Notre Dame Heads to Desert for Season-Defining Matchup

Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly waits with his players before taking the field against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly waits with his players before taking the field against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

College football is known for its unpredictability, a trait that has caused an explosion of popularity for the sport.  But no one could have foreseen the strangeness of Notre Dame’s 2014 season to date.  Shutting out Michigan for the first time in Notre Dame’s history on primetime television, a last second come-from-behind touchdown pass against Stanford – a program that has won 10 or more games in four consecutive seasons – and taking the defending national champions down to the wire on the road would be as impressive as it gets for any college football program’s resume in a normal season.  But not this year.

Michigan, perhaps still struggling to regain its balance after being knocked out of Notre Dame Stadium in September, has had one of its worst seasons in decades and currently sits 4-5 on the season.  Stanford, likely due for an inevitable fall after several years as one of the nation’s best teams, has uncharacteristically fallen to 5-4.  And despite Florida State requiring a penalty to stay undefeated against Notre Dame, the loss failed to impress voters of the new College Football Playoff Rankings.

With such a rigorous schedule – Notre Dame was rated by respected prognosticator Phil Steele as having the toughest 2014 slate heading in the nation heading into the season – it would have been impossible to foresee that Arizona State would be the lone ranked opponent left during the month of November.  Even the perceived “weaker” portions of the schedule were far from such a label.  The Rice Owls were coming off a 10-win 2013 campaign that led them to a conference championship.  In fact, overall, Notre Dame scheduled six programs with ten or more victories from last season.

Perhaps the biggest slight came courtesy of Navy.  Head coach Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish squad dropped two spots to No. 8 in the AP Poll after defeating Navy 49-39, making Notre Dame the only team to win last week and still drop in the polls.  Michigan State even managed to jump Notre Dame on its bye week.   The Irish receive no credit for beating Navy, and take heat for scheduling them, despite the fact Navy has managed to be bowl eligible two years in a row, a feat that over half of the Big Ten has been unable to accomplish (eight Big Ten teams have failed to make back-to-back bowl games during the past two seasons).

Arizona State, led by head coach Todd Graham, is Notre Dame’s last shot to impress the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, a fact that should make Irish fans nervous.  Brian Kelly and Todd Graham have a competitive history with one another, and in the three instances where they clashed the largest margin of victory was a mere three points.  Graham’s 2010 Tulsa squad defeated Notre Dame 28-27, whereas Kelly gained revenge the following year by narrowly inching past Graham, who had since moved on to coach Pittsburgh, 15-12.  Last season Notre Dame traveled to Dallas and upset the Sun Devils, 37-34.

Saturday’s top ten matchup will test Notre Dame as it attempts to defend an explosive team that has managed victories over USC, Utah, and a convincing 26-10 defeat of Stanford.  The 7-1 Sun Devils possess the No. 22 ranked offense in the country, averaging 483 yards and 34 points per game.  Star quarterback Taylor Kelly, who lit up Notre Dame’s defense for nearly 400 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2013, will look to once again team up with go-to wide receiver Jaelen Strong who caught 8 passes for 136 yards and one touchdown against the Irish defense.

The path for Notre Dame to secure a spot in the first ever college football playoff is a tricky one, and it involves winning out while catching some breaks along the way.  Saturday’s showdown in Tempe may not be “win and you’re in”, but it’s certainly “win to survive another day” for the Fighting Irish.

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 chagrin of his wife and those around him.  Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com.

 

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52 Comments

  1. I hear you, Burgy, I hear you. Making excuses are better than dealing with reality for some people I guess.

    Keep it real… and…

    Stay Classy!

  2. Yes this is a good “young” football team but not top 10 for sure. The frustrating thing is Golson? Good athlete, puts up big numbers but big numbers in the turnover dept as well. I feel they could of hung with ASU but when they have catastrophic turnovers from the captain of the ship, it disrupts the entire team. That said moving forward, I would like to see MZ named starter for Northwestern game. I think that is exactly what Golson needs is a QB controversy to wake him up. You read Kelly’s comments we don’t know what else to do with him on ball possession. Why is Golson entitled to start every week and digress? Time to move on, put this one in the books and focus on righting the ship.

