Now Notre Dame gets down to the serious business in 2017.
Gone are the cupcakes, in are the…meat and potatoes? (I’m not sure what the inverse of a cupcake is.) The first half was quite a good time, with the exception of one unfortunate night in early September. Notre Dame woke up this morning ranked 13th in the AP poll at 5-1, with a real chance at a playoff berth if they were to navigate the remainder of the schedule put before them. Opinions differ on how realistic that is given what we’ve seen from this team so far, but the fact remains it is in play. Getting through the final six weeks unscathed will be as impressive as anything any team will do this year.
Notre Dame has had a week to rest, plan, and prepare for the final gauntlet this season. Let’s take a look at what’s ahead of them and how things look on the Notre Dame end.
The Strength of Schedule
Regardless of how you feel about Notre Dame as a team this year, the next six games would be a challenge for any team in the country. Consider that the statistically worst team in the next six (Navy) is currently ranked 57th in the S&P+ rankings, is 23rd in offense, 30th in points per game and is 5-1. The next worst team in the S&P is 29th ranked Wake Forest. Those are the “easy” games on the back end of the schedule.
The next four represent the 11th, 15th, 17th, and 22nd ranked teams in the country, again according to the S&P+.
In terms of offenses, the Notre Dame defense is about to face, in order of play, the 18th, 15th, 72nd, 11th, 23rd, and 6th rated units in college football.
The Notre Dame offense will be butt heads with the 31st, 53rd, 14th, 24th, 94th, and 47th ranked defenses, so they have a bit of an easier go of it.
Notre Dame has dominated lots of mediocre to bad teams during the first six weeks, and to be clear, Michigan State (20th in the S&P+, 78th on offense, 9th on defense) was no patsy, but the competition will be stiff every week the rest of the way.
Brian Kelly stated in his weekly press conference today receiver Kevin Stepherson looked good during the bye week and we should expect to see more of him this week and presumably as the season moves forward.
In a vacuum this is a pretty big development. He was the second leading returning receiver on the team this season and he possesses a skill set unlike anyone else on the roster right now, at least that is currently playing. It’s easy to forget about what he did last season because we were kind of forced to. He never saw the field in the pre-season and he sat for most of the first six games.
But, he had a stretch in the middle of last season where he looked dominant, including a slant catch and run against Miami that had a number of defenders on roller skates as he ripped apart their secondary.
Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum, and Stepherson’s return may be somewhat mitigated by the inability of the passing game to reach its potential. After all, leading receiver Equanimeous St. Brown hasn’t been able to find much traction this year, so if Notre Dame can’t get him going, why should we expect different from Stepherson? Perhaps the answer is we shouldn’t. But, adding talent to the offense midseason is never a bad thing. Maybe they don’t get out of these guys what they could with a better quarterback situation, but I can guarantee the opponents liked it a lot better when Stepherson was on the sidelines.
The NCAA’s Reputation
Hahaha just kidding their reputation can’t fall any further.
In case you missed it, the NCAA ruled they couldn’t punish the University of North Carolina for their fake classes and fake majors because they couldn’t prove it was an extra benefit to athletes, due to the fact that those courses were available to regular students as well. And as the NCAA so eloquently put it, academic courses fall under the purview of the institutions, and they trust them to make those decisions. Fantastic.
Just as thought experiment, what is to prevent any institution from creating several sham courses, with sham majors, for it’s athletic department and a select few non-athletic department students in order to get their players through college without ever having to go to class, take a test, etc? The answer, apparently, is nothing. Nothing prevents it. You can do whatever you want as long as the University is cool with it.
The backdrop to all of this is Notre Dame telling on itself to the NCAA after a student manager was discovered helping players write papers (and when I say “helping write” I mean “write”). They didn’t have to do this. They could have done nothing. But, like a lot of Universities, they choose to take their academics, and their integrity, rather seriously. So, it cost them five players, two seasons worth of wins, and NCAA probation. Notre Dame was punished for telling the truth and North Carolina was rewarded for lying.