Notre Dame’s Opponents: USC’s, Navy’s coaching changes show how rare Irish stability is

Stanford v USC
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Stability is often underrated. Notre Dame has not changed its head coach in a dozen seasons, and Jack Swarbrick has served as athletic director since 2008. It took some time, but that partnership eventually led to the current Irish resurgence in which Notre Dame has won at least 10 games in four straight seasons and five of the last six.

In that same timespan, USC has now fired three head coaches after cutting ties with Clay Helton on Monday and is on its fourth athletic director. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps a direct result of that turnover, the Trojans last won 10 or more games in 2017 and have four such seasons total since 2010, when Brian Kelly took over the Irish.

Stability can also be overrated. Navy’s athletic director Chet Gladchuk has held that position since 2001, and Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo first joined the staff in 2002, taking over as head coach in 2007. Ivin Jaspar’s Naval tenure is just as long, working as the quarterbacks coach from 2002 to 2007 before Niumatalolo’s promotion beget Jaspar’s promotion to offensive coordinator.

Until now.

After a 23-3 loss to Air Force in which Navy gained all of 68 total yards, Gladchuk fired Jaspar. It is rare enough for an athletic director to make that move, but it is rarer still for that to be aired publicly.

Niumatalolo prevailed on Gladchuk in the following days, insisting Jaspar would be an integral piece to righting the ship — pun very much not intended but also inevitable. Navy rehired Jaspar as quarterbacks coach, with Niumatalolo now calling plays moving forward.

One of these coaching moves was long anticipated. Helton’s exit from USC long felt like more a question of when and not if. The chaos among the Midshipmen, though, is wholly unexpected and rather shocking.

It makes Notre Dame’s staff overhaul after the 2016 season look plotted out and calm rather than forced by a 4-8 faceplant.

Florida State (0-2): If the Seminoles were not devastated enough after their overtime loss to the Irish two weeks ago after a furious fourth-quarter rally, then falling 20-17 to FCS-level Jacksonville State on a long touchdown with no time left on the clock should have sent Florida State to a new low. Messing around against inferior opponents had been an annual tradition for Florida State the last three years, but it had always held on for a win.

The blown defensive coverage began with a play call apparently intended to keep Jacksonville State from moving into field goal range. A few missed tackles did not help the cause, but the Seminoles coaching staff outright handled the situation poorly.

They will now try to rebound at Wake Forest (3:30 ET; ESPN) as 4.5-point underdogs. The combined point total over/under of 62 suggests an entertaining 33-29 afternoon. Even if that is a loss, it may be a step forward for Florida State.

Toledo (1-1): The Rockets have a strong chance at a quick recovery from their last-minute loss to Notre Dame, hosting Colorado State (4 ET; ESPNU) a week after the Rams fell to Clark Lea’s Vanderbilt and two weeks after they lost to FCS-level South Dakota State.

Toledo is favored by 14.5 points, which may seem aggressive given its heartbreak a week ago and the fact that conference foe Ball State looms in another week, but Colorado State is bad enough, emotions should not factor in.

Purdue (2-0): The Boilermakers disassembled Connecticut, 49-0. Designating Jacksonville State and South Dakota State as “FCS-level” teams is factual. It would be considered a touch of analysis to point out FBS-level UConn is unquestionably worse than them both.

No. 18 Wisconsin (1-1): The Badgers looked like a preseason contender with their 34-7 walloping of Eastern Michigan. Wisconsin now enjoys a week off before heading to Chicago to face Notre Dame.

No. 8 Cincinnati (2-0): The Bearcats entered halftime tied 7-7 with Murray State on Saturday. Reportedly, star quarterback Desmond Ridder then showed more emotion than he is known for in a fiery reminder to his team that their grandest ambitions would not be served by simply beating an FCS team. They needed to win easily.

Ridder finished with 243 passing yards and two touchdowns in a 42-7 easy win.

Cincinnati now heads to Indiana (12 ET; ESPN) with a chance to impress the Playoff committee against a known, mildly-respected commodity. The Bearcats are favored by 4 in what should be a low-scoring contest with a point total over/under of 49.5.

No. 15 Virginia Tech (2-0): The Hokies had little trouble with Middle Tennessee State, a 35-14 win, and now travel to West Virginia (12 ET; FS1) as 2.5-point underdogs. This will be Virginia Tech’s last remaining test before Notre Dame arrives in early October, meaning a win Saturday would position the Hokies to be in the top 15, if not the top 10, for that tilt.

USC (1-1): Helton’s tenuous job status was done in by a second-half collapse against Stanford. The Trojans trailed at halftime, but 21-10 was not yet a rout. The Cardinal then built a 42-13 lead before allowing two USC touchdowns in garbage time.

Interim head coach Donte Williams will ready for a trip to Washington State (3:30 ET; FOX) with the weighty expectations of a victory accompanying him. The Trojans are favored by 8.5 points, which should be taken more as a reflection of the Cougars’ woes than anything else.

No. 21 North Carolina (1-1): The Tar Heels cruised to a 59-17 win against Georgia State, rekindling some of the offensive explosiveness that made North Carolina a preseason dark horse for Playoff contention.

The Tar Heels now host Virginia (7:30 ET; ACCN) as 8-point favorites despite the Cavaliers quickly dispatching Illinois last weekend.

Navy (0-2): The Midshipmen can use an idle week to discuss coaching roles after this tumultuous stretch.

Virginia (2-0): The Cavaliers had no trouble with the Illini in a 42-14 victory. A win in Chapel Hill would suddenly make the Virginia narrative one to heed.

Georgia Tech (1-1): The Yellow Jackets put a rare one in the win column with a 45-17 win against FCS-level Kennesaw State. Their lives will return to Wreck-worthy status against No. 6 Clemson (3:30 ET; ABC), with the Tigers favored by a mere four touchdowns.

Stanford (1–1): The difference between the Cardinal’s season-opening dud against Kansas State and its dominance against USC? Sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee took over, throwing for 234 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-23 passing while finding the end zone once more on foot. McKee was in the same recruiting class as current NFL rookies Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, not quite on their level, but very much a top recruit. McKee then took a two-year mission as an active member of the Church of Latter-day Saints before enrolling at Stanford.

So in essence, McKee is a senior by age but has four years of eligibility yet ahead of him.

Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea will have his hands full now facing McKee (8 ET; ESPNU). This had been seen as a chance for Vanderbilt to get one of its few 2021 wins, but the Cardinal are now favored by 12 points.

12 ET — Cincinnati at Indiana, ESPN; Virginia Tech at West Virginia, FS1.
2:30 ET — Purdue at Notre Dame, NBC.
3:30 ET — Florida State at Wake Forest, ESPN; USC at Washington State, FOX; Georgia Tech vs. Clemson, ABC.
4 ET — Toledo vs. Colorado State, ESPNU.
7:30 ET — North Carolina vs. Virginia, ACCN.
8 ET — Stanford at Vanderbilt, ESPNU.

Favored: Toledo (-14.5), Cincinnati (-4), USC (-8.5), North Carolina (-8), Stanford (–12).
Underdogs: Florida State (+4.5), Purdue (+7.5), Virginia Tech (+3.5), Georgia Tech (+28).

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