  3. This is a good football team not a top 10 team. They beat themselves yesterday and someone saw something on tape that they exploited. There were many on this site that felt ND was a better team and ASU was over rated but I think it was the Irish who were over rated. I was impressed with the fact they came back and never quit, but this is a problem with Golson he is a turnover machine. He needs to take better care of the football or they lose 2 of 3.
    Duranko that’s not a prediction that’s a fact if he turns the ball over that much against SC and Louisville.

    How many points did ASU score off of turnovers, most of their points. Can’t keep giving teams easy points

  4. Hey, Stores,

    Long time.

    What can I say? I’m so frustrated by seeing teams like Bama achieve sustained excellence while ND lingers in decades-long mediocrity.

    I just don’t know if BK can win thr big one at this level. He’s a good coach. But is he great? It seems he’s been outcoached in every big game at ND.

    Totally agree with your predictions, though.

    I apologize to you and others here if I sound negative. But it’s been too long since ND’s won anything.

    Enough is enough!

  5. Peach Bowl vs Marshall if were lucky. Pinstripe Bowl yet again more likely against some other ACC loser that will give ND a game! That would be my guess.

  6. Hey, Pat,

    Thia is a fan site. If you want to share your opinions, then you have to respect the opinions of others.

    As for armchair analyst,that pretty much describes you, me, all of us.

    Over all, pretty weak response from you. You threw out the challenge and failed miserably to make your case. Resorting to name calling and whining isn’t a substitute for makiung a case.

    So, let’s try this again, Mr. Fanatic, make a case for ND. Where’s the signature win? Stanford? Michigan? Navy? Rice?

    Have a little self-respect and state your case like an adult. Don’t like Ron Burgundy? Then don’t respond like he would.

    1. Hey SFR,
      I agree, at this point no signature win, I will rate them at 22. Something I don’t do is future project but hell, why not, for the next 3 games. They will manage to allow Northwestern to look like a superteam than what they are (AKA Navy)but “hold on” to win, surprising they will handle Louisville, and lose to SC in a close game. Then we will look forward to the invite to the Smog Bowl in Jackass Junction No Where. I would prefer to be wrong but I am not feeling a lot of optimism right now about ND football.

      They need a fire lit under their arses.

    2. Boy, you sure got me. You’re right, I’m wrong. Feel good now?

      Side note: this season, teams are 1-8 following their games vs Navy…

    3. Btw, I was stating my case earlier. “Burgundy’s” flippant comment AFTER our loss was immature.

      I think AP has it right. Our only losses are to 2 top ten teams. This makes ND a good team. Not great, but still good.

      “Signature wins”? That phrase is very misleading. Many SEC teams only schedule one or two possible “signature win” games a year.

      Body of work counts as well. Overall SOS of EVERY TEAM on schedule counts, too. I watched 5 mins of hilites of Ole Miss’ “win” over Presbyterian.

      Actually, I think AP has Utah underrated. They shot themselves in foot with that 14 pt swing in 1st Q…

    4. Name calling? Whining? Please be specific. And you STILL haven’t stated where ND should be, either.

      Before you belittle me about weak case, please try reading ALL my previous posts.

      1. PatrickM,

        I don’t know if you’re talking to me or Burgundy.

        I stated exactly where I thought ND should be. No better than 20. 15-20 is about right. Good, but not good enough.

        You want to know what a signature win looks like? Ask Bama about beating the crap out of the Irish in the BCS NC game. That’s a real big win! That’s the level ND needs to get to.

        I totally agree about Utah. But let’s see how the finish.

        I’d like to believe ND can win its last 4 games, including whatever crap bowl they end up in. But I have serious doubts about SC in LA and the bowl game depending on the match up.

        I read your posts, Pat. Like I said I really do appreciate your love for ND football. But in the end what we all need to realize is that ND football is and has been largely very average to poor over the last 2 decades.

