Mailbag: The case of the missing questions

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So apparently I didn’t answer last week’s questions. I think it might be the first ever lost column, because I could’ve sworn I answered them. (Checked my drafts folder and everything…)

Perhaps I have the North Korean government to blame? (Or the guy in the mirror…)

Either way, we’re moving forward. And I’ll scan through a few of your question from last week to make sure I didn’t miss any masterpieces, but thanks for keeping me honest.

Away we go.

 

nicenirish: Keith don’t you owe us all an apology for ignoring the last set of questions?

Don’t you guys owe me an apology for never actually asking question, but rather answering your own question first and then stating it? Or writing a manifesto that lacks a question at all?

But in the spirit of Christmas:

 

FROM LAST WEEK…

c4evr: Is the ND program facing any NCAA penalties for the Frozen 5 or will it just be a university issue? I also remember where Jenkins said the school would vacate victories if players had been academically ineligible during past competition? Was he implying that the school itself would vacate victories or that the school would comply with the NCAA decision?

This isn’t a resolved situation. So while we haven’t heard anything on the record from anyone about any sanctions (self-imposed or otherwise), every time Brian Kelly’s been asked about it he has stated that vacating victories doesn’t sound like it’s on the table.

There was a rumor a few weeks back going around about Notre Dame self-vacating a few scholarships a year. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case when you look at the way Notre Dame is recruiting. And if Notre Dame is imposing restrictions, what should happen at North Carolina? A dozen a year for a decade?

Notre Dame isn’t afraid of self-immolation, even if this doesn’t seem to be necessary. And you could argue that they already did it by holding four guys off the field for the entire season and one for the majority of the season.

Nothing has been officially resolved, and I’m not sure that we’ll ever hear if it is.

 

irishsoccerfirst: I would like your take on the performance of the O-line. No excuses for this group: Consistently strong recruiting every year; no academic issues, no defections to UCLA, Cincy or the NFL; no significant injuries; no new coaching scheme. So, why is our supposed strength such a big fat dud?

Offensive line play seemed to be disappointing this season. Minus Ronnie Stanley, who has put together enough good tape to be considered a fringe first-rounder after one season at left tackle, it’s fair to say the group took a step backwards.

That said, I think lingering injuries to Christian Lombard really hurt them. Same with Nick Martin, who likely made the move because snapping was difficult. In their first true season as starters, Steve Elmer and Matt Hegarty had mixed bag seasons.

Did anybody really think losing Zack Martin and Chris Watt would be easy? Just because a guy has a four-star grade next to his name doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to step in and be a seasoned vet from the beginning. (Just look at Michigan’s offensive line — it’s been a mess, and the Wolverines have recruited a Rivals four-and-five-star All-Star team.)

We’re not coaches. I am not fully capable of grading assignments that I don’t always know. But it’s pretty easy to see that the Irish have struggled on the interior and haven’t always done the best job protecting Everett Golson.

The starting lineup against LSU could return in its entirety. If it does, that’s a very good thing — especially with competition coming from the young pups.

 

okanirish94: Does BK ever script the opening drive? We’ve had some less than stellar play callers on prior staffs who were actually quite good at scripting opening drives. With BK though I can recall multiple games starting off with illegal substitution, delay of game, or timeout on or before the 2nd play.

Scripting plays doesn’t keep you from illegal substitutions, delay of games or timeouts. But the opening of the USC game was super frustrating, and the fact that Amir Carlisle lines up incorrectly makes no sense.

Even in some games where the Irish didn’t win, the opening drive hasn’t really been the problem. The Irish marched nicely against ASU before settling for a field goal. They scored a touchdown in under a minute against Northwestern. Against Louisville (a top 10 defense), the opening drive produced points.

So bang on BK all you’d like, the opening script isn’t necessarily the problem.

 

mayesdays: How do you think the Irish will utilize Schmidt and Morgan next year? Someone else said this, but could this be the most underrated defense heading into the 2015 season?

Let’s pump the brakes on the “most underrated” talk. These guys were good when they were healthy, but they’ve gotta prove they can do it against good competition, because they need to earn back any good will after this last month.

But getting both Schmidt and Morgan on the field together will be interesting. Yesterday, Kelly talked about Morgan’s versatility — he’s capable of playing the Will or Sam as well as the Mike. So Notre Dame’s base defense could utilize Morgan as a first-down defender and then sub-out for a guy like Onwualu in receiver-heavy formations.

