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What though the odds

Sep 12, 2011, 4:48 PM EDT

Michigan State

Notre Dame sits at 0-2. Michigan State, ranked 15th in this week’s USA Today and AP Poll, is 2-0. Then why would Las Vegas have the Irish opening as a 3.5 point favorite, only to see the spread extend up to five and even six points in some places? Could it be possible that the wiseguys that build casinos haven’t given up on the boys in blue and gold?

Here are a few quick reasons for Irish fans to hope this weekend might be different than the last two heart-stompers:

The Schedule: The Spartans haven’t exactly challenged themselves in their first two games, playing I-AA Youngstown State in week one and then non-AQ Florida Atlantic.

Against Youngstown State, the Spartans got off to a sluggish start and took a touchdown lead into halftime, before pulling away 28-6. The Penguins struggled to move the ball, putting up only 254 yards in the game, but did run for 4.25 yards a carry if you take away a fumble and a kneel down at the end of half.

Florida Atlantic, sacrificial lamb to Will Muschamp’s Florida team in the opener, took one on the chin to the Spartans, getting drubbed 44-0, but the mighty Michigan State running game never truly got on track, carrying 51 times for 188 yards, a modest 3.7 yards per carry.

Notre Dame’s Brian Hardin mentioned earlier today that the Irish are one of only six FBS teams to have scheduled BCS automatic qualifiers in their first three games. The only team that’s walked away undefeated so far is USC, who won nail-biters against Minnesota and Utah.

The Stats: Believe me, I’m sick of them too. That said, it’s just difficult for anyone to fathom that the Irish can continue to shoot themselves in the foot at this pace. The Irish have already turned it over more times than Wisconsin did last year. Eric Hansen points out they’ve also turned it over more than the Irish did in 2000, when the Irish relied on quarterback Matt LoVecchio and a rock-solid running game to pilot an risk-averse offense into a BCS bowl game.

The Spartans are ranked among the top five defenses in the country after two weeks. That said, the offenses they’ve faced are Florida Atlantic (rated dead last, 120th in the country) and FCS team Youngstown State, who did rack up 77 points against Valparaiso last week.

The Irish, for all their warts, are ranked No. 13 in total offense. Michigan State, is ranked 49th, not exactly awe inspiring against the schedule they’re facing.

The Luck: If the Irish ever think they’ll just walk past a Michigan State team that always seems to have Notre Dame’s number, they’ll be sorely mistaken and end next weekend 0-3, but it just seems like the Irish are much more likely to not make disastrous mistakes when close to the goal line after two weeks of finding every possible way to mess up.

While some fans are ready to recreate history and tag Brian Kelly as a terrible red zone coach or someone that’s always been turnover prone, a quick look at the actual numbers (Kelly’s red zone offense at Cincinnati was in the Top 25 twice and never lower than 63rd) tells a different story.

The Irish are playing at an unsustainable rate when it comes to futility and mistakes. There are plenty of ways they can lose on Saturday, but the odds are definitely decreasing in the favor of turnovers and self-induced mistakes.


  1. joeschu - Sep 12, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    Hmmm… would it feel worse to get my heart ripped out again or to make a few bucks from some (clearly insane) oddsmakers? Tough call.

    • papadec - Sep 12, 2011 at 7:36 PM

      Why not take the points and HOPE the Irish win without covering the spread? That should drive you completely insane by the end of the game.

    • txbeej - Sep 12, 2011 at 8:08 PM

      I don’t know a whole lot about gambling, but isn’t it actually insane bettors that drive the line?

    • alsatiannd - Sep 13, 2011 at 6:38 AM

      Always, and I mean always, put your money on the underdog when it comes to betting ND games.

      • papadec - Sep 13, 2011 at 10:58 PM

        I stopped betting the Irish games – a long time ago. Just too aggravating. Cut my hair short too – so I couldn’t pull it out. Although I did have my son put money on the Irish to win the BCS title this year – when he went to Vegas for Spring break. Oh well – what gets bet in Vegas, stays in Vegas. There’s always next year.

  2. smurphdoggy29 - Sep 12, 2011 at 5:07 PM

    Keith, my Brother, a nephew, 2 cousins, and a friend from High School all are MSU Alumni. I hear about Sparty 24/7/365 after they vanquish our beloved Irish. Last year the hammering was softened a bit because we all agreed it WAS a beautiful play call and fake, and Coach D’Antonio recruited my nephew so we had a personal connection when it came to his health crisis. God Bless his health.

    That aside I enjoy the challenge of the Spartans every year, always a spirited game, and this year will be no exception. In addition I believe MSU is going to feel the breakout blow of this Irish team as they shore up their house and finish the task at hand, we will begin anew.

