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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, January 13, 2019 1:00 am

Irish earned No. 2 on final AP ballot

When I filled out my final AP ballot of the season during the fourth quarter of the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday, I was still in shock about the game that was happening on the TV in front of me. Clemson was making Alabama look small and slow. I couldn't believe it.

As I sat down to do my rankings, that performance was at the front of my mind. As I compared Notre Dame's performance against the Tigers a week earlier to the beatdown Clemson administered to the Tide, I came to the conclusion that Notre Dame had given a better fight, that the Irish had outperformed Alabama in their matchups against a common opponent.

So I made a decision, Notre Dame would be No. 2 in my final poll and the Crimson Tide would be No. 3. It turned out I was the only one of 61 voters that did so. That decision did not go over well with those who follow the Associated Press poll.

Let me be clear: I did not put the Irish second to be a “troll.” I wasn't trying to make people angry or get attention. I had no idea I would be the only one to put the Irish No. 2, although I figured I would be in the minority. Based on what I've seen all season and in the CFP, specifically, I think a hypothetical game between Notre Dame and Alabama would be very close, with the Irish possessing a solid chance to win. It's debatable of course, but I continue to believe my vote was reasonable and defensible.

My friends on Twitter have disagreed vehemently, so I will take the time to respond to some of the most common questions/sentiments that have found their way into my mentions in the last several days. Feel free to keep sending comments @DylanSinn or via email at dsinn@jg.net. Please don't email my newspaper's main account asking for me to be fired. No one likes a snitch.

Here are those responses.

Question 1: How can Notre Dame be No. 2 when it got blown out?

This is by far the most common question people have had. My thought process is this: Clemson, Alabama and Notre Dame were the three best teams all season. Nothing about the bowl season really did anything to change my mind about that fact. Alabama and Notre Dame were always going to be 2-3 in some order. That means whichever team was No. 2 would have gotten blown out because Alabama did too. So, the decision came down to a combination of two factors:

1) Which team looked better against Clemson?

2) Which team had a better season?

For Part 1, I decided on Notre Dame. The Irish were tied after the first quarter and one could argue they outplayed the Tigers in that period. They got pressure on Trevor Lawrence and made him uncomfortable and moved the ball inside the Clemson 10 on one possession and inside the 35 on a second (that's for the people who insist that Notre Dame's offense was hapless all game, which isn't true). They also came close to creating a massive turnover on a kickoff that was – wrongly, I believe – overturned on replay. The game got out of hand after one of the best cover corners in the country got hurt and the Tigers feasted on a struggling backup. If Julian Love doesn't get injured, it's probably a one- or two-score game, maximum, in my opinion. Anyone insisting “Notre Dame wasn't even competitive” either didn't watch the game or started watching in the second quarter.

That's a far cry of Alabama's performance, which was mostly dismal outside of one long drive in the first quarter and one long pass from Tua Tagovailoa to Jerry Jeudy. Outside of that, the Tide offense didn't do much, and Tagovailoa looked every bit as uncomfortable as Ian Book did. Meanwhile, the Tide got little pressure on Lawrence and were carved up in the secondary. It's debatable, but I think there's a clear rationale that Notre Dame was better against the juggernaut that is the Tigers.

Part 2 is a little more difficult to discern, and of course SEC fans would insist that the Crimson Tide's dominance against what is purported to be the best conference in the country should carry extra weight. In my mind, however, the Tide was a little overrated all season – Alabama was never an “all-time great team” as the Tide was billed – and should have lost to Georgia in the SEC title game. Notre Dame rolled through a perfectly acceptable schedule, winning four games with a backup quarterback. Based on a combination of Parts 1 and 2, I went with the Irish and I think it's a defensible position.

Question 2: How can Notre Dame be ahead of the Rose Bowl Champs?

This is from Ohio State fans, of which there were far more in my mentions than Alabama fans. The Buckeyes' faithful repeatedly deployed their victory in the Rose Bowl over Washington to insist that Ohio State deserved to be ranked in front of Notre Dame. The problem, is that I still remember that Ohio State lost by 29 to Purdue, a fact that Buckeyes fans have apparently blocked out. Also, OSU's 28-23 win over a half-decent Washington team is not exactly awe-inspiring. Sorry, Buckeye fans, your leaky defense would have given up 50-plus points to Clemson. Deep down, I think you know it. This one was a much easier decision.

Sentiment 1: You're a homer.

I grew up a Michigan fan. I assure you, I have no special affinity for Notre Dame.

Question 3: Why is UCF so low?

OK, this one isn't about Notre Dame, but it's been very common, as well. I ranked the Knights No. 19 in my final poll after they lost to LSU 40-32 in the Fiesta Bowl. UCF fans were upset that after 25 straight victories, I'd drop them so far after one loss. My reasoning was this: the Knights had all the motivation in this game (“No one believes in us!”) and still got essentially manhandled. LSU outgained the Knights 555 to 250 and held the ball for almost 45 minutes. This game was not as close as the score. I get that the Knights were missing their quarterback, but LSU was missing several key players on defense and the loss of McKenzie Milton doesn't account for UCF giving up 394 passing yards to Joe Burrow. UCF is a good team that had a nice season. It is not worthy of a top 15 ranking.

Sentiment 2: You should lose your vote.

Sorry, I haven't been fired yet. We'll see how things go.

Dylan Sinn covers Notre Dame football for The Journal Gazette. He can be reached by phone at 461-8223, via email at dsinn@jg.net or follow him on Twitter @DylanSinn.