Schmidt, assuming he returns healthy, is the team’s starting middle linebacker. And Jarrett Grace is taking reps in bowl practice, a great story in its own right. So the Irish depth chart might finally look pretty strong in the middle after being a gigantic question mark heading into 2014.

 

gpatton90:Do you believe that BK will ever truly embrace a run-first, smash-mouth offensive mentality that can set up the rest of the offensive tools he has assembled?

No.

He’s got a system he runs. And it’s not a smash-mouth, run-first mentality.

That said, I get what you mean.

 

tony34343434: Hey Keith, my question is do you think the Irish need to play with more passion. Many on here including myself have commented on that this year. Games like USC, Navy, Northwestern and some others. I do not pretend to know as much football as you Keith but i do not see the fire that some teams bring. Maybe i am just another alum looking for answers.

Tony, I’m usually pretty tough on questions like this, especially with unmeasurable metrics like “passion.” (More passion could be the more cowbell of this blog…)

I tend to think you hit it on the head when you called yourself “another alum looking for answers.”

While I skip past passion, I do think true leadership was an issue on this team. I think the coaching staff named the wrong guys as captain this season. I wouldn’t have put a C on Austin Collinsworth or Cam McDaniel. Probably not on Nick Martin, either.

When the going got rough, Notre Dame’s most logical leaders were either hurt (Joe Schmidt) or part of the problem (Everett Golson, not to mention McDaniels’ disastrous fumble against Northwestern).

 

goirishgo: Where does Die Hard rank on your list of all-time great Christmas movies?

onward2victory: Can we get your top 5 Christmas movies, Keith??

Love Die Hard. Never considered it a Christmas movie. (After all, how exactly were USC and Notre Dame playing? A Las Vegas Bowl we didn’t know about?)

As for Christmas movies… That’s a tough one. Christmas in the Arnold household usually included going to a movie, not necessarily watching them.

I need some extra time on this one. But I’ve seen them all.

 

 

mtflsmitty: Keith, You did ignore a question I posed in August which also received an awful lot of thumbs up from other posters. Since you specifically mentioned ignored questions, thought we may try again:

Can you offer some sense for total readership of Inside The Irish? Unique visitors? Trend lines for unique readers by week/month throughout the season. Percentage of readers who also post comments? Readers by state? All of this info (and more) is available within your a Google Analytics account. Would be interesting.

Smitty, I have no clue. We have a bunch of analytics tools, but I don’t see most of them and I honestly don’t really care about them. I’ve never been told to write for eyeballs, so I just write. Some things take off, some don’t.

On a good day, there’s more than 25,000 readers coming here. On a not so good one, there’s a few thousand.

As of now, there’s been over 25 million views and over 75,000 comments since we switched to WordPress (the first few years weren’t on WordPress). The best ever day? Mid-January, 2013. The column? This piece on Manti Te’o.

 

bernhtp: The arms race stemming from the big big money in college football – the Harbaugh offer, coach salaries more generally, facilities, player living accommodations, etc. – is cranking up. ND is caught between Swarbrick’s pragmatism and a traditional reluctance to compete in this way given our identity and values. What is your prediction on how ND will navigate this?

I’ll believe Harbaugh getting paid eight million a year from Michigan when I see it. But there’s no doubt that the arms race continues to crank up. Notre Dame has done well enough — The Gug is a nice facility, though it’s hardly the Taj Mahal. And assistant coaches are doing just fine — Chuck Martin took a pay cut to take the head coaching job at Miami.

That said, I think the biggest piece of this will be the Campus Crossroads project. It’ll allow Notre Dame Stadium to get up to date — more than doubling premium seating options and likely bringing in a video board to see replays. It’ll also probably include some additional football facilities — maybe a place to eat as a team?

Notre Dame isn’t likely to start spending $1 million on big-name assistants. So that might be the difference from some SEC programs. But Swarbrick has done just fine with the juggling act and I expect that to continue.

 

irishfan4life: Why do you think it took this long for Kelly to look at running a two QB system? Seems like after 6-10 turnovers in 2-3 games he’d look to get Zaire some more experience.

Keith, Has Brian Kelly mishandled the QB position at ND?

I’m bunching these two together. And there was more to second question, but this was basically it.

