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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Upcoming spreads, some predictions

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Strength of schedule is not the make-or-break metric it was during the BCS era, but it still remains a vital part of any team’s College Football Playoff résumé. More pertinently, keeping an eye on Notre Dame’s opponents can shed a light on the contests to come.

All but one of the Irish foes will play this weekend, the exception being Stanford in its return from a 62-7 victory in Australia this past Saturday. Of those 11 teams, 10 are favored. To be more precise, eight are favored and two are in such mismatches, there is no spread for the contests.

To be clear, in discussing these games with spreads and over/under totals, the intent is not to encourage vice or virtue. Rather, these metrics are intended as a valuation tool, helping to indicate whether a team met, exceeded or fell short of expectations on a given weekend.

If anyone has incentive to gauge the games correctly ahead of time, it would be oddsmakers. Their jobs hinge on a more exact definition of being right than nearly any other profession.

Any observations along with the lines recorded here are mere hunches meant to establish bragging rights next week if they are luckily correct now. Let’s place an emphasis on luckily.

In future weeks, this listing will also include a look at how teams fared in the past weekend.

(All games are Saturday unless indicated otherwise.)

Temple: at Notre Dame, obviously, at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The Owls are 18-point underdogs with an over/under total of 53.5 points. As stated yesterday, some quick math with rounding establishes a theoretical final score of Irish 36, Temple 18.

Georgia senior running back Sony Michel will look to pick up where he left off last season, when he finished with 840 rushing yards and four touchdowns on only 152 carries. (Getty Images)

Georgia: vs. Appalachian State at 6:15 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Bulldogs are only 14-point favorites with an over/under total of 45.5 points, making for a theoretical final of 30-16. Despite the Mountaineers dark-horse Group of Five potential, that two-touchdown spread feels a bit slimmer than it should be.

Boston College: at Northern Illinois at 9:30 p.m. ET on Friday on CBSSN. The Eagles are 3.5-point favorites with an over/under total of 51 points. A 28-24 final feels appropriate by margin, but perhaps a bit more high-scoring than the eventuality.

Michigan State: vs. Bowling Green at noon ET on ESPNU. Oddsmakers project the Spartans to win by at least 17 with an over/under total of 56.5 points. Coach Mark Dantonio would certainly take a 37-20 win to start forgetting about last year’s 3-9 record.

Miami (OH): at Marshall at 6:30 p.m. ET. The only underdog this week of Notre Dame’s 2017 opponents, the RedHawks travel to Huntington, W. Va., looking to overcome a one-point spread. It should be noted: Home-field advantage is traditionally considered to be worth three points. With an over/under total of 50.5 points, the theoretical final score would be 26-25. Former Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin undoubtedly relishes being able to remind his team of their doubted status to open this season after closing last year so strongly.

North Carolina: vs. Cal at 12:20 p.m. ET on ACC Network. The Tar Heels are 11-point favorites with an over/under total of 55, making for a logical conclusion of 33-22. Obviously, these hypothetical, theoretical, logical final scores are based purely on the numbers. Landing on 33 in football would be a unique endeavor. Then again, perhaps North Carolina will score three touchdowns and kick four field goals.

USC junior quarterback Sam Darnold will lead the Trojans against Western Michigan to kick off their season. (Getty Images)

USC: vs. a P.J. Fleck-less Western Michigan at 5:15 p.m. ET on the Pac-12 Network. The Trojans are 27.5-point favorites over the Broncos with an over/under total of only 58.5. The conclusion of 43-16 seems like a low point total for the victor.

North Carolina State: vs. South Carolina at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN. In one of the weekend’s marquee games, the Wolfpack claims a 4.5-point spread in its favor. The 52.5 over/under point total points to a 29-24 result.

Wake Forest: vs. Football Championship Subdivision Presbyterian at 6:30 p.m. ET on ACC Network. Typically, FBS vs. FCS games will not include spreads.

Miami (FL): vs. FCS Bethune-Cookman at 12:30 p.m. ET on ACC Network. In a season with Playoff aspirations, one wonders if Mark Richt wishes his Hurricanes were not opening with an FBS opponent.

