SAN FRANCISCO — Notre Dame has been ending its scheduled regular seasons in California every year for 24 years now, a stretch beginning in 1998. Before that, the Irish headed west to end the year only in even-numbered years, on trips to USC. That habit traces back, with a few interruptions here and there, to that rivalry’s origin in 1926.
Doubling down on spending Thanksgiving in California eventually made sense, adding some consistency to Notre Dame’s annual itinerary and, more importantly in the modern era, allowing the Irish coaching staff to spend the following week recruiting the West Coast, an efficient use of time at a crucial point in the recruiting cycle.
Brain Kelly will spend all of next week checking in with expected early enrollees stretching from Washington to Arizona and then over to Dallas before they sign their National Letters of Intent in mid-December.
But before Kelly meets with his future players, No. 6 Notre Dame (10-1) will look to win its 11th game for the third time in the last four years. A win at Stanford (3-8) today will give the Irish 44 wins in the last four years, despite last season being shortened by a game, the most wins in a four-year stretch in Notre Dame history.
That may be partly a result of lengthened schedules — 12-game regular seasons becoming the norm only in the late 1990s — but that is still a 25-year stretch that cannot compare to the current one, not to mention the 2020 season was a shortened season and this one is not yet over but the record could already be set early in the evening along the Pacific coast.
TIME: 8:00 ET, 5 p.m. local time. Kickoff will come just a bit after the 4:52 p.m. PT sunset in Palo Alto, Calif., unfortunate for a broadcast that may be lacking in dramatic moments on this occasion.
It is only the sixth night game for the Irish this season, more than most teams but anecdotally fewer than most Notre Dame years feature, the result of a schedule lopsided not only with seven home games but also with one neutral site game with a noon kickoff. In that regard, the beat writers have appreciated this season a bit more, though more noon kickoffs would be always welcomed.
TV: FOX. And thus, the Fox Sports app should also offer a streaming option. It may be a somewhat anticlimactic rivalry week on paper, but Fox does have a strong lineup throughout the day, beginning with No. 2 Ohio State at No. 5 Michigan at 12 ET, followed by No. 14 Wisconsin at Minnesota at 4 ET, an underappreciated rivalry as it has been played more than any other matchup in the FBS at 130 times. If curious, the Badgers lead 62-60-8.
The point is, not much channel surfing should be needed leading into the Irish season finale.
PREVIEW: Diminishing this rivalry week tempts chaos, but it is hard to imagine that chaos finding Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal is in the midst of a six-game losing streak. Sure, Stanford beat then-No. 3 Oregon to start October, but that win came courtesy of a questionable officiating call as much as anything else. And the Cardinal has paid karmically for that robbery, doing nothing but losing since and losing ugly.
Stanford has been outscored 210 to 86 in those six losses, for the most part far from competitive.
If such a lopsided game unfolds this evening, do not look for the Irish to fully let up off the gas. As Notre Dame demolished Georgia Tech a week ago, 55-0, it brought in freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner for a significant portion of the second half. The Irish coaching staff very much sees Buchner as the program’s future, and that presented an opportunity to work in a game atmosphere. Rather than limit his exposure to the playbook to tone down the blowout, Kelly and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees saw future value in turning Buchner loose.
“Just the way to play the game for me has always been about, we’re going to play it the right way,” Kelly said Monday. “From our standpoint, we wanted our quarterback Tyler Buchner to be in the game, regardless of what the score was, to run the offense. If that meant throwing the ball and we were up 35 points, it was important that we played the game the right way for us.”
Buchner finished with 17 yards on 3-of-6 passing with 67 rushing yards on five carries, not exactly an offensive explosion but still more than idling the offense in neutral.
PREDICTION: The sun is not far from rising on the Eastern seaboard, and Notre Dame remains a 20.5-point favorite, per PointsBet, with a combined point total Over/Under of 53.5. While that spread has risen four points since it opened on Sunday, it remains bafflingly low.
Pride can go only so far, and that is all Stanford has left to play for, while putting up another score in the ilk of 55-0 could help propel the Irish to the College Football Playoff for the third time in four years.
Furthermore, Notre Dame has not given up a touchdown in its last three games. Perhaps the Cardinal finds the end zone in the first half and the Irish ease up in the second half to allow another 10 points in a ho-hum win. But if Stanford does not break the goal line before halftime, there should be every expectation that Notre Dame defense plays through the second half intent on upholding this streak.
Keeping opponents out of the end zone for all of November will not get the Irish into the Playoff all on its own, but it would be an easy talking point to lead that sales pitch with for the next week.
Notre Dame needs to make that sales pitch, while the Cardinal simply needs to stay healthy enough to end the season, go home and wait for Christmas.
If that all sounds dismissive, then here is one more pair of statistics to consider: The Irish have averaged 6.01 yards per rush (sacks adjusted) in their last six games, while Stanford has given up 6.2 yards per carry this season.
Notre Dame 38, Stanford 3.
(Straight up — 10-1; Against the spread — 9-2; Over/under — 8-3.)
I didn't understand this line when it opened with #NotreDame as a 16-point favorite at Stanford. I didn't understand @PointsBetUSA keeping it at -17.5 most of the week. And I don't understand it remaining below three touchdowns now. pic.twitter.com/jnRCnfeovC
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) November 26, 2021
SOME OTHER NUMBERS TO CONSIDER
40: The Irish have won 40 straight games against unranked opponents, the longest active streak in the country.
34: The Irish have won 34 straight games in which they were favored, tracing back to the end of the 2017 regular season at Stanford.
7: The Irish have covered the spread in seven of their last eight games, the exception being their sole loss this year, to now-No. 4 Cincinnati.
6: The Cardinal has not covered the spread in six straight games.
3: Notre Dame last won three straight games against Stanford during its seven-year winning streak in this matchup from 2002 to 2008.
I'll take the Under on Stanford's points there … https://t.co/ncN64Va7Kh
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) November 23, 2021
INSIDE THE IRISH
— While Playoff hopes remain, Notre Dame’s 2022 recruiting takes on double the importance
— And In That Corner … The reeling Stanford Cardinal closes Notre Dame’s Playoff push
— Things To Learn: Stanford no longer the Playoff vault Notre Dame needs
— The long road on Thanksgiving nothing new for Notre Dame equipment truck drivers
— Friday at 4: 40 Thanksgivings as Notre Dame’s ascending season comes to a close
— ‘Divine intervention’: Notre Dame captain Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa finds a reason to celebrate, even amid tragedy
— Notre Dame’s offensive line can finish the regular season with a statement at Stanford
— Isaiah Foskey’s self-made education: Notre Dame edge rusher charts his own course into backfields, up NFL draft boards
— How a Notre Dame quarterback helps families of troops every Thanksgiving
How does Notre Dame get in the #CFBPlayoff?
Wisconsin wins Big 10 & 2 loss Big 12 Champ
4 Notre Dame
ND would have H2H win over Big 10 champ & only 1 loss. Ohio St & Michigan would both have 2.
VERY unlikely but that is the path
— Tim Murray (@1TimMurray) November 24, 2021