If you predicted Everett Golson to continue to turn the football over, then yes, it was mishandled. But I tend to believe that Kelly knew Golson had to get all the game reps he could (he’s still a guy who is learning, part of why the lost 2013 season stunk so badly) and in practice it was clear that Golson was clearly the best at the position. That being said, I was advocating for a series for Zaire in the first half against Rice.  And even Golson acknowledged that he would’ve pulled himself against USC.

This feels a lot like the end of 2011. Things felt broken. People jumped all over the Andrew Hendrix bandwagon, for adequate play in a lopsided football game. Zaire is clearly a good runner and the better of the two in the zone read, speed game. We’ll see how he throws it against LSU.

 

I’m not calling Zaire Hendrix, and I actually think he’ll be the starting quarterback come 2016. But heading into next season, I still don’t think this is anybody’s job but Golson. He just won’t be given the leash he had in 2014.

 

oldtrollmcgee: Could we get a writer (just one) who covers Notre dame basketball? I know they are not a legitimate title contender, but each year they seem to put out a quality team, and when it comes to tournament time I always see Notre Dame listed as a quality win for other teams. Just a thought.

There are plenty of places to read Notre Dame basketball coverage. The guys at Irish Illustrated, Blue and Gold, Irish Sports Daily, Irish Eyes, along with the indie blogs and the South Bend and Chicago Tribunes. Hit the Google, Old Troll.

But it’s not going to be me. I don’t have the expertise to write intelligently about the team. Pair that with the fact that every time I’ve sat down to watch an entire Notre Dame basketball game the Irish have always lost. So I flipped back and forth between the Michigan State and Purdue victories and was shocked when Brey’s boys pulled it off.

It looks like a fun, athletic squad. Call me in March.

 

ylilbnosredna: If ND gets blown out by LSU in the whole game, what (outside of the overrated 15 practices and single game’s worth of experience & p.t. for young players) actual positives will Notre Dame be able to take from the experience?

I guess I don’t agree with the premise of your questions, considering you put the most important thing in parenthesis. Those 15 practices are the whole point!

That said, a blowout is a terrible way to go into the offseason, and everybody inside the program knows that the Irish have to play better. Find a way to pull off the upset? That could change everything heading into spring, the ultimate season saver.

 

irishdog80: which of the freshmen from this year break into the starting lineup next year? Any of the recruits have the potential to be first year starters?

Great question. And probably one I’ll spend all offseason thinking about. Of the guys that played, I’d have said Tranquill before the torn ACL. Right now, I think they’ll find a spot for Morgan.

Offensively it’s a tougher road. If Ronnie Stanley leaves, Kelly raved about Alex Bars on Saturday. And Quenton Nelson will challenge the interior offensive linemen.

As for the incoming group, I’d look at pass rushers or defensive backs. Maybe Shaun Crawford? He just has the feel of a perfect slot cornerback. And don’t forget Justin Yoon. He’ll be the next kicking adventure for the Irish.

 

dudeacow: So Nyles Morgan has basically played 8 halves games of competitive football (if you count the second half of USC)… but he has 43 tackles and three double-digit performances. He had 11 tackles in one half against USC! He doesn’t really know this defense well and yet is racking up tackles so easily. Is he going to turn into one of those 150+ tackle guys who running backs hate and set the tone for a dominating defense in the future?

What, 100 tackles wasn’t enough? You needed 150+ tackles? That puts him in a group of who, Luke Kuechly? Dat Nguyen?

That being said, there’s a reason Morgan made two Freshman All-American teams. He’s going to be really good. It’ll be fun to watch him develop.

And In That Corner … The No. 21 Stanford Cardinal and (maybe) Bryce Love

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Both Notre Dame and Stanford can still get to 10 wins before a bowl game, though the path for the Cardinal is a bit tougher. The Irish need to win one game, though it is at a place where they haven’t found a victory in a decade. Stanford needs to beat Notre Dame, have Washington top Washington State, and then the Cardinal could proceed to the Pac 12 title game for a rematch with USC.

The focus today is on this weekend, naturally. For some insight, let’s turn to Jacob Rayburn of the Cardinal Sports Report.

DF: Obviously the story this year has been Bryce Love. When he’s healthy, I’d argue he is the most explosive running back in college football. But, much like the Irish backfield, ankle issues have nagged at Love for most of the season. How is he this week?

