When you’re a fan of Notre Dame football, or just sports in general, for long enough, you learn about the different fan types. (When I say fan, I mean the type of person who grades years in their lives by the type of season their team had.) (I fall in this category.) They fall into four distinct categories and everyone knows someone who falls into each one.
- The Pollyanna– This is the person who has never picked Notre Dame to lose a game in their life. Go back and yourself, has this person ever picked Notre Dame to lose prior to a game? If no, this person is a polly. And that’s fine. There is something to be said for optimism, even if it’s blind.
- The Cautious Optimist– The middle two are going to be the most conventional, and probably accounts for most fans. This is the person who takes in all of the data objectively and proceeds thinking all of the good things that could happen, will happen.
- The Cautious Pessimist– Exactly the same as above, they just assume the opposite. All the bad things that could happen, will happen. The question then becomes can Notre Dame win when bad things happen to them?
- The Curmudgeon– The clock could be ticking down just prior to a Notre Dame national championship and this person will be complaining about something. The players are too happy. It was a bad game plan. They got lucky. This person is also a season ticket holder and hasn’t missed a game in 30 years.
The thing about toss up games like the one upcoming between Notre Dame and USC, is it accentuates all the different fan types. Because no one really shows their true colors when Notre Dame is a 20 point favorite. It’s when it can go either way, when there are all kinds of ways to come to a conclusion in a game when teams are evenly matched. Luckily, I’m here to confirm the beliefs for all of you out there.
We all know you’re picking Notre Dame to win, it’s just a matter of how. So how about we ask this question: when was the last time Notre Dame entered a game against USC when the Irish were superior on both lines? To find that answer you’d have to go back to the late 80’s to mid 90’s. And you know what happened during that time period? Notre Dame won all the games.
Notre Dame possesses the #1 rushing offense according to Bill Connelly and his S&P+ formula, against USC’s 34th ranked rushing defense. On the flip side, Notre Dame is ranked 15th in defensive rushing S&P+, against USC’s 48th ranked rushing offense by the same metric. When Notre Dame wins the trenches, Notre Dame wins games.
Notre Dame also had two weeks off, USC is without their top defensive end, a starting defensive tackle, and their other starting defensive tackle is coming off of an injury. Notre Dame will dominate them upfront and bring glory back to South Bend.
The Cautious Optimist
They recognize everything that is said above with an open mind. Facts are facts. Notre Dame should have an advantage upfront. They also realize the best part of USC’s offense (team) is their quarterback against a defense that has given up 10 passing touchdowns to quarterbacks far inferior to the opponent they will be facing on Saturday.
The truth is there is a case to be made either way. The teams are very similar. Notre Dame’s defense is 13th, USC’s 31st. The Irish offense is 19th, USC 18th. According to FEI, the other metric on Football Outsiders, the USC special teams units rank 62nd, Notre Dame 73rd.
Whatever case someone wants to make about why one side is better than the other, you’re splitting hairs. Notre Dame holds the theoretical edge inside, USC at the skill spots.
The optimist will look to turnovers to split the difference, often critical in close match-ups. USC has turned the ball over 16 times, and Notre Dame has gained 14 over the course of the season. Notre Dame is 9th in turnover margin, USC 59th. In fact, it was a late turnover that ultimately ended USC’s chances in their loss to Washington State this season. The optimist sees that happening again.
The Cautious Pessimist
The pessimist will point out turnovers are hard to predict and can’t be counted on when previewing a game. Take last week for example. USC fumbled an exchange and had a swing pass bounce off a players helmet that was ruled to be backwards. Those turnovers aren’t forced. What if sloppy things don’t occur, then what?
It’s also notable USC has forced 16 turnovers this season, so it’s just as likely Notre Dame turns the ball over this week as well.
Someone who looks at the bad side of things might not be able to get passed the fact that USC has Sam Darnold, who has bailed his team out in close games a number of times, and Notre Dame has Brandon Wimbush who failed in the only close game he’s played in this season. Their guy will be a top pick in the draft. There has been talk of our guy being benched at various points this season. When push comes to shove, it’s hard not to take the team with the better quarterback.
The game is already lost, all that’s left is the manner in which it will go down.
Notre Dame has failed continuously in big games and they will do so again because that’s what Brian Kelly teams do. They failed against Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Stanford, Georgia, and Clemson, why should USC this year be any different? Sure, it’s a good offensive line. Against Temple. What happened to the great line against Clemson in 2015? Or this season against Georgia? What was it, 50 yards they ran for? If they can’t be counted on in good games then what difference does it make?
USC will come in here, just like Georgia did, with their fans and their band, and they’ll whoop us just like the dawgs and everyone will go home sad and depressed. A perfect illustration of the Kelly era.
Who Are You?
So there it is, pick your poison.
As best I can figure, this game and this opponent is a lot like the Florida State in 2014. FSU was 15th in offense that year, this year USC is 18th. FSU was 38th in defense, USC is 31st. They featured a star quarterback, just like USC, and a team that underachieved, but still got the job done when they needed it.
The game will be close and will probably come down to a drive by someone to win it and I have no idea what to think.