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Leftovers & Links: Finally, Notre Dame’s schedule picks up pace

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Can No. 7 Notre Dame’s season finally get started? Sure, the Irish are 1-0 after a 35-17 Labor Day victory at Louisville, but it hardly feels like it. The last time Notre Dame waited until Sept. 14 or later for its second scheduled game of the year was all the way back in Lou Holtz’s final season.

The then-No. 6 Irish won at Vanderbilt on Sept. 5, 1996, before hosting Purdue on Sept. 14, winning 35-0, a game memorably opened by Allen Rossum returning the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.

A point of clarification: Notre Dame did not play its second game of 2001, Bob Davie’s final season, until Sept. 22 after all of college football postponed a week of games following the 9/11 attacks. The Irish were scheduled to play Purdue on Sept. 15, instead winning 28-14 at West Lafayette on Dec. 1.

The last time Notre Dame waited until Sept. 14 or later for its first home game of the year was 2005, making fans wait for Charlie Weis’ debut. Victorious trips to No. 23 Pittsburgh and No. 3 Michigan preceded a 44-41 overtime home loss to Michigan State on Sept. 17.

The difference between all those seasons and this one? There was at least some intrigue in early September. The 1996 trip to Vanderbilt bore a bit of historical significance.

Davie’s final Irish stand started with a trip to No. 5 Nebraska (a 27-10 loss). Weis’ first season was, obviously, his return to his alma mater and the supposed fix to an ailing program, not to mention two ranked opponents awaited his initial efforts.

Comparatively, beginning with a dismal Louisville team and then welcoming the miseries of the FBS dredges known as New Mexico has left this September rather lackluster. In most ways, it does not feel as if Notre Dame’s season has begun, but finally, a genuine game week has arrived.

Even if it is a game that should be far from competitive.

Of course, only so much should be presumed from expected blowouts. Now-No. 10 Michigan was anticipating one this weekend but instead needed overtime to slip past Army. That near-loss dropped the Wolverines three spots in the polls, from No. 7, more of a punishment than Oklahoma received when the Sooners also needed overtime to put away the Black Knights last season (a one-spot drop).

Michigan’s offense has yet to find the rhythm expected all summer under first-time offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. The Athletic’s Nick Baumgardner took a look at that ineffectiveness and arguable lack of identity:

“Saturday’s sweat-soaked, clenched-fist experience in Ann Arbor no doubt offered further proof in two areas: When you schedule a service academy and happen to draw said academy in the midst of a 10-game win streak, you’re probably going to spend (at least) 60 uncomfortable minutes that feel like an eternity. And two, Michigan’s new offensive identity — and operation — is still knee-deep in the growth process.”

That offensive identity was supposed to feature skill players in space, particularly the Wolverines receivers. Instead, Tarik Black has seven catches for 104 yards, Ronnie Bell has nine for 99 and Nico Collins has five for 81. Donovan Peoples-Jones has yet to play due to injury, further stymying the theoretical growth process. 

Former Irish assistant Chuck Martin can only hope for such a moral victory as Army earned Saturday. The Miami (OH) head coach is facing yet another uphill climb, currently 1-1 and about to head to Cincinnati and then No. 6 Ohio State. After that, the RedHawks host Buffalo, take a week off and head to Western Michigan. It is utterly feasible Miami finds itself 1-5 or, optimistically, 2-4.

Such would fit a pattern for Martin. Last year, the RedHawks opened 1-4 before finishing 6-6. In 2017, a 2-5 start led to a 5-7 season. 2016 began 0-6 before a memorable six-game winning streak.

Martin will need to pull another rabbit out of the hat to establish any long-term momentum. He has raised Miami from laughing-stock status, but these atrocious Septembers are costing him from any further progress.

Feel free to help counter the slow start to Notre Dame’s schedules with your comments and questions sent to insidetheirish@gmail.com

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