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Pretender or contender?

<P>Many questions have been -asked throughout this football season. These questions include, "Who is the front runner for the Heisman Trophy or which teams will play for the national championship?" But one question that constantly comes up in water cooler conversations is, "How good is Notre Dame?"</P>

Yes, there are many valid points to both sides of the argument. Some can point to the 8-1 record and the number seven ranking in the BCS poll and say that the Irish are a pretty good team. Others will say that they can't score points, that they lost to a mediocre Boston College team and needed a fourth quarter comeback to beat a 1-7 Navy team. But those arguments barely touch the surface of the argument.

First lets look at the arguments against Notre Dame. Notre Dame started the season with a win against a Maryland team that was missing the ACC offensive player of the year and had a first time quarterback. They followed that up with a win were they needed to convert three turnovers into touchdowns versus a 4-6 Purdue team. For the second consecutive game, Notre Dame failed to score an offensive touchdown.

Then Michigan came to town with a questionable quarterback and a shaky running game. The Irish needed help from the officials at the end of the first half to salvage a touchdown that would later prove to be critical. In their next game, Notre Dame needed a last minute touchdown pass to beat an underachieving Michigan State squad. This was all followed up by a win against a poor Stanford team, a win in a game where the Pittsburgh Panthers statistically dominated them and a win versus an overrated Air Force team.

Then we played and beat a Florida State team that was still suffering from a crushing loss against the Miami Hurricanes. The Seminoles practically gave the Irish the game with three third quarter that were converted to points. Then came an ugly loss to Boston College where the Irish fumbled the game away and a game that was entirely to close against a Navy team that has not won since September. Did you see how one of the worst defenses in all of football was able to dominate the Notre Dame running game?

Now I'll give you the argument for Notre Dame. To open the season, they shutout the defending ACC champions, who are currently ranked 19th in the coaches poll. They followed that up with a great defensive performance against Purdue. The Irish then defeated a Michigan team that was ranked 6th nationally at the time by overcoming some mistakes and holding off a late rally.

They easily beat Stanford and found a way to win against a Pittsburgh team that is ranked 21st and is tied for 1st in their conference. Then came all around dominating performances against Air Force and Florida State, who is ranked in the top 15, on the road in back to back weeks. Even in their lone defeat, the Irish showed that even on an off day they were a bad call and a key injury away from being undefeated. The Navy game showed that the Irish are capable of mounting a comeback on the road.

So which one is it? Is Notre Dame a pretender or a Contender? There still isn't a clear answer. The best way to answer the question is to compare the Fighting Irish to the rest of the top ten and ask yourself a simple question. If there were a playoff system where eight teams were eligible, would Notre Dame be included? And then ask if Notre Dame can beat at least half of those other seven teams with a typical performance and the other half with a great performance. If the answer is yes then you think Notre Dame is a contender. If I were a betting man, I would take my chances against Ohio State, Washington State, Iowa or Georgia. Producing wins against Miami, Oklahoma or Texas would prove a greater task, but Notre Dame would have a punchers chance. So in my opinion, a Notre Dame team that has held every opponent expect Navy under there season scoring average and has an improving quarterback is without a doubt a contender. And at this point in Ty's tenure that is all I ask for.

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