklahoma remains No. 1, that's the bowl that would get the first pick after the BCS title game teams are slotted.
Sure, the Irish are unranked but 11 ranked teams ahead of them in the AP poll play at least three currently ranked teams the rest of the way; Notre Dame plays two (North Carolina, USC). Why wouldn't the Fiesta folks pick Notre Dame to match up against a Big 12 rep like Missouri? Actually, scratch that. Notre Dame against anyone would be good for TV and ticket sales.
I'm not saying it's right, it just is. Notre Dame is about as off the radar right now as Vanderbilt is on. It has cobbled together that 4-1 record beating unranked teams. But God's Program has special dispensation every year. Finish in the top eight of the BCS and it goes major bowling; Top 14 and it is eligible for an at-large berth.
Translated, "at-large" means bowl executives would be pulling shivs on each other to get a shot at the Irish. A couple of years ago the rules were changed to make it harder for Notre Dame to get in.
Easier? Notre Dame gets an automatic $1 million check from the BCS even in years it doesn't make a BCS bowl. Enron execs have walked away with worse packages. ND gets the paper just for being ND. Thank goodness for those bowl standards. Call me old-fashioned but that beats a free market. With no restraints, I wouldn't have been surprised if the Irish played in the Sugar Bowl last season at 3-9.
The TV and bowl executives want Notre Dame as available as possible. Put in the parlance of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, Notre Dame is good "inventory." When they're bad, everyone is watching. When they're good everyone is watching for an extra bowl game, which makes Notre Dame good for business. You know by now that the Irish have more juice than V8. When it comes to the polls, a Notre Dame victory is worth more than perhaps anyone else's. Let's say it loses to those ranked teams, that still calculates to the magic 9-3 that could land it in the top 14.
I don't know that for certain. I do know human nature.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt still has to go through the heart of the SEC East.
The Commodores are 5-0 for the first time since 1943. Notre Dame won its first AP national championship that year. I'm saying all this because history matters more in college football than perhaps any other sport. It leaks into the minds of voters. It is programmed into computers. It is proudly spouted by fans. Notre Dame is already 4 1/2 games better than last season (4-1 vs. 3-9). That has quietly become one of the biggest turnarounds in the country. Sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen is just hitting his stride.
It's not just that I believe, it's the bowls, sponsors and TV execs who want to believe.
Good inventory makes for good business.
Vandy? It's a good story. For now.