      2. Patty is speaking to his merry band of brothers who all agree with him that the polls are wrong and the Irish are consistently screwed by pollsters who have it in for Irish Catholics.

      3. Baylor beat TCU. How’s that “signature win” working for them? CFP clearly stated body of work more important.

        1993 IRISH had “signature win” over Miami. How’d that work for ND?

        Burgundy, very well said. Only its PaDDy. Yes, I know you were being cheeky, but anyone who hides behind a fictitious name has no room to mock another’s.

      4. As far as names on here is concerned, I’m just guessing your birth certificate doesn’t read PatrickM.

      5. Apologies. Florida State, but how about the fact it didn’t help?

        And I’ll bet PatrickM (for Patrick Murphy) is a lot closer than yours is to Ron Burgundy. Nice try.

      6. Had they beaten BC it would have mattered a lot. Once you lose you have no right to argue.

        Patrick Murphy, oh that narrows it down. Fine, my name is Joe Smith. Happy?

      7. Both TCU and Baylor have losses. My point is signature wins alone don’t necessarily matter.

        “Narrows” WHAT down? That IS my name. Just don’t be so pedantic and make fun of another’s name. I guess Forrest Gump was correct…

      8. That tears it! What kinda new tack are you taking?! Being NICE?!

        And then, you call me MURPH?!

        P.S. Ramblings of an old guy. For our senior Green-Gold game, coaches never knew my first name. Over the PA I was introduced as “M-M-Mike Murph…ee.” Was even printed as such in program!

        Thanks, you too, Ron.

  7. I’ll chime in, Pat. How about not even in the top 20. Stanford stinks. Michigan stinks. FSU continues to underwhelm. ASU gave up 62 to UCLA and blew out ND early and late. And those are the highlights of the season so far.

    I appreaciate your loyalty. But blind loyalty isn’t what’s needed right now. Sober realism tells us that ND isn’t a top 20 team.

    Sorry, but the truth is better than wishful thinking.

    Go Irish!

    1. First, still didn’t say where, only where not. Anyone can criticize, it’s harder to make a stand for something.

      Second, I’m neither a coach, nor on staff at ND, so blind loyalty is allowed for a fan.

      Btw, I don’t see your name on staff, either. I’m pretty sure they won’t be calling you for advice, either.

      1. Hence the term “fan”, short for FANATIC about one’s team.

        As opposed to “armchair analyst.”

  8. Agreed, I am most excited to see what Nyles Morgan can do. Obviously it hurts to lose some leadership on defense with Schmidt out, but let’s be honest….. he’s very limited with what he can do athletically.

    Maybe Morgan will come out and be better right away, it’s not like schmidt was an all star.

    Stay classy, san diego.

    1. My previous comment in no way meant to limit the obvious immediate impact of the loss of Schmidt- our leading tackler who sets the D’ and made multiple key plays and D’ adjustments in live time- game in and game out. But his loss is what it is.

      Niles Morgan was our Manti Teo of last year’s recruits. Like Teo, his development and impact can’t be expected to peak in his first start in his first year. But BVG is savvy enough to maximize his athletic ability and make the most of this “next man in.”
      He’ll blow a coverage or two, overrun a sweep, misread a zone blocking scheme. But he’s a gifted athlete, and next to #9, we haven’t had that kind of athleticism as our LBs since ???????. You can’t coach speed into your players, you can only maximize it, which is what I expect from BVG’s schemes today and for the rest of the season.
      Niles Morgan’s time has come- don’t expect what he’ll be in two years what he’ll do in Tempe this weekend. But I’m guessing he’ll make some plays that will amaze. Here’s hoping those will be enough as others must also step up. Point spreads don’t matter to me.
      Just win, Irish. Find a way, like you’ve shown you can these last three years.

  9. re: ASU and beyond:

    It’s an amazing challenge to impress when your best three chances to do so happen to be on the road at Florida State, at Arizona State, and the wounded ever-talented little left to lose at $C. It’d be very impressive winning out without your (projected) leading CB, established leading tackler and D’ field general, and most experienced safety and captain not available on your defense. Not making excuses . . .
    but as Joe Friday on Dragnet used to say, “Just the facts, M’am!”

