While many will say it's impossible for the Irish to defeat USC this weekend, it's not inconceivable that the Irish could win, but certainly not likely. I think the more important question that needs to be addressed is should the Irish be 22-point underdogs to their rival?
The question is not about point spreads, it's about image—Notre Dame's football image in the public eye. Should Notre Dame ever be a 10-point underdog to Michigan when playing the Wolverines at home? Should the Irish ever be 22-point underdogs to USC? Is that where Notre Dame wants to be?
Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham is winding down his third season as Notre Dame's head football coach, and the Irish are likely headed to the Insight.com Bowl. Is that where the Irish want to be?
We're going to guess no, but everyone knew that. However, the question for Notre Dame quickly becomes, "how can we get where we need to be?"
Is the answer: "under the leadership of Willingham?"
The Irish are 11-11 in the last two seasons under Willingham—many think that will move to 11-12 after Saturday. Is that where the Irish want to be? Under .500?
To be fair to Willingham, the Irish do have problems and holes in their armor—holes that have been getting exposed by the better teams, and sometimes by the not so good teams recently. The team does have weaknesses and that has been clearly obvious to anyone.
But I also have to wonder what might've been. What might've been had only one interference call went the other way in the Pittsburgh game? Would the Irish be 22-point underdogs after two big wins? Would the state of the Notre Dame nation be so depressed?
What might've been had Willingham made some changes on the offensive side of the ball before the 2004 season? Would the Irish be 6-4 right now?
The difference in winning and losing both the Boston College and Pittsburgh game is likely two first downs in my estimation. One could make a strong argument that had the Irish made one more first down on any offensive series in the second half of both games, they'd likely be 8-2 right now.
Is that the difference between winning and losing? Is that the difference between a winning and losing head coach?
Great teams find a way to win, however, and the Irish aren't winning nearly enough. Great coaches lead their teams to victory, and again, that's not happening nearly enough for most Irish fans.
The talent versus coaching issue comes up often amongst Irish fans discussing the woes of the recent Notre Dame teams. Is it talent or coaching that is the problem?
A strong case could be made for both, but let's just assume that it's a talent issue at this point. Let's assume that Notre Dame has excellent coaches and they just need talent and time to turn this thing around.
If talent truly is the reason for Notre Dame's recent woes, then one has to look at Notre Dame's recruiting. If the coaching is fine, the next question becomes "can this coaching staff land the top talent they need to get Notre Dame back to the top?"
If the answer to that question is yes, then the Irish are on the right path. If the answer to the question is no, or not likely, then one has to wonder where Notre Dame is headed.
I'll let the reader be the judge of that.