In a win that wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as many had wished, the Notre Dame football team completed their regular season undefeated and in prime position to capture their first ever playoff berth since it was introduced in 2014. They have been included in the top four on two other occasions during the regular season (2015 and 2017), but poor Novembers dashed those dreams both times. The Fighting Irish were able to avoid defeat in 2018, and solidify their place in the final four, barring some chicanery that is too dubious to discuss in a serious way. For all intents and purposes, they are in.
Even if they didn’t win the crowd, as the saying goes, they were required to win so they won. That is enough. Are you not entertained?
S&P+ Statistical Update
- The Irish finish their regular season 6th in the overall rankings, 29th on offense, 3rd on defense, 58th in special teams. Recently Bill Connelly, the creator of the S&P+ formula, penned an article about where the Irish would rank offensively if Ian Book had been the starter from day one. He speculated they would be 8th. So, significantly better.
- The Irish defeated the 5th (Michigan), 27th (Stanford), 40th (USC), and 44th (Syracuse) ranked teams to make up their top four wins according to the formula.
- They currently stand a 100% chance of finishing the regular season 12-0.
- Michigan has a 100% chance of missing the playoffs. (This isn’t an S&P number, but it is very funny, so I’m keeping it in.)
He’s 22-3 over the last 25 contests since he was retained controversially by AD Jack Swarbrick following the 2016 season. He has a pretty decent chance of being voted as the coach of the year for the second time. He is about to lead the school to its first ever playoff appearance. It’s notable to me how confident Kelly was in this team in the beginning of the season, even prior to Michigan when looking back on it, he would have been absolutely justified in not being confident at all.
Heading into the season opener, Kelly’s starting running back was a wide receiver the season before and had never played in a real game. His third team running back was a quarterback the season before and had never played in a real game. The offensive line was re-tooled after losing two top 10 picks, and they were down their top two receivers from the previous season. He stated they needed to start Wimbush at quarterback because they wouldn’t have had much of a running game otherwise. He was, in fact, the teams leading rusher that night. That’s a whole lot of not so great things heading into that contest, but he expected to win and had his team ready to win. And they did.
And that pretty much sums up this season for Kelly, his staff, and his team. They were prepared to win every single week and they went out and did it.
The Notre Dame strength and conditioning coordinator was awarded the game ball following the game last night. Novembers have been famously difficult for Brian Kelly teams and his squad came out of it with wins by 10, 29, 33, and 7. When Kelly switched coordinators following 2016, it was met with fanfare and skepticism. Of course the new strength guy is the bees knees, they always are, until the losses start piling up. But Balis appears to have lived up to the hype. The players clearly like him, and he has clearly done a good job. Just take a look at what he did for a player like Dexter Williams, who couldn’t stay healthy on 40 carries a year.
In the 8th game of his season, Williams went for 21 touches and 151 yards. Williams went over 20 touches five times on the final eight games, and showed no worse for wear. Balis has earned the accolades and the players showed him love following the game.
He makes sure our TRAITS OF EXCELLENCE are followed throughout the year – we couldn’t have done this without his leadership!
— Brian Kelly (@CoachBrianKelly) November 25, 2018
The Program Overall
Last night could have been referred to in the business as a program win. Notre Dame didn’t have their best stuff on a big night. The defense was on its heels and the quarterback was flustered. Nothing was really going well. But, the team kept playing and kept playing, and eventually they found a way to turn the tide in their favor. And that’s what winning programs do, they find ways to win when it isn’t entirely clear how it’s going to happen.
Book is the poster boy of this, because I think he, more than any other player, was feeling the moment. He was frustrated and he didn’t try to hide it. He screamed at himself following poor decisions and showed the body language of someone who was aware he was scuffling. He knew exactly what was happening. But, Long kept giving him chances and eventually he found his path. He ran over a USC defender in the first half on third and long before throwing a perfect corner route to Finke for their first score. He had another third down conversion later in the game, juking a USC corner in the open field and stretching for the sticks. And obviously the game winner to Jones, a perfect ball in the face of the blitz, as calm as you like.
Now they are going to the playoffs, where new challenges await, bigger challenges, and the chance to take the program a step further. In any event, it’s been a great ride so far. Are you not entertained?