JR: Bryce Love’s ankle and whether he will play is the mystery of the week. Love wasn’t able to finish the Big Game win over Cal and missed most of the fourth quarter of a three-point game. Love has a very high pain tolerance but it was too much Saturday after he was once again rolled on by a defender. He has done a fantastic job of playing the past couple weeks despite the fact that he has only one healthy ankle.

There are a number of Stanford fans on the forum arguing it’s not worth him playing this week. There is a chance the Cardinal will play USC in the conference championship game the following Friday, so a short week after a physical game would be troublesome.

Love’s scouting report is speed, speed, speed. He is more than that, though. What about his game sets him apart? Not that this is applicable this week, but curiosity forces me to ask, what kind of NFL future do you see for him?

His vision is excellent and he is much tougher to bring down than people think. The vision he has to spot not even a running lane but just a tiny gap between bodies is incredible. Love regularly slides through the smallest opening to break off a run that few other running backs would even try, let alone be able to do.

He’s had some bad luck with injuries the past two seasons that may raise questions about his durability. But when a 300-pound human falls on your ankle it doesn’t matter it if you’re a 220-pound running back or a 190-pound running back. It hurts.

Love’s speed alone makes him valuable for an NFL team, but his draft stock will also be determined by his ability to catch the ball — which he hasn’t been asked to do much this season, but he can — and if he can stop a blitzing defender. But even as a situational back and returner he would add great value to a team. He’s too talented a runner for a skilled offensive play caller not to find successful ways to use him.

Stanford sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello has completed 60.71 percent of his passes and averages 7.1 yards per attempt as he has thrown for 993 yards and five touchdowns, compared to only two interceptions, this season. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Love has been the engine to the Cardinal offense this year partly because of some uncertainty at quarterback. Head coach David Shaw has now settled on sophomore K.J. Costello, but only a month ago he was hardly playing. Senior Keller Chryst had the honors then. We should expect Costello this weekend, right? What does he bring to the table that Chryst lacks?

There really isn’t a major difference in the skillset of the two quarterbacks, although when healthy Chryst is the better runner. But Chryst’s inconsistency was his undoing. He was capable of delivering NFL caliber throws one week against Oregon and then in the next game against Oregon State nearly throw multiple interceptions.

It would be simplistic to describe Costello as a gunslinger, but there is some merit to describing him such. He can make more happen with his arm than Chryst and his personality seems to bring out more energy from the team. Chryst is a tough kid who worked very hard to return to the team from a knee injury in the Sun Bowl, but Costello better balances the offense.

Costello didn’t see the field when Stanford slipped past Oregon State on Oct. 26. Neither did Love. Yet, that was the one game most people actually might have seen, played on a Friday night with little competition for eyeballs. What in the world happened that night? The Cardinal had been rolling along, winning four straight with three of them by at least 10 points. Was the offensive ineptitude entirely because of those two absences?

Not having Love really hurt but generally there were some major steps backward that Friday. As you pointed out there were positive signs in the previous four games that the offense’s worst days were behind it. That clearly wasn’t the case and fits into the narrative of this season that this Stanford team has been very difficult to figure out.

The Oregon State defense played inspired and there is something about playing up in Corvallis that does funky things to visitors. It has been a major trip for Pac-12 teams. Stanford’s offensive line wasn’t able to dominate the line of scrimmage like people expected in that game. And without Love, none of the running backs had the ability to turn a small opening into a big run.

Stanford’s rush defense is decidedly average, allowing 171.7 yards per game, good for No. 70 in the country heading into this weekend. Notre Dame’s rush offense is much better than average. What chance does the Cardinal have of slowing down that ground attack? Will Shaw sell out on that effort, daring Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush to produce through the air?

Every week has been a challenging experience for Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson to figure out a new way to keep opponents out of the end zone. Really there aren’t any statistics that show Stanford is a great defense and in some categories they aren’t even good. But the Cardinal are allowing only 21 points per game.

I expect Stanford to go all in to stop Notre Dame’s run game. This Cardinal defensive front is not a dominant group, even though they have one of the best interior players in the conference and even the country with senior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. But the front seven has been inconsistent and was hurt significantly when inside linebacker Sean Barton suffered a season-ending injury at San Diego State in week three. Bobby Okereke is playing very well in the middle of the field and they would have been a formidable duo at this point in the season.

