Former head coach Lou Holtz caused a little bit a stir in the blogosphere on Saturday when he predicted a Notre Dame-Florida national championship during an interview on ESPN. Holtz’s prediction set off a firestorm of posts with clever titles using his “Dr. Lou” moniker. In reality though, his reasoning isn’t completely ridiculous even if it might be unlikely.
On the surface it might sound crazy to predict that a team that has gone 10-15 the last two season will play for the national championship, but Holtz’s prediction was based mainly on two factors – Notre Dame returning talent and their schedule which has set up the Irish nicely in 2009.
Before we get too far into this, here is the video for those of you who may have missed it.
Now that we’ve all seen the video, let’s take a look at Lou’s argument. He basis his prediction on Notre Dame playing for the title not on the fact that the Irish will be the 2nd best team in the country, but rather that they will be best team in the stadium each of the 12 weeks they play. Considering Notre Dame will face just one team in the pre-season top 25 this year, that doesn’t seem completely unlikely.
If you look at the schedule, Notre Dame starts the season ranked higher than any opponent other than USC and as it stands now, would be favored in every game again other than USC. Notre Dame has five of its first seven games at home with road trips to Michigan and Purdue –two teams the Irish beat handily a season ago.
On paper, Notre Dame should likely beat every team other than USC. As we’ve learned all too well the past two seasons, however, the games aren’t played on paper. In reality, Notre Dame would have to beat three teams that beat them a year ago and improve on their regular season win total by six games in order to finish the regular season undefeated with a chance to play in the title game. That’s a mighty tall order especially considering one of those teams that beat Notre Dame last year, USC, did so to the tune of 38-3.
Holtz also mentions Notre Dame’s 10 returning starters on offense and 7 on defense (counting Harrison Smith, Kerry Neal, and Darrin Walls as returning starters) as well as the talent that is back on both sides of the ball. This too makes sense Notre Dame will be returning arguably the most talented, experienced, and deep team since Holtz was the head coach. At the same time, all of the returning starters are the same players that finished the 2008 season 7-6.
Even if Notre Dame did shock the world in 2009 and cruise through the regular season undefeated, they’d likely need a little help from other schools to make it into the title because of the previously mentioned light schedule. Notre Dame is going to get hammered for the schedule all season long even though it’s not their fault that several respectable programs on this year’s schedule are likely headed for very down years. That schedule is going to work against the Irish in the event that there would be three undefeated teams.
Also working against the Irish in this hypothetical debate are the current rankings. Notre Dame sits at #23 in both polls. Since the BCS was formed, only Ohio State (#11 in 2007), Virginia Tech (#13 in 1999), Oklahoma (#19 in 2000), Ohio State (#13 in 2002 and #11 in 2007), and LSU (#14 in 2003) have made it to the title game after starting the season outside the AP top 10 and none have made it all the way to the championship after starting the season outside the top 20.
Again, this is all also under the assumption that Notre Dame can improve its regular season win total by six – or in other words, double its regular season win total from 2008. That’s another debate entirely though.
Still, as a Notre Dame fan, you have to love Lou’s optimism about the Irish in 2009. Opposing fans won’t care for it too much, but that’s exactly why he is such a good analyst for ESPN. He’ll have websites and blogs across the internet talking about this and watching ESPN for the next couple of days.