It's always worth a good chuckle when some non-Notre Dame fan or national analyst argues that Notre Dame needs to join a conference in order to be considered a real playoff team, or when one of those two groups of people argues not being in a conference should be a knock against the Irish.
A recent article from Sports Illustrated makes that point very clear. College football writer Eric Rynston-Lobel broke down the best game of every week of the college football season, and he also notes the "other options" for best games. Notre Dame had three games that were considered the "best game" and two more that were considered "other options."
It's a really good piece by Rynston-Lobel beyond just the focus on Notre Dame games, so it's worth a read. He also gives respect to Notre Dame for its independent schedule, writing "Notre Dame returning to its independent status means a number of top-tier games on the schedule." Here is what he said about the Notre Dame games.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Notre Dame and Ohio State each had three games in this category, which tied for the most.
WEEK 4: NOTRE DAME vs. WISCONSIN
"It’s hard to think of a game more noteworthy than one featuring two historic programs battling it out at a historic venue. That’s what’ll happen in late September when the Fighting Irish and Badgers convene at Soldier Field for what should be an excellent matchup. Notre Dame has some retooling to do after losing nine players in the draft; Wisconsin needs to find out if Graham Mertz is the QB of the future. In spite of these questions, the Badgers’ defense will still be stout and the Fighting Irish offense will likely be led by a former Badger, Jack Coan. The story lines should be endless in Chicago." - Rynston-Lobel
WEEK 5: NOTRE DAME vs. CINCINNATI
"The Fighting Irish appear on the list for the second straight week with another enticing matchup against the Bearcats. After frustration with the CFP committee last year, Cincinnati plays back-to-back games against Indiana and Notre Dame, looking to bolster its case as a playoff team. The Bearcats may have a slight edge, playing this matchup following a bye week, whereas Notre Dame will likely have to grind out a game against Wisconsin the week before." - Rynston-Lobel
WEEK 8: NOTRE DAME vs. USC
"Notre Dame returning to its independent status means a number of top-tier games on the schedule. Against a Trojans team that finished 2020 at 5–1 and returns Kedon Slovis at QB, the Irish face another tough matchup on the heels of games against Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech. For USC, this is an opportunity for a statement game; last year’s record looks good, but three of its five wins came by five points or fewer. The Trojans can do away with any luck-skill debate with a win in South Bend." - Rynston-Lobel
Notre Dame had two more games in the "other options" category.
WEEK 9: NOTRE DAME vs. NORTH CAROLINA
"Another great matchup between two potential top 20 teams, and the Tar Heels will look for payback against the Irish after the latter’s 31–17 victory last season." - Rynston-Lobel
The Penn State-Ohio State game was the top game this week, and Georgia vs. Florida was another "other option" matchup.
WEEK 13: NOTRE DAME vs. STANFORD
"The Cardinal lost the first two games of their 2020 season before reeling off four straight victories to close out the year. Coach David Shaw also brought in a top-25 recruiting class last year, so with some more development from the younger players, this could be a strong Pac-12 team yet again, posing a test for the Fighting Irish in the final game of the regular season." - Rynston-Lobel
As expected, Ohio State vs. Michigan was the top game this week, and Alabama vs. Auburn was another "other option."
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