    I’m most anxious about watching ND’s #5s on offense and defense;
    therein could be the keys to unlock the door to a finish of what still can be an historic epic season.
    Just win, Irish. Find a way. You’ve shown you can.

    1. I think the overriding point was to question our dropping TWO spots with that win. Power conference team, Navy is not, but better than most FCS schools many have scheduled.

      GO IRISH!!!

      1. Navy lost to Western Kentucky so let’s not get crazy here. The drop is clearly a result of ND bias and a larger conspiracy at work. This is irrefutable.

      2. So, Michigan St played NO ONE that week, and by virtue of not playing they deserved to jump us? Regardless of who Navy lost to, at least we played someone!

      3. teams usually do move up when they keep winning. And THAT is my point. Navy at very least is on par, if not better, than them.

        But what about a team moving up on they’re bye week, when team above them didn’t lose?!

      4. For the love of Mary please chill on this. Who gives a flip about where they are ranked today. Keep winning and it solves the problem.

      5. I hate to break this to you, but nobody cares that the scrub teams ND beats are marginally better than the scrub teams that Mich St beats. I’m not saying ND should have necessarily dropped two spots, but other than Mich and maybe Rice, ND has struggled in every game this year and lost to the only good team they’ve played. On the other hand Mich St has pounded their opposition, other than Oregon of course (I’d put my money on Oregon over FSU). ND just doesn’t look good right now. When you lose a game and struggle to win every week, what do you think happens in the rankings? ND is not a playoff team this year, but it can still be a success if we win out.

    2. What I’d try to sell (or at least get out from under) is this 70 year marriage with Navy,
      whose scheduling of us back when FDR was still alive, must require we continue this nothing-to-gain-everything to lose tradition that results in so what blow-outs when we do, dismissal when we beat them by less than three touchdowns, and contempt from others for even keeping them on our schedule. Throw in two to three season ending injuries and we have the trifecta. Respect for the service academies, sure . . .play Navy every year with nothing to gain, not so much! Next season Navy joins a conference; let this move and our agreement with the ACC initiate a new era for them – and open the door for us to get out from under
      this no-win annual scenario. It’s been a great marriage. We’ve more than paid back in full their saving our program three quarters of a century ago; how ’bout ending the marriage and trying to arrange a trial separation- it couldn’t hurt the kids as much as all the cut blocks have!

  10. When N.D. wins it’s never good enough for the rest of the hater’s if they win a close game their put down and if they win easy then it’s who did they play. Ohio St. was tied with Navy in the fourth quarter before they won by 17, Ariz St. wins on a Hail Mary against USC, Auburn gets lucky against Ole Miss, Oregon loses at home as 21 point favorite but their excused because their O.L. was hurting and so on and so on. N.D. needs to win out plain an simple if they do that then they should be in. Let’s hope for the best. Go N.D.

  11. wow, this is a day game. It will be 100 degrees on the field surface at kick-off. That is a HUGE home field advantage for ASU.

    That would be equivalent to them coming to ND and playing in zero degrees.

    We better hydrate and substitute a lot. That could be difficult if they run a fast paced offense.

    This game will require a lot of heart and desire on the part of the IRISH to win.

    Having said that, we have always done well in Tempe. I was there when we crushed Major Harris and the West Virginia Mountainqueers.

    Go IRISH!

    Woodrow

    1. Woody, the temp will definitely be an obstacle for us to overcome..but do you know what we won’t be wearing?…..ALL BLACK UNIFORMS! ha good choice ASU.

      GO IRISH!

      1. Thanks, Joel. That is pretty ridiculous of ASU.

        one thing good for us, is that a fair amount of our players are from the south and west and are accustomed to playing in heat. A lot of it is mental and knowing how to hydrate and avoid cramps.

        I played rugby and rode mountain bikes in extreme heat. It takes a strong mindset.

        Hopefully, the IRISH lads will be up for the task!

        Cheers,
        Woodrow

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