I got into a Twitter war this week. I'm not proud of it, but it happened. It started innocently enough with this simple question:
Why no discussion at all about Notre Dame in the national championship game?
Somehow in the rush to BCS judgment we've been conditioned to think it's a two-animal race -- Wildcats and Ducks. Both have curb appeal, superstars, separate magazine covers, inscrutable coaches. But while you were guzzling the energy drinks known as the blur offense and CKMVP a funny thing happened.
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I'm not necessarily disagreeing. I am saying that through some cosmic event the new BCS No. 1, Kansas State, has replaced Notre Dame as America's Team. The Notre Dame that used to get every possible benefit of the doubt from commentators, polls and -- supposedly -- God, has shrunk back before our eyes.
A quiet land-grant institution nestled in Kansas' Flint Hills somehow has a better P.R. machine at the moment than the world's most significant Catholic university. One school has its own network. The other has David Smoller, K-State's director of Internet services who designed the email campaign for Collin Klein.
Judging by the Heisman straw polls, Smoller is having at least as good a year as the player he is pumping.
One is No. 3 in the BCS. The other is No. 1 in your hearts.
What just happened here? Notre Dame got within .0101 of a point of Oregon for that No. 2 BCS spot and no one noticed.
No. 1 Kansas State and Klein have this week's SI cover.
Oregon has the world's fastest offense, guided by the world's fastest-talking coach (Chip Kelly).
Notre Dame -- slotted, dismissed and unbeaten -- has No. 3 locked down.
With that many undefeateds, someone has to be third. Maybe it's Golden Dome backlash, maybe it's jealousy. Maybe it's just being that college football outlier that used to be so glorious.
"It's the flip side of independence," Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick admitted. "We love it and all the benefits it gives us, but the conference anchor, the perception of the conference, we never have the benefit from [is not there]."
Swarbrick -- the man guiding the Irish toward an intimate relationship with the ACC -- went on to label Kansas State's Big 12 "excellent."
It seems not even Lou Holtz and Mike Golic can save the Irish at this point. Having merely suggested a rational discussion about Notre Dame, I got cyber-slapped on Twitter. Wounds heal but the reaction -- mostly from Kansas State fans -- is burned into my screen.
Really liked your tweets. Now unfollowing.
The fact that Notre Dame has all but clinched a BCS berth has been buried. Notre Dame still could lose to Wake Forest and Southern California and still have enough juice to make to the BCS for the first time since 2006. It is automatic for the BCS in the top eight, eligible in the top 14.
|Notre Dame's independent status has arguably hurt its BCS case. (US Presswire)|
"Some portion of our fans are blind [to being left out]," Swarbrick said.
Do they know that Oregon is so banged up that leading receiver/all-purpose sprinter De'Anthony Thomas could play defense this week against Stanford? Do they know all it would take is one bad day for No. 3 Notre Dame to pass No. 2 K-State in the subjective coaches' poll?
Isn't there even a case to be made for the Irish right now? That mere thought touched off more Twitter bombs.
Mostly, they made their case with blind, purple loyalty. The Irish play games too close, they said. They're boring, they said. They'd never hold up against K-State, they said.
Do you even watch football?
All of that was OK, but here's the weird thing. There was no rebuttal. I got one, maybe two tweets agreeing with me that, yes, maybe Notre Dame does deserve some top-two love. Do Notre Dame students study so hard, they don't have Twitter accounts?
Sure, the Cats and Ducks score more points. But the Irish allow fewer. That gets us back to the age-old aesthetic argument about which style of football is prettier -- offensive or defensive? As you may have noticed, the SEC has won that argument six years running.
But dress the participants up in shiny gold helmets and have a leprechaun dance around them and suddenly a sketchy offense and epic defense is bad.
Let's slice this BCS carcass open and compare. For purposes of this argument, it really doesn't matter who is No. 1. It matters how close Notre Dame is to No. 2. And if everyone keeps winning, it's going to be a Wildcat-Irish battle down the stretch. Or at least it should be, Twitter warriors.
• In the best comparison -- common opponents -- Notre Dame wins. The Irish were slightly better than Kansas State against Miami (Fla.) and Oklahoma. Notre Dame beat Miami by 38 on a neutral field. K-State beat Miami in Manhattan by 39. Both schools won at Oklahoma -- Notre Dame by 17, K-State by five. The Sooners were ranked in the top 10 at the time they played both schools.
Notre Dame beat Miami and Oklahoma by a combined 71-16. K-State won by a combined 76-32. Notre Dame gained 983 yards in those games and allowed 664. K-State: 860 gained, 648 allowed. Let's be charitable and call it a push. Notre Dame is even with Kansas State through 20 percent of their schedules to date.
• Heisman candidates. Once again, it's even. Manti Teo on one side of the ball for the Irish, Klein on the other for the Wildcats.
• Coach of the year candidates. It's hard to elevate anyone above Brian Kelly and Bill Snyder. Kelly, an offensive/quarterback guru, has had to reinvent himself with a team heavy on defense while breaking in a new quarterback.
Snyder, what else can you say? At 73, he remains the smartest guy in the room -- and on the field. Twenty-five junior college players and a former backup receiver/special teams player (Klein) have congealed to make a championship run.
• Defense vs. offense. Notre Dame leads the country in fewest points allowed, 11.1. Since 2001, only seven teams have allowed fewer points per game. Kansas State has been just as impressive on offense averaging 42.2 (eighth nationally).
Notre Dame has won five of its games by a touchdown or fewer. K-State has won five of its games by 14 or less.
Notre Dame has allowed nine touchdowns all season, none in consecutive games to Michigan, Michigan State and Miami. The Wildcats allowed three in one game to North Texas.
Ninety-three times Notre Dame opponents have started a drive inside their 41. Only one of those has resulted in a touchdown. Technically, Navy's 75-yard drive to start the second half in the season opener shouldn't count since it happened outside the country in Dublin.
Kansas State has scored 53 touchdowns, 31 of them accounted for by the great Klein. Notre Dame has 30 touchdowns for the season and has frequently had to be bailed out by backup quarterback Tommy Rees.
• Schedule strength. At the beginning, this was one of Notre Dame's toughest schedules in history. It can't help that Michigan State and Miami have been disappointments. I'll take Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest on Notre Dame's schedule and match them with Missouri State, North Texas and Kansas on Kansas State's.
At least, the Irish didn't play an FCS school.
Kansas State won big road games at West Virginia and Oklahoma. Notre Dame beat Stanford and Oklahoma.
For now we'll let Jeff Sagarin settle it. His computer is one of six used by the BCS. This week he has the Irish ranked first. Kansas State is second. Schedule strength: Notre Dame, 28th; K-State, 29th.
The schedule down the stretch for both teams is, once again, about even. Wake Forest (ranked No. 69 in the BCS) and USC (18th) for Notre Dame. Baylor (No. 57) and Texas (15th) for Kansas State.
At this stage eight years ago -- the only other time we had three unbeatens in the BCS era -- Auburn was a mere .0031 behind No. 2 Oklahoma. Oklahoma State missed out on a national championship berth by .0086 last year.
It doesn't look good for Notre Dame with that current .0101 deficit. In one sense, that's the width -- in inches -- of a hair on my head. (Right, I have no hair on my head. You get the point.) In another sense, the Irish likely need help, not their own network.
I fear opening my laptop these days. In it, there is no rational thought. In it, looms a football giant with the best of everything -- a national media following, legions of fans so aggressive they are the zombie undead and an affiliation with a supreme being.
Collin Klein and Kansas State cannot be stopped. My Twitter account told me so.