Bloated endowments, legendary stars, tradition oozing out every gold and maize orifice. The only thing lacking? Top notch college football teams.
As ESPN lauds the current Michigan recruiting class and many express surprise at the number of standout players that RichRod was able to grab after a 3-9 season, I couldn't help but make a comparison to the football program in South Bend. This scary parallel won't do much to assuage the fears of Wolverine fans, but some of the similarities ring too true to ignore.
Recruiting: Everyone knows that Notre Dame can recruit. In 2008, ND had the 2nd best recruiting class in the nation according to Rivals. 2006 and 2007? #8 in the nation both years. Every year, a top ranked high school player will surprise everyone and pick Notre Dame. Unfortunately, these recruits and the stars who preceeded them, have not been able to pull Notre Dame out of mediocrity. Through the last 10 years, the Irish have gone a dismal 69-53.
So as Michigan puts together the #7 recruiting class, complete with two high school quarterbacks who look 100 times superior to Michigan's 2008 QB's, let me give you a name to remember: Jimmy Clausen. This "once every 10 years" recruit has showed flashes of brilliance at ND, but has been brought back down to earth by the overwhelming mediocrity of the Irish.
Bring down the expectations from the sky...
Belief in Tradition Amongst Horrible Bowl Performances: It says volumes that Notre Dame was able to grab a fat TV contract amidst its worst 10 year run since the 1950s. The fan base and maybe some interested onlookers see the gold helmets and they believe they are watching top level FBS football. That's why the painting of the helmets continues, that's why the signature endzone remains, and that's why the NCAA put the CFB Hall of Fame in South Bend. But it's an illusion to think that ND is a national powerhouse - and everyone knows it. When the Irish get a chance to prove their grit against competition from the West or South, what happens? A 1-9 bowl record in it's last 10 postseason contests.
In Ann Arbor, much of the same mentality exists. It's Michigan dammit, we're entitled to a Top 10 team, we always line up future NFLers on both sides of the ball. But sometimes I wonder if that time has passed and those expectations should be tempered a bit. The MGoBlue banner hasn't been held up for a legitimate national contender in 11 years and even the 11-2 2006 team looked overmatched against the two Top 5 teams it faced at the end of the year. Losing four bowls in a row from 2004-2008 didn't help Michigan's national reputation either.
Overreaction and Summary: Maybe Michigan's transition to the Spread will yield numerous national titles and maybe the Irish will spring new life from their top ranked recruits. It won't be from lack of fan support, let me tell you that. There are more good Michigan football blogs on the Internet than any other single team and there are tons of wealthy, dedicated Irish fans willing to throw some cash toward beloved Touchdown Jesus and his mother Mary.
So I say: let these underperforming legends slum it with the rest of College Football's middle tier until they break into the Top 10 on merit alone. Then, cue the praise and fawning, because it's been awhile since it was rightly deserved.