Navy: at Florida Atlantic at 9 p.m. ET on Friday on ESPN. The Midshipmen go on the road favored by 10 points with an over/under point total of 68.5 points. A 39-29 final would likely include at least five Navy rushing touchdowns, and maybe four successful two-point conversions.

Stanford sophomore quarterback KJ Costello rushed for the final touchdown in the Cardinal‘s blowout win this past weekend. (Getty Images)

Stanford: The Cardinal beat Rice 62-7 in a game that was nowhere near so close on Saturday. The question must be asked: If a backup Stanford quarterback scores a touchdown late in the fourth quarter of a blowout but no one sees because the world is watching a boxing match, does the tree make a sound?

Questions for the Week: Eligibility, eligibility and who will Temple start at QB?

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With the weekend in the past, consider this an attempt to set the stage for the coming week. Primarily, what questions should be answered (hopefully, possibly, maybe) before kickoff Saturday. In some cases, perhaps these will be more conversational topics than questions, hinting at mid-week pieces to come. Ponder them today with your second (or third, if it was a particularly long weekend) cup of coffee.

Will sophomore safety and Navy transfer Alohi Gilman be eligible for this season?
Given the nature of the NCAA and the varied, multi-interest parties it must navigate, some delay in rulings should usually be expected, if not even understood. This instance, however, has reached a point of nonsense. To be more precise, it reached that point no less than a week ago.

The decision regarding Gilman’s eligibility is a time-sensitive one, and that time has come. It is not an item requiring witnesses, investigation or any other form of legwork. A conversation with the Naval Academy, a conversation with Notre Dame and a conversation with Gilman should provide plenty of information for this ruling.

Whether Gilman is eligible or not, one would hope the NCAA could make that known before the season opener.

Is Kevin Stepherson eligible by the common usage of the term?
In his Thursday press conference, Irish coach Brian Kelly tiptoed his way around any Stepherson questions.

“The clearest picture that I can give you is the consistent message I’ve been giving everyone: We’re not going to put you in a competitive situation or on the field based on your talent,” Kelly said when asked specifically about the sophomore receiver. “You’ve got to exhibit the traits that we’re developing in our players. Those traits are coming along. He’s making progress. His attention to detail, his focus. All of the traits that we require all of our players to have, he’s working on and he’s getting better. When he exhibits all those traits, he’ll play.”

Kelly was then asked if Stepherson is eligible.

“All of our players are eligible to play under those circumstances,” Kelly said.

To most, that would mean Stepherson is not prohibited from seeing the field. His 25 catches for 462 yards and five scores as a freshman certainly indicate he is physically ready. Reading between the lines, it could simply mean Stepherson is not precluded from playing by any academic issues, a common concern at the start/end of a semester. Seeking even further clarity, Kelly was asked if Stepherson has been suspended.

“I can neither confirm nor deny.”

That sure sounds like a confirmation.

Stepherson may be both eligible and suspended, technically speaking. The certain uncertainty of this situation has grown tiresome. (more…)

Monday Morning Leftovers: Stanford, USC QB Darnold & Notre Dame’s spread

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The calendar does not yet read September, and it won’t until Friday, but it may as well — it is football season. So let’s dispense with a few remaining thoughts from the weekend, football and miscellaneous, as a soft-entry into a full week.

— This will be mentioned at least once more this week, but Stanford certainly took care of business in the Australian-opener against Rice. Sure, the Owls may not be the stiffest competition, but establishing a 55-0 lead against anyone is impressive unless it is against the Higher Kentucky Institute for Those Preferring Baseball.

Junior running back Bryce Love’s 180 rushing yards were impressive, but not as impressive as his 13.8 yards per carry. From the outset, Love made it clear who the Cardinal will lean on this year, taking the first play from scrimmage for 62 yards. If committing the questionable-at-best statistical maneuver of removing both Love’s longest rush (that 62-yarder) and his shortest, a loss of three yards, then he still averaged 11 yards per carry.

— Speaking of things that will be mentioned multiple times this week, how about multiple times in today’s opening four paragraphs? It is officially game week. You made it. Congratulations.

This weekly piece should be more football-centric in the months to come.

