NOTRE DAME INSIDER/Nothing to Fear but Alabama Itself

At 11-0, Irish tracking for College Football Playoff with right to be confident

I’m revising my opinion of Notre Dame. Had a lot of respect for them before, but also a healthy skepticism due to their schedule.

Now, that’s not so true. That 36-3 beatdown of Syracuse in a game that looked dangerous, on top of the way ND handled what could have been a difficult trip to Northwestern—these are convincing things.

With a win at struggling USC on Saturday night, the unbeaten Irish would finish a perfect 12-0 regular season and improve to 4-0 this November against Power Five teams.

Their record against Power Five teams the previous five Novembers?

4-11.

When I was covering murders, trials, parades and other disasters as a news reporter, a 4-11 alarm fire was a serious blaze.

The only team I absolutely, positively don’t like Notre Dame against is Alabama. That puts them among the rest of the teams in the galaxy that play on Saturday, and a few that play on Sunday.  

I’d still go with Clemson straight-up. But with a few points. . . that’s a close call. The Tigers obviously look great. But what’s their best win? Say what you want about the Big Ten. But I’d like to see how the Clemsons of the world would deal with getting their stuffing rearranged week after week..

And a Notre Dame-Michigan rematch might be a pick-‘em—although, based on Saturday, the Wolverines continue to have problems with teams from Indiana.

What I like about this Notre Dame team: Its line play is top-notch—better equipped, I believe, to deal with post-season play than the 2012 team that lost to Alabama in the title game.

We all tend to focus on skill guys. But the big dudes upfront make them possible. And Notre Dame has very solid big men on both sides of the ball.

That said, quarterback Ian Book and running back Dexter Williams are very good at taking advantage of the time and space their linemen create. And ND’s super-sized receivers—Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool—are good targets. Both are 6-4 and pushing 230 pounds. They could line up at tight end or linebacker, wherever they want.

Another key: Notre Dame’s schedule has worked out very well for a run like this.

There are a lot of years when a schedule that includes Michigan, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Stanford and USC can be hazardous ot your health. Especially when you throw in a few Northwesterns and Pitts.

This is not one of those years.

Maybe there’s a stat geek out there who has calculated the last time Virginia Tech (4-6), FSU (5-6), Stanford (6-4) and USC (5-6) all were this messy in the same season. I bet it was a while ago.

That said, all credit to the Irish. In every championship run, things fall into place.

Facing its best opponent since the Michigan opener, ND throttled new and improved Syracuse on Saturday in every way—in a game that was supposed to be a lot more competitive. Especially with the pressure mounting on ND to “play like a champion today,’’ as the locker-room sign says.

I have been a bit skeptical until now—in part because of Notre Dame’s favorable schedule.

No more. The Irish not only are a team that has made the most of its opportunities to earn a College Football Playoff berth. They’re talented. They have the right pieces in the right places. And they’re playing loose and free—not easy to do when the stakes are getting this high.

Look for ND’s coordinators to be starring as head coaches at a school near you soon—if they’re not driving Brink’s Trucks as SEC coordinators.

Notre Dame strikes me as a team that can do some damage when it gets there—until it has  to line up against Alabama.

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