WHO? No. 15 Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Iowa State (7-5).
WHAT? A chance at a program record-tying 33rd win across three seasons, a chance for Irish head coach Brian Kelly to reach 5-4 in bowl games during his decade at Notre Dame, and mostly a chance for the Irish to continue this stretch on a positive note rather than let questions overcome sustained success.
Those questions reached a peak this week when Kelly outright acknowledged lackluster practice performances when Notre Dame first arrived in Orlando. By Thursday, though, he had begun to change his tune, perhaps hesitantly.
“They are preparing well, but these next 48 hours are crucial now as they begin their mental preparation and getting ready for a really good football team in Iowa State,” Kelly said. “I thought [Wednesday’s] practice was what it needed to be. Today their attention has got to be even better as we get closer to game day.”
Bowl season is as often about mental approach as it is about talent differential. Exhibit A: SMU against FAU last week. Exhibit B: Miami’s egg laid Thursday against Louisiana Tech.
During the regular season, a bad week of practice may be concerning, but kickoff’s adrenaline typically wipes away those worries. Bowl games do not universally bring that salve, hence the fretting.
WHEN? 12:00 ET, an appetizer to the College Football Playoff.
WHERE? Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla., where the Irish have played twice during Kelly’s tenure, though the first time when it was named the Florida Citrus Bowl. That was in 2011, when Notre Dame fell to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl, now known as this game. Then in 2017, the Irish topped LSU in this venue.
ABC has the broadcast, which should also be available via all ESPN platforms.
WHY? Why play any bowl game? If nothing else, it creates a narrative for the next eight months.
More than that, bowl games represent a carrot for teams with losses during the latter half of the regular season. The week onsite is reward for giving up most of spring break, much of the summer, all of the fall break and even missing Christmas at home.
Thus, Kelly has long given his team a night off once reaching the bowl destination.
“It’s been my way of organizing our bowl trips, give them that — bowl trips, not Playoffs, that was different,” Kelly said. “In bowl game operations, we have given them that first night to go out and be college kids.”
BY HOW MUCH? Half of Iowa State’s games came down to one possession, winning three of those six. Expectations for this afternoon suggest more of the same. Notre Dame is favored by 3.5 points with a combined point total over/under of 53.5 indicating the Irish should win 28-25.
If that is the case, count Kelly among those hoping Notre Dame has the ball in the final minutes, rather than the Cyclones.
“The one thing that stands out for me is (Iowa State sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy is) a great competitor,” Kelly said this week. “You don’t want the ball in his hands with a couple minutes left. He finds ways to make plays.”
Stopping Purdy will be the focus of Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea. In his two years as coordinator — and even three, including the first year of this current scheme, brought by Mike Elko in 2017 — Lea’s defense has not been genuinely exposed. That consistency has been the backbone of this 32-6 run, keeping Notre Dame in the mix against any opponent as long as the Irish offense showed up at some point.
That consistency should be how the Irish overcome the central Florida malaise. A worthwhile defense sets up a baseline for performance against any but the best opponents, and as good as the Cyclones are, they are not among the best opponents.
If Notre Dame can lean on its defense for the first half, Irish quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees should be able to call enough successful plays in the second half to end the season on a positive note and better his already good chances of being named offensive coordinator.
Notre Dame 31, Iowa State 23.
(11-1 in pick; 6-6 against the spread, 5-7 point total.)
"I think great quarterbacks own the offense, and that's what I've seen from him." – Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell on #NotreDame QB Ian Book.
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) December 27, 2019
INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
— Notre Dame’s 2021 recruiting already off to a fast start
— And In That Corner … The Iowa State Cyclones
— Things To Learn: Camping World Bowl rewards Notre Dame’s past while looking toward its future
— Camping World Bowl (@CWBowl) December 27, 2019
— Ian Book a ‘really good challenge’ for Cyclones
— What it’s like to be overlooked in the early signing period and the best player remaining afterward ($)
— Here’s why this season’s College Football Playoff schedule is so messed up
— PFF 2020 NFL Mock Draft
— The story of Notre Dame icon Rudy Ruettiger? It’s almost too good to be true
Santa had two last presents to deliver on Christmas Day …
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) December 25, 2019