Litmus Test

Notre Dame appears to be a very good football team in 2012. A win Saturday vs. Stanford would cement that status and elevate the program among the season's elite.

There are three accepted hurdles remaining on Notre Dame's 2012 slate: Saturady in South Bend vs. Stanford, two weeks later in Norman vs. Oklahoma, and the season's concluding game in Los Angeles against USC. P> Long-time Irish fans know there's generally a stubbed toe along the way, too, with BYU, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest lining up to the annual unlikely thorn, but for argument's sake, three heavyweights remain.

One, the Cardinal, have owned the Irish of late, a current string of three straight on the heels of seven consecutive Irish wins vs. Stanford in the latter's post-Tyrone Willingham era. But this trio of recent triumphs is particularly vexing in the manner attained:

Stanford (STANFORD!) punched Notre Dame in the mouth and the Irish were unable to sufficiently strike back.

Therein lies the chief chore tomorrow: can Notre Dame hold at along both lines of scrimmage? One side appears likely, as the Irish defensive front is unlikely to be pushed around by any in 2012. But how about an offensive line that managed just 52 rushing yards vs. Purdue, just one third-down conversion in 14 tries vs. Michigan State, just one touchdown drive vs. Michigan?

And before you bring up the likes of Navy and/or Miami, consider the following:

Stanford has held Notre Dame to 101 combined rushing yards over the last two meetings. They're currently the nation's No. 6 rush defense, 11 spots higher than the stout Irish front. Nothing you saw vs. Navy and/or Miami will manifest in South Bend vs. Stanford.

But rushing yards, somehow, some way, must.

In the Brian Kelly era, Notre Dame is 11-0 when it throws fewer than 30 passes. That makes them 10-10 when the total climbs higher. Its unlikely Notre Dame can run more than it passes Saturday, but relying on the pass vs. Stanford's stunting, penetrating, confusing, quarterback-crushing defensive front would be foolish. (The Irish W-L ratio drops to 3-9 when 40 passes are thrown.)

The conundrum, of course, is that Notre Dame can't likely pound away at the Cardinal front and expect end zone results. They have to beat the Cardinal at their own physical game, as Kelly has indicated repeatedly this week, but also strike downfield because the first team to two touchdowns will likely win this old school battle.

Look for plenty of post-whistle action from both sides, precious few third down conversions, and more field goals than touchdowns, but enough timely big plays from Irish quarterback Everett Golson to gash the Cardinal secondary downfield.

With a nod to the growing reality of a re-shaped program, one built on toughness and defense rather than go routes and fade patterns, I'll go against a pre-season prediction and flip favor to a confident, focused, well-coached group of hosts:

Notre Dame 16 Stanford 15 Top Stories