Compare and contrast. One of the most common themes used for exams in schools across the country. Today’s exam paper? Compare and contrast the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the UCF Knights. Is one really better than the other?
Both teams go in to week 11 unbeaten.
However, as Sesame Street told us: “One of these things is not like the other”
As I mentioned in the introduction, both teams are unbeaten. Notre Dame start week 11 with a 9-0 record. The Knights are 8-0, the force of nature denying them their week 3 clash with UNC.
On their way to perfect records both teams have knocked off the Pitt Panthers. UCF wiped the floor with Pitt in week 5. Two weeks later, The Irish welcomed the Panthers to Notre Dame stadium and just managed to send them home with a loss.
By the time week 11 is in the books both teams will have played Navy to give a further line of comparison. Notre Dame handed Navy a 44-22 defeat as October came to an end.
The Quarterbacks leading the teams are turning heads in the league. For UCF Mckenzie Milton has put together a human highlight reel. He has an outside shot at the Heisman Trophy. He has over 2000 yards and 19 touchdowns. His mastery of the up tempo offence that UCF runs has the Knights averaging over 500 yards and 45 points per game.
Ian Book won the starting gig at quarterback for Notre Dame after week 3. The Irish have been truly fighting on offence ever since. With three weeks less than Milton, he has put up 1800 yards, 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions. His effiency running the offence has been incredible. Book currently leads the entire FBS in completion percentage.
For one final comparison, both teams have climbed nine places since the first AP rankings of the season came out. UCF are currently 12th and Notre Dame currently 3rd.
The knock on both teams when discussing rankings and College Football Playoffs is their strength of schedule. As an independent, Notre Dame pretty much have control of their own schedule. UCF playing in the American Athletic Conference doesn’t fill their schedule with much in the way of top quality opposition.
There the similarity ends.
Consider the current records of the opponents that have been conquered by both teams on their way to an unbeaten record. UCF’s opponents are currently 30-48. The Irish opponents have a combined record of 40-41.
When contrasting between the sets of opponents, also consider how each team dealt with Pitt. The result compares, the score and performance does not.
In their 45-14 win over Pitt, UCF’s McKenzie Milton put up SIX touchdowns including two rushing. The Knights torched the Panthers to the tune of 568 yards.
Notre Dame on the other hand struggled to move the ball and score points efficiently. They relied on a fourth quarter Book to Boykin touchdown to sneak past 19-14. Half of Ian Book’s total season interceptions came in that match up.
Although UCF have the 8-1 Cincinnati Bearcats and 7-2 USF to play down the stretch, you can argue that in Syracuse (7-2) and USC (5-4) Notre Dame have the tougher remaining schedule.
In the comparison of the two teams I discussed some of the offensive similarities. There is a marked difference between the two defences. Although average points per game is quite close, UCF are giving up nearly 100 yards per game more than the Irish.
In Khalid Kareem, Drue Tranquill and Julian Love, Notre Dame have a defence to rival its much lauded 2012 unit.
The big debate in College Football is how UCF can keep going unbeaten and not threaten the Playoffs yet Notre Dame are currently ranked third.
There is a feeling, especially in and around Orlando, that the Knights are being unfairly overlooked. Those in the Knight’s corner point to the Pitt game plus their current, nation leading, 21 game win streak as evidence of their argument.
For the Irish, their argument is clear.
They’ve faced the harder schedule by record.
Theyve defeated more ranked teams than UCF. In fact when they defeated Stanford 38-17 the Cardinals were actually ranked ahead of them.
The biggest tick in the Notre Dame box is their week 1 win over Michigan. The Wolverines are currently 8-1. This week they made their own way in to the Top 4 of the College Playoff rankings. Whilst Michigan continue to perform it adds further value to The Irish’s week 1 victory in the eyes of the selection committee.
How ironic that one of their biggest rivals could hold the keys to their success.
If Notre Dame beat out FSU, Syracuse and USC then the Irish could still be fighting on December 29th in their quest for a first National Championship since 1988.
photo credit: College Football News