    An aside if I may be indulged. Hey all you belly acher’s and purported “been there” guys, stuff a sock in that gibberish and lay out a solid argument NOT based in your own personal vitriol against the Head Coach. Stick to the issues. If you can’t eloquently expound upon your points and all you want to do is spew hatred keep it to yourself or go home.

    • 1notredamefan - Sep 12, 2011 at 9:51 PM

      well said!

  3. cameronemclaughlin - Sep 12, 2011 at 5:10 PM

    While we hear again and again that the only stat that matters is the 0-2 W-L (or that ugly turnover margin), I think the robust yardage we’ve put up, and our ability to hold USF and UM (for three quarters) to modest offensive production, bode well for our players’ confidence. They know they can get it done. Despite the errors, they’ve experienced success.

    If it is a lack of mental toughness that’s prevented the Irish from winning the last two weeks, I believe the mental and emotional growth necessary to overcome these setbacks will make us a difficult team to face moving forward.

    I will continue to expect great things from this team. I will continue to heavily invest my passion and emotion. If I must suffer another agony like Saturday night, so be it. But I believe good times are coming.

    • oldestguard - Sep 12, 2011 at 7:27 PM

      excellent post cammc, … while it’s been maddening to the nearsighted view we live and die with, there is some undeniable solid production ocurring that will eventually lead to long term success if the guys keep working through the mental layers and get to that rock hard certainty level.

      Dem wise guys know der stuff…

  4. bernhtp - Sep 12, 2011 at 5:15 PM

    God made it easy for Job compared to the diehard Notre Dame football fan. I’ve again put away my hair shirt this year for purposes of self-abnegation, mortification and penance; we have our Irish to fulfill this purpose.

  5. jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 12, 2011 at 5:22 PM

    Keith….if i follow your logic, you are making an argument based on the law of averages which, more simply stated is “lightning never strikes thrice (because we know it already struck twice). Well, I’m on board with that. I dont see how it gets any worse in week three. They will really have to struggle to commit another five turnovers and i think that would probably be unprecented in the annals of college football. So I’m on board. I am also on board with Kelly and i think we need three full years of a sample size to evaluate his efficacy as a head coach. I believe he’s doing all the right things and has us headed in the right direction, it just comes down to execution. But for the two losses, this site would be buzzing about how he put together two 500+ yard games. We might even declare that BK has a decided schematic advantage since the offense has been clicking so well. Lastly, i had to take your advice last night and walk away from the computer. Upon some reflection and some self-critical analysis, i determined that i was too emotionally invested in the outcome of these games (boy, i really wanted that one in Ann Arbor (who is a whore, by the way)). These are just games, played by kids that are sometimes fun to watch, sometimes exasperating to watch. I’m thinking of writing a fan manual called Zen and the Art of Watching Notre Dame Football to help all stressed out Irish fans find the inner peace that i have attained. Thank you for helping me to chill.

    Your pal,
    Art Vandelay
    Vandelay Industries

    • oldestguard - Sep 12, 2011 at 7:28 PM

      Imports…or exports ?

      • andy44teg - Sep 12, 2011 at 8:29 PM

        He’s an importer-exporter!

    • papadec - Sep 12, 2011 at 7:41 PM

      Put me down for three copies in advance – my brother, my son & large print for me. Thanks for the reminder about the kids & perspective.

    • alsatiannd - Sep 13, 2011 at 6:44 AM

      If the D hadn’t crumbled on Michigan’s last score, we’d also be talking about how Rees truly is the Next Montana (what with that ice-in-his-veins final scoring drive).

    • pjm79nd - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:15 AM

      The offense isn’t clicking if it can’t confidently attain a first down on 3rd & 1 or 4th & 1.

  6. tersignind - Sep 12, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    As far as I’m concerned, I am not putting anymore hope into this team until they actually show me on the field. Don’t tell me SHOW ME.

    • Huck Finn - Sep 15, 2011 at 11:14 PM

      I agree. We’ve spent entirely too much time the past few seasons parsing what Weis or Kelly or Diaco had to say before the season, during the season, and after the season. To paraphrase: Wins talk and BS walks.

