Leftovers & Links: On three Notre Dame streaks, all applicable this week, what used to be a worrisome week for Brian Kelly

USC v Notre Dame
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There is a natural and obvious follow-up to Notre Dame’s unprecedented success handling Navy’s triple-option in Saturday’s 34-6 win. The Irish (8-1) gave up much of their usual practice routine a week ago to prep for the uniqueness of the Midshipmen approach. Head coach Brian Kelly worried it might cost them at Virginia (6-3).

“Let’s go see how we handle now Brennan Armstrong and the Cavaliers,” Kelly said before even leaving Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.

The concern is logical, if unfounded in recent years.

The Irish are 5-1 following their last six Navy games, and for those wondering, they are 3-2-1 against the spread in those matchups. Like this week, Notre Dame was favored in all those games. In fact, Notre Dame has not lost as a favorite since it played Stanford at the end of the 2017 season, which also happens to be the one loss following a game against the Midshipmen on the last six occasions.

That streak of 33 straight wins as a favorite is only outdone by the nation-leading streak of 39 straight wins against unranked opponents, which dates back to the end of the 2016 season.

“Sometimes I get up here and it’s like the same old, same old, but it’s proven to be pretty effective,” Kelly said. “Our guys probably feel the same way, too.

“They believe in it, they’re 100 percent bought in on how we do things on a day-to-day basis, and our standards have shown that it’s been really effective. We won’t be changing anything anytime soon.”

Winning games you are supposed to win is hard in college football, a reality that does not salve any wounds after a loss but a reality, nonetheless.

The only streak longer is one that will be of particular note on Saturday (7:30 ET; ABC). The Irish have won 40 straight games in which they scored at least 30 points, a run that dates back to the start of the 2017 season, making up 40 of Notre Dame’s 51 wins during this ongoing resurgence.

To give this weekend some context, PointsBet sets the combined point total Over/Under at 64 points. Favoring the Irish by 5.5 points as of Wednesday afternoon sets up a Notre Dame victory to the approximate tune of 35-30. Facing one of the nation’s most prolific offenses, assuming Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong plays despite a ribs injury from two weeks ago, the Irish known offensive output will be vital.

“We got to score points,” Kelly said Monday. “We want to obviously limit them. But yes, I mean, we’ve got to score some points in this game. There’s no doubt.”

Notre Dame enjoyed an idle week after the 2012 Navy game in Dublin, so if dispensing with that exception, the Irish went 1-2 in Kelly’s first four years the week after facing the triple-option, also failing to cover the spread in the one victory.

Those are small sample sizes, of course, but Notre Dame going 5-1 since then is another indicator that Kelly figured out how to face that frustrating offense without short-circuiting a season.

Alabama has beaten, per Tuesday night’s most recent rankings, the No. 15 team in the country and will get chances at the Nos. 17 and 25 in the upcoming weeks.

Notre Dame has beaten the Nos. 18 and 19 teams and will get no additional bullet points on its résumé before the end of the season.

So yes, if the Tide loses to No. 1 Georgia in the SEC championship game, it would be entirely reasonable to expect Alabama to remain ahead of Notre Dame in the rankings. It already is, and its argument will get only stronger in the run-up to that likely Dec. 4 tilt.

Once realizing that, it is clear the Irish will not be in the Playoff this year. They would need at least three of No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 5 Cincinnati, No. 3 Oregon and whoever comes out of the Big Ten East to lose yet. In the unbeaten Sooners’ case, they may need to lose twice.

Let’s put it this way, Notre Dame does not make the Playoff in odd years, with 2015, 2017, 2019 and now 2021 all seasons that were in the mix, a fourth streak of note, it would seem. If really wanting to spiral down a well of coincidences, 1993 was an odd year as well, while 2012 was even. 44 years and counting …

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