It's possible Notre Dame isn't the third-best team in America. I'm willing to consider that argument, but only in one direction. I'll listen to arguments that Notre Dame is more like fourth or fifth.
Second in the country? Or even first? No, I won't listen to those arguments, because those arguments are silly and require more toleration and patience than I'm willing to give, just for the sake of being nice to undefeated Notre Dame.
Notre Dame is having a great season -- Brian Kelly used the word "magical," and I wouldn't dispute that -- but this isn't youth soccer. Not everyone gets an orange wedge or a trophy. The BCS sucks and we all know it sucks, but it's on the way out. In a few years three undefeated teams won't be at the mercy of voters and computers trying to pick the most deserving two. For now, though, this is the system we have. Three undefeated teams. Two to be selected.
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Notre Dame on the outside, looking in. Right where it belongs.
No, Notre Dame fan, you don't "belong" there because you're Notre Dame and the world is full of haters. Notre Dame doesn't belong on the outside because we're Godless or jealous or whatever inane cliché you can muster. Notre Dame belongs on the outside because it hasn't been as impressive as the two teams ahead of it, Oregon and Kansas State. Simple as that.
To argue otherwise would be ludicrous. In the three main polls devoted to college football -- media, coaches, and Harris Interactive -- 233 ballots were cast this week. Only three ballots had Notre Dame at No. 1.
Three out of 233 -- and one of those three votes came from Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. So really, the Irish received two first-place votes out of the 232 available. That's less than 1 percent.
There's a reason for that, and again, it's not because the world is full of mean people who just can't wait to stick it to Notre Dame. If you're a fan who sees a conspiracy, let me break it softly: You're not important enough to be conspired against. Voters don't rush to the ballot to screw Notre Dame, because Notre Dame -- like any other school -- just isn't that important. Voters don't wake up in the morning hoping for some chance to hurt Notre Dame, or anyone else for that matter. How self-centered does a fan base have to be to think otherwise?
Oregon got most of the No. 1 votes because it has beaten the hell out of everyone it has played. No, the Ducks' defense isn't great, but they're going to score 40 or 50 or maybe even 60 on you. Can your team top that? Nobody has yet. Nobody has come close. Only Southern California finished within 11 points of the Ducks, and USC has perhaps the country's top NFL prospects at quarterback and wide receiver.
Kansas State got most of the remaining No. 1 votes because it's the most complete team in the country. No, the Wildcats' offense isn't as good as Oregon's. And their defense probably isn't as good as Notre Dame's. But the combination of offense and defense? Nobody's combination can match Kansas State's, which has the firepower to win a high-scoring game and the starch to win a defensive battle.
If I'm Notre Dame and the season ends the way it looks right now -- with Oregon playing Kansas State in the BCS title game, and Notre Dame playing someone else, somewhere else -- I'm hoping not to draw Alabama or Texas A&M. And maybe not LSU, either. The Irish are having a magical season, with a knack for winning games that maybe they shouldn't, but magic isn't like talent. Magic eventually runs out.
Pittsburgh makes that field goal. The replay official decides Stanford's running back lying in the end zone is, in fact, lying in the end zone. Notre Dame misses the last-second field goal that beat Purdue. The Irish don't squeak past Brigham Young. Or Michigan.
Five wins, and they all happened. Nobody's taking those victories away from Notre Dame. But at the same time, those close games -- against three unranked teams, No. 14 Stanford and No. 23 Michigan -- did happen. They happened to Notre Dame. They keep happening to Notre Dame.
They don't happen to Oregon at all. They've happened just twice to Kansas State. Five close games for Notre Dame -- three against teams with a combined record of 14-16. Two for Kansas State, against teams with a combined record of 12-7.
We're not really arguing which team is more deserving, are we?
Here's the thing with sports fans: They argue what they want, more than what's fair. Why should Notre Dame be elevated into the BCS title game? Because Notre Dame fans want it. And they can find certain arguments to bolster their case -- the computers like Notre Dame, the schedule has an impressive name-recognition quality to it -- and even other arguments to make themselves feel better (the world's out to get us!).
But the truth is easier. Three undefeated teams. Only two make it. And only one of those three teams keeps squeaking past opponents -- some good, some bad. Leaving Notre Dame out of the BCS title game? That's not a tough call.
Picking them to win a bowl game against someone else ranked in the Top 10? Not sure I can do that. Magic, like a fluke, doesn't last forever.