There are two ways to look at the 1-2 start to the Brian Kelly era. One can easily say, “well, it’s just like last year’s team under Weis, close games that we always seem to lose at the end because our defense can’t stop anyone in the 4th quarter.” Or one could say, “this is the best 1-2 team in America. An obscure Dayne Crist injury and the most ridiculous fake field goal play call away from being 3-0 and ranked around 15th in the nation.” Funny how the slimmest of margins can drastically alter the public’s perception of a team. Think about it for a minute. Notre Dame is a 4.5 pt underdog at HOME against a good (by no means great) Stanford team mostly because they are 1-2 and everyone thinks they are the same old Irish. But for anyone who has actually watched the first 3 games, they realize how painfully close this team is to being undefeated. Imagine the momentum this team would have had right now behind a fan base more desperate for success than arguably any other team in sports today. With that said, I will go back to a saying that Chuck Weis himself made popular during his introductory press conference at Notre Dame. ”You are what your record says you are.” And as much as I hate to say it, it really is the only way to look at things. You just can’t say, “well, we should be this or we are so close to being this, etc.” The bottom line is all that anyone really cares about is wins and losses and the numbers in those two columns determine where you end up at the end of the season. On to the Stanford game…
Stanford comes to South Bend as the 17th ranked team in the nation under coach Jim Harbaugh. The Cardinal beat the Irish 45-38 last year at Stanford, scoring the go ahead TD late in the 4th quarter (sound familiar?). The team is off to it’s best start in 9 years, averaging 52 points per game, good for third in the country. However, the Cardinal have yet to face a true road test outside the state of California. That all changes this week as they head to South Bend to face an Irish team that has lost 6 of it’s last 7 games (all by a touchdown or less). Notre Dame is also 0-10 in it’s last ten games vs ranked opponents dating back to September 9th, 2006.
The Cardinal are led by quarterback Andrew Luck, who some consider (Mel Kiper/Todd McShay) to be the best NFL QB prospect in the country. He has already thrown 10 TD passes in the first three games and ranks third in the nation in QB efficiency with a rating of 192.31. Luck is an enormous challenge for any secondary, but even more so for the injury depleted Irish unit that has obviously missed starting safeties Jamoris Slaughter and Dan McCarthy. The Irish have been without Slaughter and McCarthy for the past two games, both of which resulted in losses. The coaching staff is eagerly anticipating their return this weekend, not only for their play on the field, but also for their much needed leadership. The prevailing thought is their return to the lineup should help settle a secondary that has been switching personnel in and out for the first three games.
I do want to make it clear that not all hope is lost for Irish fans this year despite the 1-2 start. The best case scenario appeared to be 4-2 in the first six, followed by 5-1 or 6-0 over the last six. Sitting at 1-2, it’s doesn’t take a math major to realize the Irish need to win their next three games to achieve the 4-2 start that should help propel them into a significantly easier second half schedule. This is what most college football fans fail to realize. Notre Dame faces the difficult part of their schedule in September while the rest of the teams around the country play their toughest games in October and November. Many feel that this puts the Irish at a severe disadvantage entering each season with a front loaded schedule. Meanwhile, one could easily counter with “that’s the price you pay ” when you choose to remain independent while having all of your games broadcast on national television. A win over a ranked opponent this weekend in South Bend is the ONLY thing that will help erase (not completely) the memories of the fake field goal heard ’round the world.
On to our prediction…well, we have been wrong about the last two games, however, I think that means this week we are due to get one right, no? Look, the Irish are desperate after losing two games that they should have won and they get to play this one in front of 80,000 fans even more desperate to finally win a close one. Meanwhile, Stanford has to fly all the way across the country to visit a team that is faced with yet another must win situation (where have we heard this before?) in order to avoid a 1-3 start to the Brian Kelly era. There’s no doubt that Andrew Luck will have plenty of success this weekend against a vulnerable Irish defense, but Dayne Crist and last weeks breakout star, Theo Riddick, will be able to keep up. Also look for an uptick in the return game, an area of great concern for Kelly, who has made it clear that improvement in this phase is mandatory. It’s probably safe to say the Irish are in line to catch a break or two after everything that has gone against them the past couple weeks. Call it a gift from the Karma Gods or call it the luck of the Irish, the bottom line is the Irish are more than due to finally win a game that goes down to the wire. Notre Dame 34 Stanford 31.
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Written by Tim Lewis