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No. 9 Notre Dame vs. Bowling Green: Who, what, when, where, very much why and by that much?

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WHO? No. 9 Notre Dame (3-1) vs. Bowling Green (1-3).

WHAT? Something of an informal off week for the Irish, even if they have to go through the motions of playing 60 minutes this afternoon. If that sounds dismissive, keep reading.

WHEN? 3:30 p.m. ET, with kickoff coming 11 minutes later following a flyover from four Air Force F-16s.

By the way, to those who read this exact spot a week ago, a follow-up: Corey does not read these parts, at least not on Saturday mornings, and is thus still reliant on an early afternoon text letting him know exactly when kickoff will be and thus establishing a deadline for his lawn mowing duties’ completion. For the record: It is not a large yard and it has only a slight hill.

WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.

NBC will have the national broadcast, with the game streaming online and via the NBC Sports app.

As always, NBC Sports Gold is available to international fans.

WHY? The most casual of football fans texted an inquiry Friday afternoon. It stood out not only because of her informal following of the sport and the Irish, but also because aside from crossing paths at a June wedding, we have not spoken much in a few years. Reaching out, all on its own, implied some urgency to the question.

The urgency was a hedged criticism of Notre Dame.

“Why is ND playing 2 really bad teams? (NM and Bowling Green)? Seems weird that they’re playing two bad ones. Usually it’s just like 1, right? I’m just wondering since ND always gets the bad rep that ‘they had an easy schedule. They play nobody.’ And I kinda feel like this year they are right.”

First off, yes, New Mexico and Bowling Green are special versions of terrible this year. There was no way to genuinely foresee that. The latter, in particular, has enjoyed enough success in recent years — launching Dave Clawson to Wake Forest and Dino Babers to Syracuse — that it was reasonable to think the Falcons may be outright good, at least relatively speaking. That is very much not the case.

Realizing that cannot be accurately forecast (and if you can, stop reading this and head to the desert immediately), let’s acknowledge New Mexico and Bowling Green are both Group of Five programs. Aside from the annual relationship with Navy, how often do the Irish face two such teams?

2017: Temple, Miami (OH)
2016: Nevada, Army
2015: UMass, Temple
2013: Temple, Air Force, BYU
2011: South Florida, Air Force
2010: Western Michigan, Tulsa, Army

In Brian Kelly’s 10 years at Notre Dame, this will make the seventh year of such, with two of those seasons including three teams. (Two of Charlie Weis’ five years fit these criteria, as well. It is not Kelly-specific.)

Why is it happening? Partly a result of the agreement to play five ACC teams a year, thus reducing the Irish inventory of dates to offer in a home-and-home situation, partly as a result of Notre Dame wanting to have seven home games (or six home games and one owned neutral site game) each season, again lessening that inventory, and partly because that is how things are in college football these days.

The Irish are not alone in playing these games. Look at the current top 10:

No. 1 Alabama: Already played New Mexico State and Southern Miss.; Will meet FCS-level Western Carolina.
No. 2 Clemson: Charlotte; FCS-level Wofford.
No. 3 Georgia: FCS-level Murray State, Arkansas St.
No. 4 Ohio State: Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, Miami (OH).
No. 5 LSU: Georgia Southern, FCS-level Northwestern State; Utah State.
No. 6 Oklahoma: Houston, FCS-level South Dakota State.
No. 7 Auburn: Tulane, Kent State; FCS-level Samford.
No. 8 Wisconsin: South Florida, Central Michigan.
No. 9 Notre Dame: New Mexico; Bowling Green, Navy.
No. 10 Florida: FCS-level Tennesee-Martin, FCS-level Towson.

Some of those games are tougher than others, but again, that is not the inherent piece to the scheduling. It is also not what gets the Irish the reputation of a weak schedule. That criticism ties to the heavyweight opponents having swooning seasons, a factor not helped by the ACC having only 1-2 worthwhile teams these days. When USC and Stanford both fall off in a year when Notre Dame’s ACC worries are Virginia, Virginia Tech and Duke, then suddenly those trips to Georgia and Michigan take on added import, the latter seemingly less so with each passing week.

BY HOW MUCH? To continue pulling material from texts during this slow week, Friday morning featured a frequent thorn in the side fretting, “Nothing terrifies me more about this weekend than every reasonable ND beat writer predicting a blowout.”

Understandable. Anyone who has followed the Irish the last 25 years is accustomed to inexplicable losses. Just a quick few that come to mind … Navy, Duke, Louisville, Northwestern, South Florida, Tulsa, Navy, Connecticut, Navy, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Air Force, Navy.

First of all, remove 2016 from the ledger (*insert dig at former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder here*) — actually, remove 2014-2016 from the ledger, in deference to VanGorder, and the last one of those losses was the twice-rain-delayed 2011 opener against South Florida. If the Irish get through this season without stubbing their toe, it will have been five non-VanGorder years since such a concern became reality.

Secondly, every one of those teams would have been favored by two touchdowns against Bowling Green, while this version of Notre Dame is favored by an absurd 46.5 points. Only one FBS vs. FBS spread has been larger this season, that aforementioned ‘Bama vs. New Mexico State rout.

If wanting statistical evidence of the gap between the Irish and the Falcons, at some point in today’s broadcast, likely early, a graphic will show where Bowling Green ranks in a variety of categories compared to the other 129 teams across the country. Every rank begins with a 1, as in it is triple digits. Suffice it to say, Notre Dame is not in those reaches in any notable category, let alone every one.

If wanting analytical proof, ESPN’s Bill Connelly and his SP+ is the standard-bearer in college football analytics, and it breaks teams into offensive and defensive rankings. Consider three teams:

Notre Dame: No. 22 overall, No. 24 offense, No. 32 defense.
New Mexico: No. 121 overall, No. 97 offense, No. 128 defense.
Bowling Green: No. 128 overall, No. 127 offense, No. 118 defense.

It is not that the Irish are thaät great — they are good, arguably very good. It is that the Falcons are thaät bad, in all facets of the game. While the Lobos could not stop Notre Dame, they could at least rattle off a few runs of their own to find the end zone. That should not be expected of Bowling Green.

If this game is to break the combined points total over/under of 63.5 (as of early Saturday a.m.), it will be entirely the doing of the Irish.

Which they may well do. A byproduct of the Falcons’ offense not being a threat is Notre Dame will have the ball more often and in better field position.

But let’s not predict a shutout. The Irish have not pulled off that feat since a certain goateed-individual was fist-pumping on the sidelines in a 31-0 win against Michigan in 2014.

Notre Dame 69, Bowling Green 3.
(4-0 in pick; 1-3 against the spread, 1-3 point total.)

INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
A perspective of Notre Dame’s passing struggles
No. 9 Notre Dame looks inward as it faces a familiar defensive scheme
Notre Dame’s Opponents: Michigan escapes its doldrums as ACC’s struggles deepen
And In That Corner … The Bowling Green Falcons and Notre Dame’s former defensive coordinator
Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s personnel choices more noteworthy than actual performance
Friday at 4: Overlooking Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s 9-year-old joy

OUTSIDE READING:
Campus safety deploys metal detectors to stadium gates
Air Force flyover details
College Football Week 5: 2020 NFL Draft Scouting Notes
Stanford QB K.J. Costello is ‘somewhere between questionable and doubtful’