ESPN The Magazine features USC junior quarterback Sam Darnold in its college football preview issue this week. Despite the initial appearance, it is actually a quick read. In 15 minutes from 30,000 feet, one assessment stood out:

“He’s the best college quarterback I’ve seen at anticipating since Andrew Luck,” says Stanford’s David Shaw, who coached Luck in college and isn’t prone to hyperbole. “When you evaluate quarterbacks who can play at the next level, you’re looking for guys who can see a play before it happens and get the ball out of their hands quick. He’s the best I’ve seen in years.”

This reader also enjoyed the line, both in and separate from its context, regarding the teaching effects of an ocean’s waves: “The secret lies in figuring out how to improvise when you’ve got water up your nose.”

— Very simply, this scribe does not think Irish coach Brian Kelly will be fired this season, and this bit is not meant to spark litigation of that. The week of the season opener is literally the most-pointless time to have that conversation. But I did make a mental note of this from the Associated Press’ Ralph Russo:

Joe Moorhead is entering his second season as offensive coordinator at Penn State following a four-year stint as head coach at Fordham where he put together a 38-13 overall record. That would be quite a rapid rise for the former Munich Cowboys quarterback.

— Notre Dame remains one of the 10 programs in the country with at least 50 percent of its roster being four- and five-star recruits. This year, only 10 teams can claim that, with the Irish being the 10th. While this is not meant to say Notre Dame is a national title contender, it is meant to say a short list of title contenders should come from among those 10, with the other nine being, in order from greatest percentage to least, Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Florida State, Georgia, USC, Michigan, Auburn and Clemson.

Per the analysis of Bud Elliott of SBNation, the 2017 Irish roster is 56 percent blue-chippers, the first time it has fallen below 60 percent in five years.

Mike Lee in a 2016 victory. (Getty Images)

— Though I have read quite a few biographies on Muhammad Ali —  I recommend David Remnick’s “King of the World” for a look at the beginning of Cassius Clay’s/Ali’s career and Mark Kram’s “Ghosts of Manila” for a look at the end —  I am far from a boxing expert, so I will refrain from any Saturday night-specific commentary.

A conversation earlier in the day did remind me of a long-ago column on the dichotomy between two fights on one Sept. 2011 night. The bigger fight was won by none other than Floyd Mayweather. The lesser-known went to Notre Dame alum Mike Lee. Lee now boasts a 19-0 record and claims the IBF-USBA Light Heavyweight championship belt.

The point in the column that still rings true with me today: Try explaining the concept of boxing to a four-year-old. Most conversations with my niece entail more refrains of “Why?” than my patience can tolerate. Discussing boxing brought forth the penultimate letter of the alphabet more frequently than Big Bird would on an episode of “Sesame Street sponsored by the letter ‘Y.’”

It is nearly, if not outright, impossible to logically explain why two men are paid to punch each other in the face.

— Do not get me wrong, I watched Saturday’s fight via the wonders of 2017’s technology despite being in a cabin in the hills of Tennessee lacking both internet and television while not waking the three others snoring in the room.

This link to donate to aid for Hurricane Harvey victims is included for two reasons:

1) If I post this publicly, I will feel like a hypocrite if I do not donate, and thus I force myself to contribute whether I would otherwise or not.

2) If this link gets so much as one of you to donate, then it has earned this space and much more.

Help people affected by Hurricane Harvey. Donate now.

— Notre Dame is currently an 18-point favorite over Temple this weekend with an over/under of 53.5 points. Some quick math with rounding indicates a theoretical final score of Irish 36, Owls 18.

Notre Dame’s Opponents: Stanford

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Modern medicine may be the key to Stanford’s 2017 season, and modern travel will allow the Cardinal a unique chance to test modern medicine’s effect on its starting quarterback’s ACL in opening the season tonight against Rice in Sydney, Australia. (10 p.m. ET, ESPN.)

2016 REVIEW
In retrospect, Stanford’s “down” 2016 was actually a solid season. Such is the standard the Cardinal have set by now. Outside of one nine-day stretch, Stanford only fell in a fluke-filled 10-5 loss to Colorado. Yes, that score was 10-5. On top of that, the Buffaloes missed three field goals and had a touchdown called back.

The nine-day span covered a trip to Washington and a date hosting Washington State. The Cardinal secondary was battling injuries at that point, and it showed, losing the two games by a combined score of 86-22.

