I've changed my mind.
Throughout the summer, and as late as Tuesday, I felt the Irish would defeat the Cardinal. I talked about at on the IrishEyes message board, citing "a feeling." Today I've decided to stop ignoring trends and let the home town team prove something first.
Points will be scored38, 33, 51, 55, 28, 45, 27, 52, 35, 68…Stanford's point totals over the last 10 contests dating back to mid-season 2009. The 27 was with a backup quarterback vs. Oklahoma in a Bowl Game.
Notre Dame has allowed its opponents to rush for more than 200 yards in five of its last seven contests. Stanford has eclipsed that number in 7 of 9…piling up a number near 300 just as often, including last Saturday in the bloodletting of Wake Forest.
My point? I can't envision Stanford scoring fewer than 28 points Saturday. That's a healthy low-end number. And about that 68-point outburst Saturday vs. Wake Forest, a contest in which the Cardinal scored touchdowns on their first seven possessions…well you'd need a Hot Tub Time Machine to find the last Notre Dame team capable of approaching such a staggering total.
(One promising side note: Wake Forest stinks out loud this year).
And if seven consecutive touchdowns vs. a slow-footed Demon Deacons defense doesn't inspire you, consider this same collection of O-linemen paved the way for five consecutive scoring drives vs. the Irish defense last season, the final in the form of forced surrender, literally, as the Irish defense allowed the Cardinal a walk-in, go-ahead score in the final minutes in an effort to get the ball back for Jimmy Clausen and the offense.
To be blunt: Notre Dame hasn't stopped the run since Victor Abiamiri, Derek Landri and Trevor Laws roamed the front four together with a pair of hard-nosed, veteran linebackers behind them in 2005. I'll believe it when I see it.
"Stats are for idiots"That late 80s gem from Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka served as a rallying cry prior to the numbers age that has gripped sports.
While some stats do tell tales (red zone efficiency, turnover margin, points allowed…) others regularly deceive. In this case, its Stanford's No. 1 national ranking against the pass.
Give me a break. UCLA and Wake's passing offenses rank 118 and 105 respectively, and they'll remain in that neighborhood through season's end. Notre Dame will throw for 300 yards and three scores without blinking tomorrow; in excess of 400 if they're consistently trailing by more than a score.
Stanford changed both its defensive coordinator and secondary coach in the off-season. It changed its scheme and, apparently, chief method of coverage.
One thing it didn't change (enough) was its backline personnel; the same group that looked helpless vs. Golden Tate and Michael Floyd last Thanksgiving for an Irish team that kept its charter running the moment it landed in the Bay Area.
Floyd returns, as does Kyle Rudolph, who had one shoulder in the teams' meeting last season. The Irish will score plenty on a pass defense that, if you remove the first three games vs. the world's worst passing offenses, will once again finish in the bottom third nationally by season's end.
And don't just take my word for it:
"To be honest, it's hard to evaluate…but I can tell you it's a whole different scheme from last year," said Brian Kelly of the Stanford defense Thursday night. "They matched up really well against an offense like Wake Forest because they could put 9, 10 guys on the line of scrimmage. They overwhelmed Sacramento State; and quite frankly, UCLA, I don't know what they were doing offensively.
"This will be totally different than what they have seen relative to our offense. So it's going to be fun. It's going to be a different scheme for them and its going to be a challenge on both ends."
Translation: Stanford will need its aforementioned four touchdown minimum Saturday, because the Irish offense is ready to roll.
Something has to giveBrian Kelly has won 8 of his last 10 vs. ranked opponents…but Notre Dame has lost ten straight (Good Lord…) and has won just 17 of its last 52 games against a ranked foe since Lou Holtz's departure following the 1996 season.
Stanford has lost seven straight in South Bend and Stanford has never defeated the Irish in consecutive matchups over 24 meetings. Notre Dame has dropped four out of its last five and 11 of its last 20 contests in South Bend.
Notre Dame hasn't won as an underdog of more than one point since a visit to equally awful Stanford in 2007, and the Irish program is just 5-21 in an underdog role since Charlie Weis' first game. Brian Kelly was 5-6 at Cincinnati as an underdog (and 0-1 in South Bend), though Kelly's teams did prevail as dogs in five of his last six in the Queen City.
Stanford has started 4-0 just once in the last 50-plus seasons (1986). Notre Dame has never beaten a ranked Stanford team (0-3).
The copy above offers plenty of historical trends to ponder, but one present-day head-shaker serves as the most important for Saturday: Stanford Quarterback Andrew Luck has suffered a single interception in the red zone (he has 29 TD passes vs. 4 interceptions over 15 starts).
Stanford will pile up yards…its quarterback has yet to make a crucial, drive-killing mistake. That's a lethal combination vs. an Irish defense that gives ground on a regular basis.
Confidence QuandaryStanford has a reason to be confident. They've annihilated three consecutive foes, and have been an offensive role for nearly a calendar year.
Notre Dame has lost six of the last seven times its taken the field.
But Kelly has no doubt his team remains confident and ready to win.
"Each game that we play, we go in expecting to win the game," Kelly said. "There's nobody in our locker room, there's no coach that says, ‘Oh my God, we're playing Stanford, we've got no chance to win.'
"Our kids, they believe they can win. We've just got to play with an intensity, and I think I used the word ‘nasty,' but a will that we've got to get out, and I expect to get it this Saturday."
I believe the Irish can win, too. And with all due respect to the impressive turnaround and the hard-nosed program Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh has erected in this, his fourth season, allow me to point out the following, college football truth: For crying out loud, its Stanford! How is the phrase, "can win" a valid part of the equation for this Notre Dame team?
But I have my doubts this team, one without a single college football player who's won more games than he's lost since stepping onto campus, will come through with a season-changing win after repeated, hard-fought failures.
Fool me once, twice, three times, shame on you. Fool me nearly every time I turn around for more than a decade…
Stanford 44 Notre Dame 38
Season Record: 2-1 W-L; 2-1 against the spread