Notre Dame’s Victory over Syracuse Drops Irish in AP Poll as Stanford Looms

Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 15
Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver William Fuller (7) runs with the ball after a catch in front of Syracuse Orange safety Durell Eskridge (3) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s amazing how quickly perceptions can change in the world of college football, and September has all but confirmed its fluidity for the Fighting Irish.  Tabbed during the preseason by prognosticating guru Phil Steele as boasting the toughest schedule in 2014, Notre Dame has surprisingly found itself facing questions about the quality of its opponents to date after Michigan’s sudden implosion and subsequent tailspin.  Syracuse, a physical team that had limited offenses to 2.7 yards per carry on the ground while touting a rushing attack that averages nearly 6 yards per carry, was to be a measuring stick that determined how good Notre Dame truly is.

The results were open to interpretation.

The Brian VanGorder-led defense continued its impressive production in Notre Dame’s 31-15 victory over Syracuse and stonewalled the Orange’s formidable rushing attack.  Excluding one long gain on a fake punt, Syracuse was held to 93 yards rushing on 29 attempts for an average of 3.2 yards per carry, nearly halving what the Orange had been averaging prior to facing Notre Dame.  Shutting down the run forced Syracuse out of its desired game plan and led to more passing attempts where, outside of a few superb throws in tight coverage, quarterback Terrel Hunt completed only 57% of his passes with one interception.

It was the Notre Dame offense that produced an oxymoronic effect.

Irish quarterback Everett Golson played a central part in Notre Dame’s unbalanced offensive outing.  The Fighting Irish signal-caller’s three fumbles – two of which were lost – and two interceptions hindered Notre Dame’s ability to put Syracuse away and kept the contest within reach.  Golson’s encore to the numerous miscues involved completing 32 of 39 passing attempts – including a school record 25 straight completions – for an astounding 80% completion rate en route to a 364 yard and 4 touchdown performance.  Golson’s paradoxical status as being a major reason the Fighting Irish struggled, as well as the main reason they emerged victorious, has raised eyebrows amongst voters.

Concern about the quality of Notre Dame’s opponents to date – as well as the offense’s brilliant play intertwined with bouts of alarming sloppiness – was likely the reason Notre Dame dropped one spot to #9 in the Associated Press poll, and creates a college football version of the chicken-or-egg dilemma.

Does a team worthy of a top ten ranking turn the ball over five times in one game, or, similarly, is it a sign a team belongs in the top ten when it can post a minus four turnover differential on the road and still win by double digits, considering only one other program from a Power  5 conference has managed to accomplished such a feat out of 29 possible tries during the past two seasons?

While it may be too soon to answer such a conundrum, this much is certain: Notre Dame is far from the only top ten program to endure hiccups.  During the first week of the 2014 season, UCLA – strangely the team that leapfrogged Notre Dame in the recent AP poll – eked out a win against Virginia, a team with a 3-2 record, and followed that performance by squeaking by Memphis with a seven-point margin of victory.  Top-rated Oregon was tied with a Washington State squad with a losing record before inching past the Cougars in the 4th quarter.  And most recently, Florida State, the defending national champions, was forced to muster a come-from-behind rally to defeat an unranked N.C. State team.

Notre Dame has not always looked dominant this season, but neither have the dominant programs the Fighting Irish are being measured against, including this weekend’s upcoming foe, Stanford.  The Cardinal displayed their traditional power under head coach David Shaw when obliterating UC Davis and Army by a combined score of 80-0, but have showcased vulnerabilities not often seen since Shaw took over the program in 2011.  Stanford lost to a USC squad that was later defeated by a Boston College program that fell to Colorado State.  Stanford also needed a late fourth quarter touchdown to defeat the same Washington program that narrowly defeated Hawaii and trailed Eastern Washington heading into the fourth quarter before squeaking out a win.

Every team stumbles at some point.  The real test is whether a program can survive the trip, something Notre Dame has been able to do.  And that test will continue into this weekend when the Fighting Irish host #14 Stanford.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor.  He talks football 24-hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him.  Scott can be reached at

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  1. Well, ja, let me clarify. The SC offense, barring injuries will be a handful when we play them. But they played Stanford when they were in their second game of the Sarkisian era offense, with two freshman guards,
    Damien Mama and Lobendahn, both true frosh, and true frosh like Juju Smith, Adoree Jackson, Ajene Harris and Bryce Dixon in their receiving corps.

    We started the season more experienced, with no frosh anywhere, so that gives us the experience edge for now. But when the final journal is written USC may wind up being the best offense we will have played in the 2014 season.

  2. @Duranko. I am obviously referring to our inexperience this season meaning next yr I feel if everyone is back with no transfers nor academic suspensions we have a greater chance of winning a championship or at least a playoff berth.
    Im not so sure we are that much better offensively than SC. If we are talking aBout complete offense. I dont think we win if EG throws 40 plus times. We have to have some success in the trenches.

  3. 6-6 Jack. 6-6. Or are you disguising that now, running in shame.

    Are equally as prescient in private college disciplinary hearings and procedures as you are in your non-understanding of football?

