Contrary to some opinions, Notre Dame’s season is not over. There still are seven games to be played this regular season before an eventual bowl game, even if that bowl game will not be part of the College Football Playoff.
The No. 14 Irish (4-1) have plenty to play for yet, though a popular piece of discourse this week insisted on the immediate necessity of preparing for next season.
That lazy hot take overlooks one indisputable fact of competition: Preparing for next season starts with winning this year.
“A lot of this is about making sure that we put our players in the best position to succeed and that we care about our players and we continue to develop them,” head coach Brian Kelly said Monday. “… Where did we fall short in those areas, as coaches and players. I’ve made that pretty clear. Then we’ll apply our traits to that and then we’ll move on from that.
“We’ll close the book and we’ll go, alright, let’s stick to our process, let’s trust it, it works, let’s get back to work, and let’s get ready for Virginia Tech.”
That is all more or less coach-speak, but the blunter version would be: The college football season is not a single-elimination tournament. It is a full season. Finishing that season strong carries value, both tangible and intangible. A Playoff-or-bust mindset not only sets up 97 percent of the country for disappointment, but it also makes about that same chunk of games meaningless.
Notre Dame’s trip to Virginia Tech (3-1) tonight is not meaningless, and its only meaning is not in how it develops the Irish for a possible 2022 Playoff run.
These games create precedent, they create memories and they create reason to look forward to weeks to come. Reducing them to extended training camps is a nihilistic approach that Arby’s would be cowed by.
Thus, Notre Dame needs to play the quarterback that gives it the best chance of winning tonight, whomever that may be, not the quarterback that will give it the best chance of winning next year. If nothing else, know what dooms future expectations? Racking up losses now.
Coaches thinking about years down the line rarely reach those years. Programs forsaking the final games of their veterans’ careers rarely reverse that mindset a short few months later. Suggesting a season sacrifice a game or two to development tempts a six-game losing streak.
Yes, players need to develop, but that is also what spring practices and summer conditioning are for, not to mention playing rotations.
The Irish intend to lean into a few more rotations tonight: Freshman receivers Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie should spell their senior counterparts a bit more, as Notre Dame is down to six available scholarship receivers; junior Andrew Kristofic will make for a three-man rotation at guard, giving both junior Zeke Correll and graduate transfer Cain Madden chances to catch their breath; Kelly went out of his way to mention junior Quinn Carroll will join the offensive tackle rotation.
But abandoning Madden and fifth-year right tackle Josh Lugg outright simply to get their understudies more playing time would serve to make the Irish not only worse but also more sour. That frustration reared its head in 2016 in various ways. Notre Dame was a bit lucky to reverse that 4-8 debacle so quickly. If not, know what really dooms future expectations? Losses in front of recruits.
There is no logical counterargument here. The Irish will hear “Enter Sandman” tonight and then the coaching staff will strive to win tonight, not next week or next year. Winning tonight would help Notre Dame win next week or next year.
This entire thread is excellent.
But this point is one more #NotreDame fans need to internalize. It's not Playoff-or-Bust. It really can't be. Especially not in a year that was never looking like a Playoff year, no matter what your optimism saw. https://t.co/fm9NX4mnrf
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) October 5, 2021
TIME: One of the great allures of college football is the pageantry, the absurdity, the over-the-top camaraderie. That combination may be best felt when kickoff comes after sunset in Blacksburg, Va., and it will tonight. The sun will drop below the horizon at 6:53 ET in rural Virginia tonight, with kickoff coming at 7:30 ET. Cloud cover will quicken the darkness, accompanied by Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and the Hokies hallmark entrance.
Diminish it all you want. The 66,000 fans filling Lane Stadium genuinely know the words to the rock anthem, something missing from most such mass moments these days and something missing entirely last year.
This tweet from the last time ND played in Blacksburg has been getting more attention this week. I’m definitely looking forward to being back down there this week. https://t.co/WDX2MYdhaN
— Robert Franklin (@TheRobFranklin) October 7, 2021
TV: In what can only be described as a travesty, and not at all as a sign of the times and the general trend line of college football broadcasts, Notre Dame will be on a premium channel not universally available.
The Irish appearing on ACC Network has become a near-annual occurrence, one that will persist well into the future.
PREVIEW: A raucous atmosphere and a decent defense may camouflage Virginia Tech’s weaknesses. The Hokies average just 23.5 points per game, a plodding offense dependent on former Oregon transfer quarterback Braxton Burmeister’s rare flashes of brilliance as well as done in by his inefficiencies. Burmeister completes 61.4 percent of his passes and averages 7.4 yards per attempt. He has thrown only five touchdowns in four games.
And the passing game is Virginia Tech’s strength.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, this will be the worst rushing defense Notre Dame has faced to date by a significant margin. That may not cure the Irish ground woes, but it can only help them.
RELATED READING: Thorough run struggles may finally reach needed reprieve
PREDICTION: Notre Dame has not been a road underdog since its trip to Georgia in 2019 and, before that, since a few ugly moments in 2016. Depending on the market’s movements today, that may change. As of Saturday’s earliest hours, PointsBet considers this tilt a pick’em with a combined points total Over/Under of 47.
A litany of trends suggests Notre Dame will come out ahead in that expected math of a 24-23 result. The Hokies have lost their last four games coming out of idle weeks, while the Irish have gone 10-1 against such opponents since the start of 2017, the one loss coming last week.
Notre Dame has not lost consecutive games since 2016’s faceplant, and it has beaten Virginia Tech twice since the Hokies topped the Irish in that same lost season.
For all the consternation about Notre Dame’s quarterback — Jack Coan Will Likely get the start in front of the riled-up crowd, his experience being the determining factor in the aforementioned Irish need to win — some trust in Notre Dame’s defense may be all that is needed to keep the Irish resurgence alive.
Based on the early portions of Notre Dame's warmups, Jack Coan will start at quarterback tonight against Virginia Tech. Coan is taking snaps from starting center Jarrett Patterson.
— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) October 9, 2021
Notre Dame 24, Virginia Tech 13.
(Straight up — 4-1; Against the spread — 3-2; Over/under — 4-1.)
Was that specific score chosen to mirror last week’s? Perhaps.
INSIDE THE IRISH
— Past mistakes illustrate narrow path for Notre Dame amid QB controversy
— And In That Corner … The Virginia Tech Hokies again hope to send an ND season spiraling
— Notre Dame’s Opponents: Who will be favored against the Irish the rest of the year?
— Things To Learn: Weekend begins with the obvious question, who will start at QB?
— Notre Dame’s thorough run struggles may finally reach needed reprieve
— Former Thomas Dale star turned Notre Dame RB Chris Tyree is eager to ‘smell Virginia air’ and play at Lane Stadium
— Can Notre Dame linebacker JD Bertrand keep his torrid tackles pace?
— College Football Week 6 FBS Quarterback Rankings: All 130 starters
— Jaylon Smith agrees to terms with Packers
For the Brotherhood ☘️#GoIrish pic.twitter.com/q19Ou2yqbh
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) October 8, 2021