With only a few weeks left in the season, Notre Dame remains on the outside looking in of the BCS Championship picture. Alabama's loss moved them closer to No. 2, but until Kansas State or Oregon lose, Notre Dame won't get a shot at the title, even if they finish 12-0.
That predicament has led to every angle of Notre Dame's season being compared to the success of K-State and Oregon, with those in Notre Dame nation trying to find a way to argue the Irish are more deserving than the Wildcats or Ducks. Notre Dame's schedule is often the focal point of those arguments, with Irish supporters pointing out their team hasn't faced a FCS cupcake, and has only played two non-power-conference squads.
But how does Notre Dame's schedule actually stack up by cold, hard numbers? Below is an examination of a few different angles regarding the three title contenders' schedules:
1. Opponent records
The easiest way of determining a tough schedule, but also not entirely accurate given how win totals can be inflated by facing plenty of preseason patsies. This is by each team's cumulative opposition record, which factors in past and future opponents.
Notre Dame opponent record: 58-42 (No. 19)
Oregon opponent record: 53-41 (No. 26)
Kansas State opponent record: 48-39 (No. 33)
Record-wise, Notre Dame has played only one truly bad team this year, that being 2-8 Boston College. Oregon's number is dragged down by Washington State (2-8), California (3-8) and Colorado (1-9). But records don't tell the whole story, as we'll see with more advanced numbers below.
2. BCS rankings
Notre Dame's road win against then-No. 10 Michigan State looked excellent at the time, as did a home win against No. 18 Michigan. Oregon has yet to face a team ranked in the top 15 on gameday (and won't, with No. 13 Stanford and No. 16 Oregon State left before either No. 17 USC or No. 18 UCLA in the Pac 12 championship). K-State has beaten four top-25 teams on gameday, and has one more left against current No. 15 Texas.
But that's about as inaccurate of a picture as one can paint with strength of schedule. Going by CBS Sports' Jerry Palm's current BCS top 50, here's the opponent breakdown (an asterisk denotes a future opponent, two asterisks denotes a potential conference championship opponent):
Notre Dame: @ Oklahoma (No. 12), Stanford (No. 13), @ USC (No. 18), Michigan (No. 21)
Kansas State: @ Oklahoma (No. 12), Texas (No. 15), Texas Tech (No. 23), Oklahoma State (No. 24), @ TCU (No. 40), @ Iowa State (No. 45), @ West Virginia (No. 46)
Oregon: Stanford (No. 13), @ Oregon State (No. 16), UCLA (No. 17), @ USC (No. 18), Washington (No. 25), Arizona (No. 27), Fresno State (No. 41), Arkansas State (No. 49), @ Arizona State (No. 50)
Oregon comes out on top here, although Notre Dame has the toughest pair of away games at Oklahoma and USC. Still, playing a steady diet of Big 10 and ACC opponents hasn't helped the Irish in this regard, given both conferences are in the midst of down years, while the Big 12 and Pac 12 are relatively strong.
3. Sagarin ratings
These are taken into account in the BCS, and Sagarin's strength of schedule is much more accurate than simply looking at opposing records. By Sagarin's ratings, then, Notre Dame has the strongest schedule (No. 28 in FBS), although that's only one spot ahead of K-State, and Oregon (No. 45) is likely to move up with three contests against Sagarin top 20 teams looming.
In other words: There's not much separation here. But one of the talking points for Notre Dame has been their lack of cupcake opponents -- although by Sagarin's ratings, Notre Dame has or will face just as many teams ranked No. 80 or lower as K-State and Oregon:
Notre Dame: Navy (No. 83), Boston College (No. 99), Wake Forest (No. 122)
K-State: Kansas (No. 80), North Texas (No. 110), Missouri State (No. 138, FCS)
Oregon: Washington State (No. 94), Colorado (No. 152), Tennessee Tech (No. 174, FCS)
We can talk all about how Notre Dame will play 10 games against power-six conference schools (the Big East, for now, counts for that, but won't in two years). But for Oregon, two of its non-conference opponents that came from non-power conferences (Arkansas State and Fresno State) are almost certainly better teams than, say, Boston College or Wake Forest.
4. F rankings
Here's where Notre Dame has a little separation, at least compared to K-State's schedule. F doesn't like the Big 12 (others, though, will argue it's the deepest league in the nation) and only has K-State playing four top-50 opponents, lower than both Notre Dame and Oregon.
Notre Dame: @ Oklahoma (No. 5), Stanford (No. 12), @ USC (No. 14), @ Michigan State (No. 16), Michigan (No. 22), BYU (No. 25)
K-State: @ Oklahoma (No. 5), Oklahoma State (No. 13), Texas (No. 23), @ TCU (No. 50)
Oregon: @ Oregon State (No. 11), Stanford (No. 12), @ USC (No. 14), Arizona (No. 28), UCLA (No. 30), Fresno State (No. 33), Washington (No. 42)
It depends on which advanced formula you like more -- F or Sagarin -- as to whether Notre Dame can say its schedule is tougher than K-State's. But when looking at all these four factors, there really isn't much separating Notre Dame and K-State, and once Oregon finishes up its slate they'll be right there, too.
Any argument for or against any of these teams' schedules has a counter-argument that goes the other way. If Notre Dame, K-State and Oregon go undefeated, the Irish would absolutely deserve a spot in the national championship game.
But so would Oregon and Kansas State. Those are the two teams that'll compete for the title if all three win out. And that'll only change if one of them loses, no matter how Notre Dame's schedule is viewed.