Entering the season, expectations were not as high for Stanford as they may have been in the recent past. That’s what happens when you lose two top-10 NFL Draft picks, one on each side of the ball. Yet, here the Cardinal are, with a chance to win the conference and head to a playoff-eligible bowl at 10-3. How much has this been seen as a “down” year in those parts? Has David Shaw’s performance this season earned the praise it likely deserves?

It has been a down year in the sense that Stanford’s inconsistency has left wins on the field. The loss to USC was completely understandable because the Trojans played like a playoff-caliber team that night. Sam Darnold and that offense looked better in that game than most of the rest of the regular season.

But losing to San Diego State and Washington State, and nearly suffering a stunning upset at Oregon State, were disconcerting for a variety of reasons. The loss to Washington State really hit the team hard because it was a painful missed opportunity to take control of the North Division. After that game Shaw went further to publicly criticize his own performance as a playcaller than he ever has before. There was a feeling that Stanford was at a tipping point where things could really go bad.

But the team has rallied since and they have a chance for another 10-win season. If Stanford can maintain that as the “down season” standard then that’s something fans can live with.

The Farm, as Stanford’s home field is known, is a unique place to play, offering great scenery though not often a rambunctious atmosphere. Notre Dame has lost on each of its last four trips to Palo Alto. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

With a 2.5-point spread in Notre Dame’s favor, bookmakers have this one pegged as closer than I expected. Perhaps that has to do with a decade’s worth of Irish struggles at The Farm. What do you expect to see unfold this weekend?

I think a lot has to go right for Stanford, especially on defense, to keep Notre Dame close. If Josh Adams and the Irish offensive line have their way it would be a very tough night for the Cardinal defense. I don’t expect Bryce Love to play in the game but anything could happen with someone as determined as him. Welcoming back tight end Dalton Schultz and wide receiver Connor Wedington — who missed the Cal game due to injuries — will help Costello keep the game close with the passing game.

I have Notre Dame by 10 points.

Notre Dame’s Opponents and Playoff Competition: Results and Upcoming

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Winning at Stanford would give Notre Dame its third win over a team in this week’s College Football Playoff selection committee top 25, with the Cardinal moving up one spot to No. 21 on Tuesday.

In Irish coach Brian Kelly’s mind, that résumé might yet warrant Playoff consideration.

“Our mission is still to hold out hope for one of the Playoff spots,” Kelly said Tuesday. “… It’s trying to prepare [his team] for one more game and finishing off the season on a high note.”

Kelly’s mission may be far-fetched, though he is certainly aware of as much. However, it is not yet beyond fathoming.

“If you’re in the top eight, you’re strongly considered,” Kelly said. “… The teams that are up there have all had one bad day, and we had one bad day, too.”

Remaining at No. 8, Notre Dame will need a few teams to have another bad day in the next two weekends. This past bland weekend left the top 12 largely unchanged, only Miami moving up to No. 2, knocking Clemson down to No. 3. A conspiracy theorist might think that set the groundwork for a tight Clemson victory in the ACC title game next weekend leading to both ACC finalists making the Playoff. With that in mind, make the first Irish-preferred domino a Miami victory in that game.

Kelly should also hope No. 6 Auburn beats No. 1 Alabama this weekend before losing to No. 7 Georgia next weekend. No. 5 Wisconsin topping No. 9 Ohio State next weekend in the Big Ten championship would likely aid Notre Dame’s cause, as would No. 12 TCU upsetting No. 4 Oklahoma in the Big 12 final.

For Notre Dame to make the College Football Playoff, Heisman front-runner Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma will likely need to lose at some point in the next two weeks. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

That scenario would leave Georgia, Miami and Wisconsin as likely locks for the Playoff. The conversation around the fourth Playoff spot would revolve around a one-loss Alabama, a two-loss Clemson, a two-loss Oklahoma, a two-loss TCU and a two-loss Notre Dame.

Of course, that all only comes into consideration if the Irish beat Stanford this weekend.

Arguments could be made for each of those five possibilities. Spending time on those could quickly be time spent on fantasy if all five of those dominos do not fall perfectly.

In that case, it remains simple for Notre Dame. Beat the Cardinal and make a Playoff-eligible bowl, which one likely depending on if Miami makes the Playoff or not. If the Hurricanes are in the Playoff, then the Irish may be heading back to Miami Gardens and the Orange Bowl. If Miami lands at its home venue, than a Notre Dame victory this weekend should send Kelly to the Cotton Bowl.

