Watching Brian Kelly dancing in the locker room after Notre Dame had taken down Michigan State, I couldn’t help but think that the celebration had all the trappings of a big win over a conference rival.
Yeah, I know. That ship has sailed. Point is, if the Irish ever decide to enter the modern college football world and join a conference, the Big Ten ought to be the only place for them.
As remote as it sounds, there will be one last window of opportunity. When the Big Ten and the Super Powers finally complete their inevitable land grab and settle into four 16-team conferences, ND ought to make the right move. And 16-team conferences will happen, just as sure as television contracts have oodles and oodles of zeroes.
An ND in the Big Ten is not as far-fetched as it sounds. When I covered Notre Dame in the ’80s, it played Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan and a pre-Big-Ten Penn State every year. And those often were games that produced dancing in the locker room.
I don’t think you’re getting rivalries like that against N.C. State and Wake Forest.
But that’s a topic for another season.
At the moment, the door remains open, however slightly, for the Irish in their annual overly ambitious objective of playing for the national championship—or bust.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
ND, which has three wins and a close loss to No. 7 Georgia, checked into the AP poll at No. 22 this week.
The defense is much improved. It’s using its athleticism. It’s young and energetic, and it has a plus-4 turnover margin, with nine takeaways. Last year, it came up with 14 turnovers all season, and finished minus-4.
The rushing offense is averaging 293.5 yards a game, seventh in the nation. The big question remains the passing offense, which is 113th among the nations’ 129 teams, at 165.8 yards a game.
But ND is cautiously optimistic about the progress made by quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who completed a season-best 14 of 20 passes (70 percent) against Michigan State. Kelly credited giving Wimbush some quick, easy, high-percentage throws early, to get him into a rhythm.
We know Wimbush, who ran for 207 yards against Boston College, can tuck it and run—and that’s enough against many opponents. Will that work against stiffer competition? It didn’t in the 20-19 loss to Georgia, netted just eight rushing yards.
It's all about Wimbush continuing to make strides throwing the ball.
If he can do that, and if the Irish keep playing the way they’ve been playing, they could sneak into a really successful season.
They play Miami of Ohio and travel to North Carolina the next two weeks. Then they will have a week off to prepare for the pivotal showdown, with longtime rival USC, which is No. 5.
Win that game, and Notre Dame enters into a lot of conversations.
There would still be many hurdles—a meeting with N.C. State, which just knocked off Florida State, and trips to Miami and Stanford.
But if the Irish can find a way to beat the Trojans, they could realize their dream of a big bounceback from last year’s 4-8 anguish.
I’d still rather see them in a conference, for all of those years when their national-championship dream gets an early wakeup call. But as I said, that’s a rant for another day.[/membership]