Get Used To It

Notre Dame fans, get used to hearing it. You'll hear it on television and on the radio. You'll hear it at work by the water cooler or coffee maker. You'll hear it in the cafeteria. You'll hear it randomly from time-to-time. It might come from a hated sports analyst or a buddy trying to rile you up. And when you're not hearing it, you'll read it online or in a magazine or newspaper.

Brace yourself. Notre Dame is not that good, their schedule is weak, and they are overrated.

Before your anger boils over, before that vein pops in your forehead, before the old meathead personality in you rears its ugly head, just say to yourself, I'll have my chance to respond when the Irish travel out to USC. Besides who cares what they think. None of those opinions matter.

Here is what matters.

The opinions that hold any stock are from the voters who will have the 12th-ranked Irish moving on an upward swing in the polls over the course of the next seven weeks. The higher ranked teams are going to lose here and there, while the Irish breeze through the soft portion of their schedule.

That soft portion of the schedule that is going to earn Notre Dame a lot of criticism from experts at your local pub, is what's going to have the team moving up in the poles. The Irish are able to mooch off two things while running the table their next six games, its preseason ranking and getting through the tough part of the schedule 4-1. They aren't in control of their National Championship destiny anymore, but they are still very much in the mix.

If the Irish aren't 10-1 heading out to USC, that will be a huge disappointment.

It will be hard to tell if this Notre Dame team is legit during the next six contests, especially for critics not watching the games every week. The Irish shouldn't be challenged, but there are signs to look for in seeing improvement.

The first piece of evidence is very few mental mistakes. Good teams never beat themselves. The Irish have had their fair share and even though they could make mental mistakes left and right over the next six weeks and win, they won't be able to do that against the Trojans or in the BCS bowl game they will be playing in. Pay attention to turnovers and penalties, especially ones coming before the ball is snapped.

The next piece of evidence will be offensive balance. The Irish should roll up over 400 yards of offense the next six games, 500 in a couple, with a play-call ratio close to 50 percent. If the play calling is 50/50, ND is probably cruising to victories.

Moving a long to defensive pressure. Yes the defensive line is hurrying the quarterback a little bit better than last season, but the sack numbers still aren't there. Good teams put the signal-caller on his back consistently. The Irish have to get better in this department.

Notre Dame's third-down problems appear to be a thing of the past. If the conversion rate is around 50 percent the rest of the way, the offense has something here.

Just like the experienced offense found its rhythm against Purdue, the special teams unit will eventually make a few big plays. That element is always big on championship teams.

You could waste your time throwing these improving stats out at your buddy or co-worker when they dog your team, but expect to hear comebacks like what was Stanford's or North Carolina's record? Just take solace in the fact that great numbers against lesser teams usually means good numbers in big games. The swagger will be their with the Notre Dame players if they roll easily the next six weeks.

If you are one of those guys that can't handle listening to negative comments about the Irish, you can do what offensive coordinator Mike Haywood does. He said during practice last week he doesn't watch television or read the paper.

No matter what, take solace in the fact that when Nov. 25 comes around and Notre Dame plays well against a very good USC team, you will have your chance to rub it in. That's something even the critics will notice.


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