With three ranked opponents down and none on the horizon, the Fighting Irish seem to be sitting pretty. The offense is clicking, the defense is stout. So what's the greatest danger ahead?
Three Things We Learned about Notre Dame Football in Week 6. . .
1, It’s all starting to line up for Notre Dame
Was that a rainbow I saw on Twitter before Notre Dame took another big step in Blacksburg, Va. on Saturday? Facing what was billed as their most difficult remaining opponent, the Fighting Irish wound up cruising to a 45-23 victory over No. 24 Virginia Tech.
ND led a 17-16 nail-biter at halftime. After opening a 10-0 lead on their first two possessions, its only other first-half score came on a 42-yard fumble return with 1:08 left for a 17-9 lead. The defense gave up a final-minute TD that allowed the Hokies to close the gap.
Throw in the fact that Ian Book wasn’t able to connect on some long throws—and this wasn’t looking like Notre Dame’s best effort. VaTech was looking very determined—and very capable of spoiling ND's plans..
Then came that 97-yard TD run by Dexter Williams, followed by a 40-yard TD pass from Book to Miles Boykin in a dominant third quarter—and the Irish were firmly in command.
After scoring 70 points in their first three games, the Irish have basically doubled that (139) in their last three games.
The way the Virginia Tech game played out might have made the win all the more impressive. On a night when it didn’t have its A game for long stretches, ND found a way to prevail in a very hostile environment.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Pot of golf at the end of the rainbow for these leprechauns? Signs are pointing that way.
2, Oklahoma’s loss clears another boulder in ND’s path
Dedicated TMG followers know that on our APBA Games Podcast last week, Mr. College Football and A Jersey Guy were adamant that a 12-0 Notre Dame was a playoff lock. I wanted to leave a little opening in that door. I had an image in my mind of the College Football Playoff committee telling Clemson or Oklahoma, ``Sorry. We need to make room for Notre Dame alongside Alabama and Ohio State.''
The Committee's ongoing lack of respect for conference champions surprises me. But that's a topic for another day.
Of course, all of these scenarios are hypothetical mumbo-jumbo in early October . . . Fun for those of us who love college football. But hey, let’s not get too excited. Because so many things are going to happen before everyone gets down to settling on The Actual Final Four.
Like Oklahoma losing to Texas . . . Oh, and by the way, maybe you remember that I had Texas ranked 13th in my pre-season Sweet 16, right behind Oklahoma. My other pre-season dark horse, No. 16 Florida, isn’t looking too shabby, either.
The question is, will The Committee really bump a conference champion for an undefeated Notre Dame? The answer is: Of course. But it’s a lot easier to do if the conference champion is an upstart like West Virginia or Miami than a CFP regular/traditional power like Oklahoma or Clemson.
Yeah, that’s subjective. And yeah, this is a very subjective deal. Just ask Ohio State and Alabama.
Another question: Does ND need to be fretting about another two-SEC-teams playoff? Georgia obviously is very worthy of joining Alabama. But things would need to play out hand-in-glove the way they did last year. That’s a very tricky deal, and LSU’s loss at Florida on Saturday didn’t help. That third wheel—like Auburn last year—is a key component.
In the end, those who fear another two-SEC playoff need to stay on the Crimson Tide band wagon. Because the St. Nick music-makers are the most dangerous one-loss threat—as we saw last year.
Yeah, it’s subjective. And yeah, the Irish bring their own subjective appeal to that party.
3, There’s still peril, even though the most dangerous opponents appear to be in the rear-view mirror
Three ranked opponents (Michigan, Stanford, Virginia Tech) down. . . None remaining. . . What could possibly go wrong?
The Irish are likely to be favored the rest of the way. But that, as we know, doesn’t matter much on Saturdays.
For starters, Northwestern is beginning to perk up. The Wildcats, who also started 2-3 last year and finished 10-3, gave Michigan a serious scare and pulled off a good win at Michigan State the last two weeks. Is NU the best 2-3 team in the nation? That's a playoff between the Cats and Iowa State.
And then there’s USC. The Trojans aren’t off to a great start but their losses to Stanford and Texas don't make them chopped liver. USC has talent. And that’s such a classic anything-can-happen rivalry.
Even if they don’t look imposing, Pitt, Florida State and Syracuse have all had their moments. And even Navy, which is down, often seems to get up for the Irish. Luckily, Old Dominion isn't on the ND schedule.
On the plus side, quarterback Ian Book, running back Dexter Williams and receiver Miles Boykin are settling into a nice offensive rhythm. And the defense is looking very sharp—especially the defensive line. That’s a cornerstone for stability. If the defensive line is solid, everyone else’s job is easier.
Here’s the larger point: The biggest hurdle as the season goes on for an unbeaten team often is that inner opponent. Pressure.
We’ve all seen it.
Notre Dame undoubtedly will have at least one tough day at the office by season’s end. It will come when least expected. If the Irish survive on that day when things aren’t going right—well, that’s what championship teams do.[/membership]