WHO? No. 8 Notre Dame (4-0) vs. No. 7 Stanford (4-0).
WHAT? Consider this a College Football Playoff elimination game. Outside factors contribute to that concept, but it has become a reality, nonetheless. The Pac-12 did not hold up in non-conference play (see: Auburn 21, Washington 16; Texas 37, USC 14; San Diego St. 28, Arizona St. 21; Houston 45, Arizona 18; everything UCLA has done this year), meaning a one-loss conference champion would not compare favorably to the contenders from the rest of the country.
Similarly, the Irish schedule no longer has much in the way of résumé-builders on it outside of this weekend. Thus, losing this top-10 matchup would deprive Notre Dame of a win worthy of stacking up against other Playoff hopefuls’.
WHEN? 7:30 p.m. ET, but as is always the case when there is a pregame flyover, if attending the game in-person, it may be worthwhile to curtail your tailgate early enough to catch the four U.S. Navy F/A-18s.
WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., where it is most certainly fall. Game time temperatures will be in the mid-50s without the sun to keep anyone in the stands warm, as it is projected to set at exactly 7:30.
NBC will have the national broadcast, with the game streaming online here.
As always, NBC Sports Gold is available to international fans.
WHY? This is a series many Irish fans lament every so often, wondering why it is on the schedule. It should be viewed as a good thing this year. Without the Cardinal, Notre Dame could end the year with only one top-25 opponent, Michigan from the opener. More than that is needed to argue for any considerations at the end of the season, be they for a Playoff spot or simply an appearance in a playoff-access bowl.
Aside from Stanford, only Syracuse and Virginia Tech are even in the “others receiving votes” categories of the major polls, and both could plummet out of sight after this weekend as two road underdogs in ACC matchups.
Not only have the Irish lost the last three games against the Cardinal, despite holding second-half leads in all three, but they are only 2-7 in the last nine and 2-6 under head coach Brian Kelly.
The good news for Notre Dame fans? Both of those recent victories came at home.
The good news for college football fans? Both of those were close games with the winning scores coming in overtime (2012) and with 1:01 left (2014).
BY HOW MUCH?
After opening at 3.5 points in Notre Dame’s favor, this spread consistently ticked upward early in the week, reaching and holding at 5.5 points. The combined point total over/under, however, spiked as high as 54 points following the 56-point Irish explosion at Wake Forest and Stanford’s lucking into 38 points at Oregon.
That total finally dropped to 52 late Thursday and Friday. It was long expected, and falling even before kickoff further would not be a shock.
Why would it fall further? Both defenses have played well this season, very well. Notre Dame’s tends to buckle down in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on only six of 14 red zone trips. Stanford, meanwhile, relies on a +6 turnover margin with five interceptions.
Here is where the change in Irish quarterback to junior Ian Book from senior Brandon Wimbush gets interesting. Despite his accuracy issues, Wimbush had been statistically safe with the football, even with his three-interception performance against Ball State earlier this month. Including that anomaly, Wimbush has averaged an interception once every 35.1 pass attempts in his career. Book’s average currently sits at one pick per 28 attempts, which exactly matches the Cardinal defense’s rate this season.
Book’s career figure was buoyed last week at Wake Forest. The Deacons have intercepted all of one of 149 passes this season. They are, how to put this gently, not good. Book has assuredly improved upon last year’s rate of an interception every 18.75 passes (4 in 75 total), but he should not be expected to replicate last week’s clean sheet.
Differing to the Cardinal defense and expecting more fourth-quarter highlights …
Stanford 27, Notre Dame 24.
(4-0 in pick; 1-3 against the spread, 3-1 point total.)
INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
— Notre Dame’s three phrases ‘feeding off each other’ for the first time
— Two frequent questions (hopefully) no longer need to be asked
— Notre Dame’s Opponents: Mounting losses in games, personnel
— Stanford’s offense could extend Notre Dame’s three-game Cardinal losing streak
— More and more Notre Dame playmakers available for Book
— And In That Corner … The No. 7 Stanford Cardinal and a top-10 matchup
— Things To Learn: Can Notre Dame win an efficiency battle against Stanford’s lofty passing attack?
— Brian Kelly’s QB change all risk, all reward
— REPORT: Notre Dame will be without Jafar Armstrong against Stanford
— Ian Book’s breakout game for Notre Dame came as no surprise back home in California
— Stanford’s unknown difference-maker ($)
— All in the family for Ruhland, Irish roommates
— Syracuse’s starting TE out indefinitely due to injury
— USC’s defense still looking for first interception