An Irish loss in Palo Alto still sends them to Orlando in one form or another, be it the Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET) or the Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m.).

As a refresher of the Playoff contenders and their remaining slates:
1) Alabama: at No. 6 Auburn; with a victory in the Iron Bowl, then head to face No. 7 Georgia in the SEC championship.
2) Miami: at Pittsburgh, vs. No. 3 Clemson.
3) Clemson: at No. 24 South Carolina, vs. No. 2 Miami.
4) Oklahoma: vs. West Virginia; most likely vs. No. 12 TCU in the Big 12 title game, though the Horned Frogs have not secured that finish just yet.
5) Wisconsin: at Minnesota; vs. No. 9 Ohio State.
6) Auburn: vs. No. 1 Alabama; with a victory in the Iron Bowl, then head to face No. 7 Georgia in the SEC championship.
7) Georgia: at Georgia Tech; vs. the Iron Bowl victor.
8) Notre Dame: at No. 21 Stanford.
9) Ohio State: at Michigan; vs. No. 5 Wisconsin.

Notre Dame’s Opponents
Temple (5-6): The Owls lost 45-19 to undefeated Central Florida. Temple now needs to beat Tulsa (4 p.m. ET; ESPN News) to secure bowl eligibility. The Owls are favored by three with a combined point total over/under of 59, indicating a 31-28 conclusion.

Georgia (10-1): The Bulldogs trounced Kentucky 42-13, cashing in on another efficient performance from freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who finished 9-of-14 passing for 123 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Georgia is favored by 11 against Georgia Tech (12 p.m. ET; ABC), an over/under of 51.5 pointing to a 31-20 result.

Boston College running back A.J. Dillon is the Eagles offense sole reliable producer at this point. (Getty Images)

Boston College (6-5): The Eagles secured a 13th game to the season by beating Connecticut 39-16 in Fenway Park, even though they were without starting quarterback junior Anthony Brown. Freshman running back A.J. Dillon picked up the slack, taking 24 carries for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Boston College now travels to Syracuse (12:20 p.m. ET; ACC Network) as 3.5-point favorites with an over/under of 56.5, roughly equaling a 30-27 score.

Michigan State (8-3): The Spartans moved up one spot to No. 16 in the CFP poll after beating Maryland 17-7. They can’t win the Big Ten, but they can win at Rutgers (4 p.m. ET; FOX), favored by nearly two touchdowns with a 26-13 decision sounding reasonable only if Michigan State comes out flat.

Miami (OH) (5-7): The RedHawks season ended Tuesday night with a 28-7 win at Ball State. Entering the year with seemingly-realistic aspirations of winning the MAC, missing out on a bowl game entirely makes for quite the disappointing season for former Irish assistant Chuck Martin.

North Carolina (3-8): The Tar Heels won their second straight, beating FCS-level Western Carolina 65-10. That win streak is likely to come to an end at North Carolina State (3:30 p.m. ET; ESPNU) this weekend. The Wolfpack is a 16-point favorite with an over/under of 56. Quick math makes for a 36-20 Tar Heels loss.

USC (10-2): After a 28-23 victory over UCLA, the No. 11 Trojans can finally enjoy a week off, their first of the season, before the Pac 12 title game next Friday. They will face either Washington State or Stanford then, depending if the Cougars beat Washington this weekend.

North Carolina State (7-4): A 30-24 loss to Wake Forest is the first real letdown of a loss for the Wolfpack since the season opener, only otherwise dropping games to Notre Dame and Clemson.

Wake Forest (7-4): Head coach Dave Clawson can put the final cherry on top of a resoundingly-successful 2017 with a victory against Duke (12:30 p.m. ET; ACC Network). Bookmakers certainly expect as much from the Deacons, making them 12-point favorites with an over/under of 58, leading to a 35-23 projected score.

Miami (11-0): The Hurricanes overcame a slow start to top Virginia 44-28. Just shy of two-touchdown favorites for its trip to Pittsburgh on Friday (12:00 p.m. ET; ABC), Miami will be fine with a 33-19 victory.

Navy (6-4): The Midshipmen will look to rebound from their 24-17 defeat at Notre Dame by traveling to Houston on Friday (12 p.m. ET; ESPN). While it would be an upset, Navy just might win, only a 4.5-point underdog with an over/under of 55. That’s a theoretical 30-25 nod toward the Cougars.

