Notre Dame makes strong BCS showing

Difficult schedule helps Irish rank third, behind No. 1 Okla., No. 2 Miami

College Football

October 22, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Notre Dame started the college football season a curiosity item rather than a national championship contender. Now the Fighting Irish are both.

With seven straight victories under new coach Tyrone Willingham, the Fighting Irish could figure significantly in the way the Bowl Championship Series will play out.

Despite being ranked sixth in both the Associated Press media poll and the USA Today/CNN coaches' poll, Notre Dame found itself behind only Oklahoma and Miami in the first BCS ratings released yesterday.

A schedule rated the most difficult in the country among Division I-A schools helped the Fighting Irish place first in four of the seven computer polls, the most of any of the 15 schools ranked by the BCS.

The schedule, which includes a game Saturday at Florida State, could ultimately be Notre Dame's springboard to the national championship game - or its demise.

"It's another chance to prove to the nation we're a legitimate football team," linebacker Courtney Watson said of the game against the Seminoles, ranked 11th by the AP and 12th in the BCS. "You always have your naysayers."

Notre Dame, which began the season unranked, beat then- ranked Maryland in the season-opening Kickoff Classic, and has defeated Michigan, which is eighth in the BCS ratings.

The Irish also play at Southern California - 14th in the BCS - on Nov. 30.

"All of the focus right now is on the Florida State game this week," Willingham said. "However, it's certainly better to be ranked than not to be ranked."

Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese, whose conference is overseeing the BCS this season, said strength of schedule is again a key component in the BCS ratings.

"Strength of schedule not only has to do with who you beat, it has to do with the people you've beaten and who they have played," Tranghese said. "It's clear that [Notre Dame's] strength of schedule is rated No. 1; that's the impetus for them being where they are."

Conversely, it might also be why Miami, which has occupied the top spot in the AP and USA Today/CNN polls since the preseason, is No. 2 in the BCS.

Despite victories over Florida and Florida State, Miami's strength of schedule was rated 27th overall. Oklahoma's schedule was ranked 13th, but the Sooners were ranked no lower than third in any poll and were ranked first in three.

Oklahoma received 2 points for poll average, 1.5 for computer rank average and 0.52 for strength of schedule for a total of 4.02 points, but one-tenth of a point was subtracted as a bonus for its win over 10th-ranked Texas.

The total of 3.92 points gave the Sooners a clear but not insurmountable lead over Miami (6.41) and Notre Dame (7.07).

The next three teams in the BCS - Virginia Tech (8.63), Georgia (8.69) and Ohio State (8.89) - are also in the hunt.

The only other undefeated I-A team in the BCS ratings is North Carolina State. The Wolfpack is 11th because its strength of schedule (86th) is the lowest of the 15 BCS teams.

The BCS will release its rankings on a weekly basis for the rest of the season. The teams that finish 1-2 in the final poll Dec. 8 will play for the national title on Jan. 3 in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

Starting with Saturday's game between Notre Dame and Florida State, as well as Oklahoma vs. Colorado in Norman, Okla., on Nov. 2, several games will affect the final BCS outcome.

"It's too early for us to care one way or the other," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, whose Sooners came from back in the pack to win the 2000 national championship. "What we do care about is winning."

If Miami and Virginia Tech keep winning, their regular-season finale at the Orange Bowl on Dec. 7 might end up being considered a national semifinal, with a trip to Arizona in the offing.

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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