That was it, though. Stanford finished 10-3 in a disappointing season, ending it with a 25-23 victory over North Carolina in the Sun Bowl and highlighting it with a 27-10 win vs. USC in the season’s third week.

For that matter, Stanford was hardly tested in any other games. Aside from the bowl game triumph and the drop to Colorado, the Cardinal partook in only one other one-possession game, the 17-10 victory at Notre Dame.

WHAT STANFORD LOST
Few teams in the country lost as much talent as Stanford did this offseason. The same can be said for how many teams lost as few players as the Cardinal did. While those two sentiments may seem contradictory, they stand true when the three departed players of note include two top-10 NFL Draft picks and the defense’s second-leading tackler.

Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas went No. 3 overall after leading Stanford with 62 tackles, eight sacks, seven more tackles for loss and seven additional quarterback hurries. One tackle behind him, safety Dallas Lloyd also contributed five interceptions last year.

Running back Christian McCaffrey went No. 8 in the draft. Suffice it to say, he drove Stanford’s offense the last couple seasons. In 2016, McCaffrey totaled 2,327 total yards, led by 1,603 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry. He added 310 receiving yards and three scores, plus 414 return yards.

WHAT STANFORD GAINED
Stanford signed a seemingly-intentionally small recruiting class in February, pulling in only 14 prospects, but those baker’s dozen-plus one were touted enough to warrant the No. 19 ranking, per rivals.com.

Three of the recruits were five-stars, yet none of those three are likely to see playing time this year. Quarterback Davis Mills joins an already-crowded position group, and the two offensive linemen Walker Little and Foster Sarell will not be forced into action right away.

The younger brother of Irish junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, four-star receiver Osiris St. Brown could become part of the Stanford offense.

HEAD COACH
David Shaw enters his seventh season leading the Cardinal. Stanford has not missed a step since Jim Harbaugh handed off the program to Shaw, winning 64 games across the last six years, making three Rose Bowls and winning two.

OFFENSIVE SUMMARY
Stanford will trot out junior Keller Chryst at quarterback tonight, fewer than nine full months since tearing his ACL in the Sun Bowl victory. There was a time not long ago such a quick recovery would have defied any version of medical logic, but it is becoming increasingly common, though still not necessarily normal.

Keller Chryst (Getty Images)

Chryst took over at quarterback following the Colorado loss last season, leading the way through the year’s last six games. He had a 56.6 percent completion rate while throwing 10 touchdowns against only two interceptions.

He took over for now-senior Ryan Burns, also still around. If Chryst struggles — for rust reasons or otherwise — it will be either Burns or sophomore KJ Costello who steps in. Based on spring reviews, perhaps Costello has the pole position as backup.

Extracting Chryst’s five healthy and started games shows some distinct offensive trends, but they deserve some qualifiers: Those five games also coincided with McCaffrey at his best last season, and while the opponents were solid, they were not the same fare as Washington, USC or Washington State.

In that stretch, Stanford averaged 39.6 points and 479 yards per game. In the other eight games last season, the Cardinal struggled to 18 points and 297.1 yards per contest. Clearly, Chryst made a difference.

Bryce Love (Getty Images)

Losing McCaffrey would set back any offense. Stanford will attempt to recover with junior running back Bryce Love getting those opportunities. Considering who he had in front of him the last two seasons, it is impressive Love managed 476 total yards as a freshman and 866 last year, with 783 yards and three touchdowns coming on the ground with a 7.1 yards per carry average. He gashed the Notre Dame defense for 129 yards.

If Stanford’s offensive line lives up to expectations and gives Chryst time, he will likely target a receiver more than anyone was picked out last year. Again, the equal distribution may have been a side effect of trotting out McCaffrey. Both junior Trenton Irwin and sophomore JJ Arrega-Whiteside return. The two leading receivers combined for 61 catches, 821 yards and six touchdowns last year. Junior tight end and former Irish recruiting target Dalton Schultz should emerge, as well.

