Notre Dame wasn't second best when it beat Florida State

January 03, 1994|By John Steadman

Let there be a footnote in the record book explaining that in the college football season of 1993 the best team was Florida State but the national champion was truly Notre Dame.

There's admittedly a certain amount of ambiguity to such a deduction but since the voting is entirely subjective any scenario can be presented -- and be found either plausible or flawed, depending on your point of view.

Florida State was adjudged to be the superior team in the final polls, but then what does that make Notre Dame? Second? Hardly. How can Notre Dame's victory be ignored over the same team that winds up installed as No. 1?

Beat the champion and, if overall records are in any way comparable -- and they are in this case -- then the crown belongs to the winner when the teams met each other. Notre Dame did defeat Florida State, 31-24. The result was in all the newspapers.

But Notre Dame, with much regret, has been deprived of a title decided at the ballot box and not on the field. This is not to be construed as a voice that in any way advocates major college teams participating in a convoluted playoff that would:

* Turn the sport into more of a professional concept than what it is.

* Prolong the season beyond all reasonable bounds.

* Relegate every bowl game, except the one grand finale, into something that would be perceived as sub-standard. All of the major postseason spectacles, offering color, tradition and longevity, deserve to be protected and not ignored.

There's no case that can be hypothesized on the basis of comparable scores, which is an intriguing but fictitious formula for determining a champion.

That was proven in the past when an imaginative Pittsburgh sportswriter, Davis Walsh, by virtue of one team's beating another, determined that Slippery Rock was deemed worthy of the national title.

A similar deduction subsequently came about when Newberry was afforded the same distinction.

What can be a better measuring stick of evaluation than two opponents lining up against each other? Notre Dame beat Florida State. Isn't that definitive enough?

Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz cites precedent. And he's right, even though the pollsters are stone-deaf to logic. The Holtz argument carries validity for anyone with an understanding of the process. He talks of 1989 and, correctly, points out what happened then should apply now.

That was the year Notre Dame and Miami each concluded with one loss. The rationale at the time was that since Miami had whipped Notre Dame, it deserved the championship. It's a playback of the same circumstance, yet now the exact premise is used to work against Notre Dame.

In relative merits of the two schedules, there's little to quarrel about. Both are near equal. Notre Dame met six teams that qualified for bowl games, namely Michigan, Michigan State, Brigham Young, Southern California, Boston College and, yes, Florida State.

The new national champion, in turn, played seven foes that drew bowl assignments -- Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, Virginia, North Carolina State, Florida and Notre Dame. So there's not much that can be divulged when exploring that aspect.

Florida State has immense ability. Call it firepower. It also likes to overwhelm teams and run up scores, which is not an admirable philosophy, as witness wipeouts of Clemson, 57-0; Georgia Tech, 51-0; Wake Forest, 54-0; and North Carolina State, 62-3. They were all Atlantic Coast Conference rivals. And, in assessing bowl results, only one ACC team, other than Florida State, was able to win -- Clemson, by a point over Kentucky.

Notre Dame, to its credit and understanding of how the college game should be played, going back to the era of Knute Rockne, has never deliberately annihilated another institution. The only time it put more than 50 points on the scoreboard this year was against Navy when it trailed at the half and was somewhat pressed before it could win, 58-27.

Of the final top 10-rated teams, the schedule shows that Florida State played three -- Notre Dame (when it lost), Nebraska and Florida. For Notre Dame, it had to meet only two of the first 10, Florida State and Texas A&M. It prevailed over both.

In 1989, when Miami was declared national champion, Notre Dame played -- imagine this -- nine different bowl teams.

Obviously, the pollsters have a double standard. What applied to Miami, unfortunately, didn't hold true for Notre Dame. And this makes it a deliberate railroad job.

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