Fighting Irish and ``under the radar’’ aren’t phrases usually seen in the same sentence.
And that situation won’t last long for Notre Dame, the team that everyone loves to 1) love or 2) hate.
Because after a bye this week, ND will line up against No. 13 USC on Oct. 21 in one of the nation’s most storied rivalries.
Win that one, and the 16th-ranked Irish will return to their rightful hype-filled place, delighting shamrock worshippers and irritating everyone else. And a loss would fan the Irish fire in a different way.
That game, which once looked ominous for ND, now looks like another high-profile anybody’s-guess kind of game. That’s because the Trojans—after a loss at Washington State and some narrow escapes, including that double-OT deal with Texas—have their own issues.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s 38-18 win at No. 21 Michigan State, which just beat Big Brother in Ann Arbor, is looking better and better. And ND’s 20-19 loss to No. 4 Georgia is not looking too shabby, either.
At 5-1, the Irish already have more wins than last year's 4-8.
They also have matched their 2016 total of 14 turnovers gained. Their plus-7 turnover margin is tied for ninth in the nation.
That’s a number I place a lot of faith in, because it correlates so closely to success. The eight teams that are ahead of ND in turnover margin are a combined 40-4.
Another reason for optimism is the Irish rushing offense, which is averaging 308 yards a game, sixth in the nation. That ground game is led by Josh Adams, who is ninth in the nation (129.3 yards a game).
As Indy Star ND writer Laken Litman pointed out, ``Through six games, Adams now has six rushing plays of 50 yards or more. Though he’s yet to receive national recognition or Heisman Trophy hype, only Stanford’s Bryce Love has more explosive plays with seven.’’
And as I will point out, ND coach Brian Kelly, who lit into Litman for asking an obvious question about the Irish continuing their pattern of close losses after the Georgia setback, the mercurial Irish leader has kept a lid on his eruptions since that incident. Of course, that’s easier to do when all five of your wins have come by at least 20 points.
Those are the reasons for optimism.
The reasons for caution start with the passing game, which is 114th in the nation (163.2 yards a game).
Brandon Wimbush, who sat out the 33-10 win at North Carolina Saturday, doesn’t have to be great. But he does have to show better than he did against Georgia.
Admittedly, the Dawgs’ defense is stout. But that leads to the other big reason for caution. The Irish are going to see better all-around competition in the second half of their season.
Five of their final six opponents are ranked in the current top 25. After the Trojans, they play No. 11 Miami, No. 20 NC State, No. 23 Stanford, No. 25 Navy and Wake Forest. The Miami and Stanford games are on the road. And even unranked Wake Forest (4-2) was very respectable in its only losses—to Florida State and Clemson.
If ND runs that table, it will insert itself into the College Football Playoff debate, although that may depend on how many Iowa State-Oklahomas the future holds..
In other words, enjoy the bye-week calm before the storm.
Because one way or another, Notre Dame will be in for a very tumultuous ride in the second half of its schedule. Either the lovers or the haters are going to be very pleased.[/membership]