Irish Inflation

Even at an all-time low, a win against Notre Dame still provides an extra boost

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Sept. 25, 2007

By Carolyn Braff


Carolyn Braff

Carolyn is an assistant editor and writer for
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At 0-4, Notre Dame is off to its worst start ever. Nearly every facet of the program has issues to work out, as evidenced by the four weeks it took the team to score an offensive touchdown. But the aura created by the program's popularity and storied history have many football fans looking past the fact that it's been a while since the Irish have had a whole lot to drink to.


Lately, Rudy seems to be outweighing reality.


Notre Dame has inflated our heads and captured our hearts with images of grandeur, from all the victories they have racked up over the decades, to the feel-good story of Rudy that made every sports fan with a soul fall in love with the Fighting Irish. Yes, Notre Dame is the greatest of all time, if you're counting national championships (11), Heisman winners (7), College Hall of Famers (42), Consensus All-Americans (181) and NFL Draft picks (479).




But not much of that has happened lately.


Notre Dame has not claimed a Heisman winner since 1987 and has not won a championship since 1988. That's 18 seasons without a title.


The Irish's exclusive national television contract seems to be clouding our collective judgment. Notre Dame is really, really bad, so why does beating them still give teams such a leg up?


Because of Irish Inflation.


Notre Dame is on the verge of putting together the longest losing streak ever to curse South Bend, and yet teams who beat the Irish are still enjoying ratings inflations higher than the dollar. That is the magic of Irish Inflation; a win over Notre Dame, even in its battered and beaten state, is still a win over the greatest of all time.


Newsflash: This team may be as far from the greatest as it is possible to be.


After four weeks, the Irish rank dead last in total offense, and defensively they are only slightly better at No. 52. How did this happen? The talent drop-off was years in the making.


The 2006 team finished with a deceivingly dominant 10-3 record - half of those wins came against programs like Stanford, North Carolina, Air Force and Army, teams that finished a combined 11-37.


With none of the four returning offensive starters or trio of quarterback hopefuls answering to the name Brady or Quinn, the Irish started this year's offense from scratch with a questionable talent pool. Defensively things looked worse - six new starters, a new 3-4 scheme and a new defensive coordinator all spelled a slow start.


Even after that embarrassing 41-13 loss to LSU in the Sugar Bowl, the perennial Irish Inflation earned Notre Dame 11 votes in the preseason AP Poll. Alongside the endless list of question marks on the Irish roster, those 11 votes of confidence speak volumes to the chokehold history Notre Dame has on football.


Georgia Tech was the first 2007 benefactor of Irish Inflation. After handing Notre Dame a 33-3 drubbing in Week 1, the previously unranked Yellow Jackets earned themselves a No. 21 ranking.




Week 1 was not a story of Georgia Tech being good, but of Notre Dame being bad. Tech held Notre Dame to three points and 122 total offensive yards, including minus-8 yards rushing. Senior running back Tashard Choice is normally good for 100 yards a game (he averaged 105.2 in 2006), but lit up the Irish for 196 yards. Giving the Irish the benefit of the doubt, the AP pollsters rewarded the Jackets with a Top 25 ranking. Irish Inflation at its best.


In Week 2, the Inflation was gifted to Penn State. The Nittany Lions entered the matchup at No. 14, but after topping Notre Dame 31-10, Irish Inflation moved Penn State up to No. 12.


Once again, this was a case of Notre Dame bottoming out. The Irish had exactly zero yards rushing and 144 total offensive yards against PSU, which is not so much a testament to the Nittany Lions defense as a blow to the Irish offense. Penn State tallied a pedestrian 295 yards of total offense and turned the ball over three times against one of the nation's poorer defenses. While 31-10 is a pretty score to hang on a plaque somewhere, it looked like the Irish, with their 97 penalty yards, beat themselves more than Penn State could. So why reward the Nittany Lions with a better ranking after the win? Irish Inflation.


There does seem to be a ceiling on the magic of the Irish, as it could not counter Michigan's Week 1 loss to Appalachian State that sent the Wolverines plummeting out of the polls. But the 38-10 pounding the Wolverines delivered to Notre Dame in Week 3 certainly helped bring some class back into the Big House.


"There aren't many Michigan-Notre Dame games that go like this," head coach Lloyd Carr said after the victory. "There is nobody that has greater respect for Notre Dame than we do at Michigan and that I do as the head coach here."


It's one thing to respect a program as the head coach of an opposing program; it's quite another to spot a tradition of success that has no modern incarnation.


And spotted Michigan State was, following their 31-14 win last Saturday. The Spartans allowed the flailing Irish to score an offensive touchdown (two, actually) yet still increased their AP vote total from one to 60. MSU allowed Notre Dame to find a run game, as the Irish rushed for positive yardage for the first time this season, to the tune of 117 yards and two touchdowns. Still, Irish Inflation has the Spartans now knocking on the door of the Top 25.


At some point, this Inflation has to stop, and that point passed about four weeks ago. Silver screen fame and national television contracts aside, beating up on the Irish at this point is like taking on Harrison Ford in those last few awful action flicks he's done - far too easy to get your punches in and sort of  sad to watch. Notre Dame simply does not have the luster it once did, so teams cannot still be rewarded for beating a program that, if not for its back story, would be utterly irrelevant.


It's time the Irish Inflation popped.