DEFENSIVE SUMMARY
Losing Thomas cannot escape notice, but Stanford returns four linebackers who started all 13 games last season, providing a new focal point for its 3-4 base defense. There are even enough proven commodities at linebacker, the Cardinal often could and will reasonably shift to a 2-5 look, allowing junior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips to stuff the middle. Phillips notched the fifth-most tackles on the Stanford defense last season with 46 and 6.5 sacks.

Harrison Phillips (Getty Images)

The Cardinal return its entire secondary aside from Lloyd, offering more margin for error without Thomas wreaking havoc in the opposition’s backfield.

SEASON OUTLOOK
The 2016 season-long average of 26.3 points scored per game was the lowest of Shaw’s tenure as head coach. The same goes for the average of 367 yards per game.

The point is, Stanford’s defense held its own last season, and can presumably be expected to do so again this year. If Chryst’s five-game stretch of success was more than an anomaly of a small sample size, then the Cardinal should easily cruise past an over/under win total of 8.5 (sometimes seen at nine).

The greatest litmus test for that will likely come in a reminiscent six-day stretch in early November. This year, Stanford will travel to Washington State before hosting Washington less than a week later. Those results could very well determine the Pac-12 North Division, otherwise known as the “Who will face USC in the Pac-12 title game?” sweepstakes.

Monday, the 14th: Temple
Tuesday, the 15th: Georgia
Wednesday, the 16th: Boston College
Thursday, the 17th: Michigan State
Friday, the 18th: Miami (OH)
Saturday, the 19th: North Carolina
Monday: USC
Tuesday: North Carolina State
Wednesday: Wake Forest
Thursday: Miami (FL)
Yesterday: Navy

‘Twas the Night Before Football …

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‘Twas the night before football, when all through the land
Not a fan was stirring, not even Stanford’s band;
The wings were marinated with utmost care,
In hopes that St. Alcohol soon would be there;

The freshmen were not all snuggled in their beds,
Boasts of touchdowns and glory filled their dates’ heads;
And coaches in their offices, Butch Jones hit play,
Ready to watch Chubbs, Michel and UGA,

When out on the field there arose such a clatter,
All sprang from their drinks to see what was the matter.
Away to the fifty we flew like a flash,
Opened the gates, waited for the coming bash.

The white of the sidelines like new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of primetime to footballs below,
When, what to these sleep-deprived eyes should appear,
But an overseas Owl, and Rams versus Beavers,

With a Strong Florida Bull, landed on his feet,
I knew finally the offseason complete.
More rapid than Rainbows the highlights bring fame,
SVP whistles and shouts and calls them by name;

“Now, Da’SHAWN! now, DEONDRE! now, PETTWAY and JACKSON!
On, BARRETT! on BARKLEY! on, DARNOLD and BRANDON!
To the thirty, the twenty, the ten, the end zone!
Dash away! dash away to the stiff-armed throne!”

As dry rub that meets a charcoal grill’s flame will cook,
When these stars meet a defender, leave their playbook,
So up to the billboards these players will fly,
With a sleigh full of awards, but not the Ray Guy.

Then, in a quarter, a new star emerging
The leaping, bounding of a stalwart’s surging.
As I would place my bet, I cannot hit confirm,
Until this new cover darling earns his star turn.

He may be dressed in crimson, in scarlet, in maize,
His pants will be tarnished, the effects of his plays;
A series of downs he had taken over,
And he looked like a pro, above all heads and shoulders.

His eyes — how we will swoon! his smile will be charming!
His arm like a canon, or his legs churning!
His clutch play was classic spring practice fodder,
And now it is quite clear, he is no mere plodder;

This season-definer may be Down Under,
We won’t know ‘til well into October’s plunder;
He may be a quick back or lanky receiver,
That blazes when faced with a defense over-eager.

He’s not chubby or plumb, not Attila-the-Hun,
We’ll call him amateur, like it’s two thousand one;
A wink of our eyes and a check to Comcast,
All we want is to outdo rivals, outlast;

Our star won’t speak a word outside the huddle,
He’ll fill all the reels; leave his foes in puddles,
Wait every Tuesday, who the Committee chose,
Like the Bachelor with his Sugar, a Rose;

Fall has arrived, the season now closer than near,
Each team a winner, every fan a fortune-seer.
Now is the time to exclaim, before the star’s fame,
HAPPY FOOTBALL TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-GAME!