    1. Duranko I don’t hide. The season is unfolding as it may. Another weekend another test. As far as disciplinary hearings are concerned it’s not the fact that I feel they are wrong but if put in a situation where you are innocent, this procedure almost seems to deem you guilty until you prove your innocents and that my friend I don’t agree with. If you are treating them as individuals in the hearings than their judgements should be read individually.

      As far as my predictions are concerned 6-6 is not happening this year and I am thankful for that because I like Kelly as a coach. I am unsure what their record will be. A lot if teams on the schedule aren’t what they seemed to be a year ago. ND has a way to go to make themselves a playoff team, but they have a tough month and a lot to clean up.

      I was watching the talking heads on ESPN and how they feel ND has played no one. I look at The Cardinals schedule and don’t see any difference. I as all Irish fans hope for playoff birth this year, but I am a pessimist by nature and tend to focus on their weaknesses: offensive line, lack of run game and a young defense. We shall see if an opponent can exploit any of these things

  4. Two things, ja4nd.

    The first is, long term, the most crucial. I have scar tissue, accumulated over the years, with many teams in addition to Notre Dame,
    about saying “we’re a year away” or “this team is a year away.” I’m not saying it isn’t OCCASIONALLY true, but it is toxically unreliable.
    Carpe the freakin’ diem. Don’t fight serendipity, even if it is a year early. Mind senioritis and complacency: fear and hunger are your friends.

    Second, this is the first time that Kelly has faced Stanford with a full offensive array. Golson was still an embryo in 2012, and Troy Niklas was yet too inexperienced for the moment. It is different this time. And at WR and OL. We were battered in both trenches last November on the Farm.

    SC is first rate, but Kessler is the limiting constraint on their offense, and their young receivers, while daunting, were in their second game. Trust me, they’ll be ready by the 29th of November. Washington is sound, but Cyler Miles is not yet at the level of the departed Keith Price.

    There are two diametrically opposed truths about this game.

    Notre Dame has not yet faced a defense like Stanford’s.
    Stanford has not yet faced an offense like Notre Dame’s.

    But there is a third truth, the probable tipping point of the game.

    Everett Golson and Kevin Hogan do not have the same skill or competence level as quarterbacks.

    You do the math.

    1. Duranko, The problem with USC is not so much Kessler as it is with there lack of quality depth due to the sanctions against them. I think they are down to something like 53 scholarship players right now. While Kessler should be much improved come Nov 29 so should Golson. But in the end I believe SCs lack of depth will be there undoing.

      1. They are capped at 75. As of the start of the season they had 72 scholarship players.

      2. They had 53 scholarship players available at the BC game. They have depth issues. It will get worse for them as the year goes on.

  5. Stanford has given up no more than 13 pts to SC and Wash. And they are said to be more “battle-tested.” They’ve won 4 of last 5 against us. They are favored to win against a higher ranked team on the road.
    It all points to another loss to Stanford.
    But if Golson can play smart and mistake free and we can somehow find some success running the ball we may be able to get our 5th win.
    I think if we win we could be potentially looking at one loss season. If not I think we will finish a 3 loss team.
    Admittedly I was looking to next season before this one started but if we beat Stanford we will gain more confidence as we go to Doak-Campbell. By the way I will be there. And I would love to be undefeated against the defending champs and Heisman Trophy winner.
    Go Irish!

  6. The rank means nothing right now since there isn’t too much to judge us against. If we beat stanford i think we could move up to 7th. If we lose a close game we move down 4 or 5 spots. If we get killed we drop around 20ish. Chicka chicka yea

  7. David Shaw often outthinks himself, and, in the Rose Bowl, committed the greatest mistake a coach ever can. He tried to take the game away from his players with clever tricky formations. Dantonio/Narduzzi said no.

    Shaw is a gift that keeps on giving.

  8. well, I must demur Bruce. Real men do or did drink at Corby’s, but after a night of praryer, contemplation at Corby’s and Nickie’s (little Bolelo
    proved that nepotism, even with bars in South Bend, doesn’t work)
    the Huddle was not open. Real men drove ;to Fat Shirley;’s.

    Accept no substitute!

      1. Apparently something or he would be playing. Say what you want about the process but he obviously did something in the gray area to get involved in this mess.

      2. Is there not a difference between actually doing something in the gray area and being accused of doing something in the gray area? My guess is this ND committee would not tolerate any gray area infractions. If they cant prove it then there egos get hurt and they take the next step which is to drag the process on.

    1. This is horse shit. Are they individual students or football players? I thought each individual had a hearing but your waiting to her all to the testimony, typical academia lawyer bullshit. Let a bunch of over thinkers take 3 months to decide what to do on something that should have taken 3 weeks. I’ll tell you this much if Russell’s rant is correct and they have no evidence I would be engaging council and suing the University if they don’t have their shit together. This is a joke a bunch of lay professors flexing their muscles.

      Dear ND Administration,

      No NCAA infraction, if you can’t convict you must aquit

      Signed annoyed fan who buys a ton of your crap

      1. Jack,

        I’m not going say who is guilty or who is innocent.
        Who is right or who is wrong.
        Or if the process is fair or unfair.