Stanford (8-3): The Cardinal put the pressure on Washington State to keep it out of the Pac 12 title game by beating Cal 17-14. After starting 1-2, this has been a strong turnaround for David Shaw’s charges. As of this early Wednesday a.m. typing, Stanford welcomes Notre Dame as 2.5-point underdogs with an over/under of 57. Hypothetically, that points to the Irish prevailing 30-27.

It should be noted, that over/under ticked upward by two points after Shaw said star junior running back Bryce Love is “day-to-day” Tuesday.

Questions for the week: If without St. Brown, who will Notre Dame turn to?

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Equanimeous St. Brown may not have matched his breakout sophomore season of a year ago, but his junior year has been nothing to scoff at. Despite being held without a catch in Notre Dame’s 24-17 victory over Navy on Saturday, primarily due to injury, the junior receiver stands second in all Irish receiving categories.

If St. Brown is not cleared from the concussion protocol by the end of the week, he will be missed at Stanford (8 p.m. ET; ABC).

How will Notre Dame adjust without its most consistent receiver?

St. Brown has 26 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns this season. Sophomore Chase Claypool exceeds the first two figures and sophomore Kevin Stepherson caught his third and fourth touchdowns against the Midshipmen. Those two are the obvious candidates to replace St. Brown’s production.

Sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson led all Irish receivers with five catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns during Notre Dame’s 24-17 victory over Navy on Saturday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

That applies to Stepherson more than Claypool, despite the greater physical disparity from St. Brown. Simply enough, Stepherson’s continued increase in prevalence in the Irish passing game would likely surpass a healthy St. Brown this weekend.

The other possibility is junior Miles Boykin. In St. Brown’s absence this past weekend, Boykin caught two passes for 33 yards. His physicality and skillset most mirrors St. Brown’s, and plugging him into any three-receiver sets would allow Stepherson and Claypool to stick to the roles they regularly rehearse.

Will Notre Dame slow Stanford star running back Bryce Love? Rather, will the Irish need to?

Continued ankle and lower leg injuries have hampered Love for much of the season now. They kept him on the sidelines when the Cardinal barely slipped past Oregon State a few weeks ago, and they limited his fourth quarter this past weekend during Stanford’s 17-14 victory against Cal. The junior finished with 101 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Backup Cameron Scarlett added 61 yards on 14 carries.

Injuries have been about the only thing capable of consistently stopping Stanford running back Bryce Love this season. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

In the fourth quarter, Love took four carries for 11 total yards. For a running threat rarely stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage, it was startling to see him take one of those carries to the line and no further while another gained just one yard.

Thus, there seems to be some logic to Stanford keeping Love sidelined once more. If Washington beats Washington State on Saturday — played concurrently on FOX with the game at hand — then the Cardinal heads to the Pac-12 title game. As much as Stanford undoubtedly wants to beat Notre Dame, there are many more rewards available for winning the conference, such as a nice New Year’s holiday spent in Phoenix, Ariz., instead of a Christmas week spent at home preparing for the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif.

Will there be any movement within the College Football Playoff poll?

When it comes to tonight’s poll, not much, if any, of note. Few games registered on the national radar last week, and none resulted in top-10 upsets.

One development affects it looking forward, though. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier underwent finger surgery Sunday and will not lead the Mountaineers against Oklahoma as a result (3:45 p.m. ET; ESPN). If West Virginia ever stood a chance at the upset — and greatly helping any Irish dreams of still reaching the Playoff — it was likely going to need an otherworldly performance from Grier.

With a win this weekend, the Sooners would all but assure themselves priority over Notre Dame, even if Oklahoma loses to TCU in the Big 12 championship.

Will Miami finish the regular season undefeated?
Similarly, a win this weekend should lock the Hurricanes ahead of the Irish no matter next week’s results. Miami heads to Pittsburgh (12 p.m. ET on Friday; ABC), but that should not be seen as the sure thing instinct might imply it is. A mere 54 weeks ago, a middling Panthers team upset the No. 3 team in the country, stopping Clemson’s pursuit of a perfect slate.

Can Georgia survive Georgia Tech’s option?
Again, a Bulldogs win (12 p.m. ET, ABC) should secure them a nice spot in any chaos-filled future pecking order. However, that will not be an easy task. Paul Johnson will be sure of that.

