Play like a champion today?

The best rating system ever designed says Bama belongs -- but not the Irish

Originally Published: December 13, 2012
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine
Notre Dame FootballAP Photo/Patrick SemanskySimple metrics says that despite their 12-0 record, the Irish don't belong in the championship game.

YOU KNOW WHY the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are playing for the national championship: They're undefeated, for one, and sports writers, fans and (especially) sponsors love their story. As Ivan Maisel of put it: "When Notre Dame is atop the polls, the hot dogs are tastier, the popcorn is fresher and even the December sky is a little more blue-gray." Who can possibly argue against a Notre Dame-Alabama matchup?

I can. Because going through a season without a loss doesn't make a team No. 1 in the country. In fact, advanced metrics say Notre Dame, despite its 12-0 record, doesn't even belong in the title game. Let me explain.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.