        But I’ll tell you this… the way this thing is being handled sure isn’t doing our recruiting any good.

        One begins to get the impression that ND is more than willing to cut off its own nose to spite its face.

      2. Shaz,

        It gives the impression that if you are accused of something like this ND will put it’s name ahead of you. I understand integrity and the honor code, but there comes a point in time when you don’t have anything you start believing the accused. I do investigations for a living and there always comes a point in time when you have to say what do I have and is it enough to go in the direction I thought this was going to go. As the investigation goes on, the time it takes to do it makes you look bad.

        According to BK this was wrapped up in early September. It took three weeks to pick people and schedule hearings, that is what is making the University look bad.

      3. They should contact Barry at his law office provided he isn’t running a lap around it right now.

  9. its not whining, its fighting, clawing, shoving, pushing our way to victory
    to do that you have to analyze, critique, change, adjust and get better every day

    and you gotta believe you can be national champions once again


    1. I hate to assume anything when it comes to you but you do know that neither the coach or AD are on this site. Who cares what you critique or analyze? Our opinions do not matter so just watch the game and relax. You can whine, bitch and moan all you want on here and it does absolutely nothing to improve the team.

  10. It will be determined on how the offensive line plays against Stanfords
    great D. Probably a 4th quarter game.

    1. He didn’t yell and scream at us first thing in the morning, so I guessing Smeagol took his meds today!

  11. Now it’s the schedule! What a load of BS! The ND “Haters” come out whenever the Irish seem to be winning, regardless of who they play. It doesn’t matter if it is the local town idiot or announcers, like Mr. May of ESPN, that would complain about the ND schedule if they played 12 games against top 20 teams. If you are a real ND fan, you don’t really pay any attention to them. But really Mr. May, how’s Pitt doing this season? All that I know is that they are 4-0. hey they might end up 4-9 but who knows!
    Let’s enjoy the prosperity while we can. It can change so rapidly in the NCAA, just ask Mr. Hoke and the Wolverines! Go Irish!

  12. As we saw two years ago, preseason rankings, positions at the end of September and into October do not mean much. Neither do good wins versus ugly wins. If the Irish play ugly and end up 12-0 they play as part of the 4 team tournament. If the Irish play amazing and end up with losses they do not play in that 4 team tournament.

    Let’s be happy that we finally have a coaching staff that puts a team on the field that beats the teams they are supposed to beat. Did Davie, Willingham or Weiss beat the teams they were supposed to beat? That is a resounding NO.

    Kelley and Co don’t always put the perfect game together. But they win A LOT more than they lose (42-15 I believe) in the 4+ years of coaching at Notre Dame.

    Only thing better than a pretty win is an ugly win!

    Go Irish

    1. Let’s also be happy that Kelly & Co (and AD Jack Swarbrick) have gone about it “The Right Way”

      Just one look at that mess of program from up north, and the display being put on by the Wolver-wieners, and I for one am grateful for what we have, and how we do it.

  13. “Thank you, thank you Dr Marvin!” Bob Wiley.

    It’s refreshing to finally get some balanced critique on others’ weak opponents. I would like to add Baylor hasn’t played anyone, either. But they can roll up the score vs Northwestern St and Buffalo, so they’re deserving of a higher ranking.

    A & M has played a common opponent with ND, Rice. We fared better. And the Aggies’ “signature win” isn’t so signature anymore.

    I agree with Michael, just win.

  14. Thanks, Scott, for a cogent analysis of how fickled rankings are.

    Like refs (remember the phantom non-call $C fumbles leading to 10 points for $C in ’78, or the “clip” against ND the ref called some twenty yards AFTER Rocket broke free during his denied punt return against Colorado? I could go on and on), sportswriters and coaches are also fans, having favorite teams and teams they grew up hating. None of the them are free of such bias when the opportunity presents itself to them.

    Our defense stifles a formidable Syracuse running offense, and to them must be that Syracuse just hasn’t played quality opponents. Our QB completes 25 passes in a row, at a better than 80% completion rate, leading ND to at least thirty points for four consecutive weeks, the first time ND has done that in over 70 years, and some focus on EG’s turnovers from one game. When it comes to college rankings, haters vote against whom they hate, and how they can best minimize the teams they dislike. It’s always been that way, and this week is no different than any week will be. When we beat Stanford this week, we’ll hear the Cardinal #1 ranked defense hasn’t really played anybody. If we lose, it’ll prove to the haters we aren’t that good. Figures lie, and liars figure- be it in politics, corporate boardrooms, or among coaches and sportswriters voting in the polls.

    Just win, ND. And with EG and young impressive receivers and D’, it’s more likely than not that we will.

    If we stumble in any capacity, even after winning big as we’ve done, it WILL be held against us by those who hate ND, immovable and impossible to convince, despite all we accomplish and display on the field.
    Their perspective, and a dollar, will get you a buck’s worth of gas.

  15. Ok, let’s not go bashing Stanford until we beat them.
    And I could care less about dropping one spot in the polls. It might make ND even more hungry. The end result will take care of itself.

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