Can North Carolina State hit the over?
This may not be as consequential, but before the season, this space predicted the Wolfpack would exceed 7.5 wins this regular season, and a win over North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET; ESPNU) is needed for that cause.

Lastly, remember folks, you won’t nod off late Thursday afternoon because turkey has an excess of tryptophan. Chicken actually has more per ounce. Rather, you simply ate too much of the fowl.

Monday’s Leftovers: Notre Dame on the precipice of a rare three-year stretch

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Thanks to its win Saturday over Navy, Notre Dame will have two chances to reach double digit victories this season. As Irish coach Brian Kelly pointed out after the 24-17 victory, reaching that mark for the second time in three years is not a common occurrence at Notre Dame. The last time the Irish achieved such success was at the peak of Lou Holtz’s career, never falling below 10 wins from 1988 to 1993.

“There’s a lot to play for, for these guys,” Kelly said. “[The seniors] have done an incredible job of leading us back to where we should be.”

If — and that two-letter word still looms large over this possibility — Notre Dame reaches 10 wins this season, it will actually be only the third time in program history to meet that mark twice in three seasons. Even though the Irish have played at least 11 games every season since 1969, only Holtz’s stretch and the 1973-74 seasons under Ara Parseghian qualify. (One exception: Notre Dame declined a bowl game in 1971 after finishing 8-2.)

While the 4-8 debacle in 2016 mitigates some of the luster of this distinction, realizing how infrequent such consistency is also underscores some of the outlier nature of last season.

Other coaches make inexplicable mistakes, too.

When the Midshipmen needed to gain five yards on their final drive, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo resorted to a halfback pass. To that point, his offense had converted four of five fourth-down attempts, falling barely a yard short on a fourth-and-five try on its first drive, stopped by Irish senior linebacker Greer Martini, naturally.

Since then, three consecutive conversions, including a 21-yard pass from quarterback Zach Abey. Yet, Niumatalolo opted for the trick play. It would have worked, too if Notre Dame senior defensive end Andrew Trumbetti had not set the edge, recognized the play and quickly closed on running back Darryl Bonner, forcing the flutter of a pass attempt.

“If we would have gotten the ball off, he was open,” Niumatalolo said. “We didn’t block. We missed the block on the edge. If we get the block on the edge, we had a shot.”

Missed block or not, a triple-option team should not revert to a halfback pass when in a do-or-die situation. Ride with the horse that brought you. Win or lose with your fastball. Insert a third cliché here.

They are clichés for a reason.

Keven Stepherson points to the name on the back of the jersey.

Watching a replay of sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson’s first touchdown Saturday, a 30-yarder to tie the game at 17, one cannot help but notice he exuberantly points to the nameplate above his number.

In this instance, that was not a selfish or self-promotional gesture. The “Rockne Heritage” uniforms all had ROCKNE across the back.

“He’s had many chances to fold under the scrutiny that he’s been under,” Kelly said of Stepherson. “But he’s persevered and Notre Dame’s been great for him.”

Now, about traveling to Stanford …

The last time Notre Dame won at Palo Alto was a full decade ago, prevailing 21-14 in 2007.

With a loss to the Irish but perhaps a bowl win, the Cardinal should finish the season in the top 25. The last time Notre Dame went on the road and beat such a team was five full years ago, topping Oklahoma.

That can be a somewhat misleading fact, though. Those opportunities are not very common, partly because the Irish play only five true road games a season and partly because the opponent needs to be good enough to stay in the rankings despite a loss, an inherently detrimental result when it comes to rankings. Since Norman, Notre Dame has played only seven such games, including this year’s loss at Miami. (That does not include winning at Michigan State this year, as it is no sure thing the Spartans will finish the season ranked, whereas such can be readily presumed with the Hurricanes.)

Whether he returns for his senior season or not, Josh Adams has made his mark on Notre Dame’s record books. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Josh Adams now has more than 3,000 career rushing yards.

The numbers can speak for themselves. With 106 yards on 18 carries this weekend, the junior running back now has 3,105 career yards, good for No. 5 all-time at Notre Dame. Darius Walker (2004-06) sits 144 yards ahead of him.

Adams has 1,337 yards this season, exactly 100 fewer than the all-time Irish mark set by Vagas Ferguson in 1979.