  7. ndgoldandblue - Sep 12, 2011 at 8:43 PM

    The funny thing in all of this is that FBS college football is an anomaly. It is the only major competitive sport that does not have a playoff system. I would say Division-1 college football, but the FCS, as we all know, has a playoff. The only thing that sort of resembles FBS college football is the European soccer leagues. However, they don’t have a championship game that determines the winner. Whoever has the best record at the end of the season is declared the champion. But even that system allows for a rather large margin of error. Take the English Premier League (formerly the Football League First Division). That league is regarded as the best in the world of soccer. Only two teams in the history of the two leagues have ever finished a season undefeated. Granted, they have to play more games, but both of those teams had draws (ties) numbering in the double digits. The point is, perfection is not expected out of a champion in any sport with the exception of FBS football. And, sometimes, perfection isn’t good enough in the FBS. It’s who you play and who you are associated with that makes the difference. Everyone knows how much the pollsters love the SEC. LSU had two losses in 2007 and got an invitation to the NC game. Florida lost to Ole Miss the following year and won the NC game while an undefeated Utah team was left out of the game completely. The point of all of this is that the current system of the FBS is…well, for lack of a better word, crazy. The fact that polls, strength of schedule, and conference perception play into who goes to the National Championship makes the FBS special, yet, at the same time, flawed. If you lose one game, you’re out of the National Championship picture. That is unless you’re from the SEC. If you lose two games, you’re almost guaranteed to be out of a BCS game. That’s why we live and die with every game; every game is that important to how the rest of the season plays out. Heck, in the past decade two six-loss teams won the Super Bowl. That just can’t happen in college football with the current setup. Am I saying that I think college football should go to a playoff? Nope. I love the bowls. I love the importance of the regular season. What I am saying is that Notre Dame should schedule a non-AQ team for their first game. I know, I know. I’m going to get ripped for this one. But, many of the powerhouses do it. It’s very common. Last year, Auburn began their season against Arkansas State of the Sun Belt. It would be nice to have a game that allows the Irish to work out any chemistry/timing/mental issues and still win. As of right now, the Irish would have to run the table just to get a possible invite to a BCS game. I mean, look at the competition that Michigan State has had to face so far. Wow, they have certainly earned that 15th ranking. Sorry for all the rambling guys. But let me know what you think. Would it be such a travesty to start off against a non-big six opponent? We did it in 08 and 09. That led to a pretty good start of the season. I know, both of those seasons ended badly, but I would love to be 6-1 or 6-2 two thirds into the season.

    • tersignind - Sep 12, 2011 at 8:53 PM

      I think if you look, Notre Dame’s schedule could be labeled as a program killer, right out the gate this team has to go full steam ahead. Giving your coach a chance to be 2-1 takes a lot of pressure off him and the team. It gives the team a chance to be successful and build some momentum towards the tougher games.

    • papadec - Sep 13, 2011 at 3:37 AM

      re: ndg&b – if I recall correctly, ND played their “tune-up” game vs Michigan, at one point in time. Michigan didn’t like starting the season with a loss, so the game was moved to the 2nd game of the season. I don’t think anyone, @ ND, expected USF to be such a tough game. These games are scheduled several years in advance. The USF game was part of the ND deal with the Big East to play three Big East teams each year. usc doesn’t like to play in the cold weather. When the game is @ ND – they play in October (ha-ha, @ night this year – I personally would love to see snow). When in LA – it’s the last game of the year. Don’t apologize for the rambling – it was a good read & I think there are many of us who would like to see an easier opponent in the first game of the season.

    • pjm79nd - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:28 AM

      Beware playoff systems. The NHL and NBA have made their regular seasons all but meaningless because so many teams become eligible for the playoffs. Bud Selig and the management of major-league baseball are wrecking the game: in a season that comprises 162 games, the two teams with the best records should meet in the World Series. The convoluted system that allows teams with .500 or sub-.500 records a shot at the title is disgraceful. I have stopped watching baseball. The NFL wants to add more games and revenue to the schedule while ignoring the physical impact on the players. 14 games with 4 playoff teams from each conference was fine. How many people care about college basketball except at tournament time?

      College football? As many have stated on this site months ago, I sure miss the traditional New Year’s Day (and Eve) of 4 quality bowl games.

  8. terryb101 - Sep 13, 2011 at 10:19 AM

    call me crazy, but i say they win this week, if not its gonna be another long year,

  9. 1historian - Sep 13, 2011 at 7:56 PM

    IMO this Saturday Kelly should leave the locker room 10 minutes before they run out on the field. Noone in the room but the TEAM.

    Just tell them: “The solution for our problem is in this room. I’ll see you in the tunnel in 10 minutes.”

  10. Huck Finn - Sep 14, 2011 at 1:26 PM

    They need to be ready for a LOT of downhill, off-tackle/power style runs, which decimated the defense last season.

    It seems like the defensive staff is not always ready for the opposing offense, even if they ought to be.

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