When does a matchup against a more talented team take a backseat to a contest against a less talented, but bitter rival?
Why does a neutral site game in November against a mid-tier program rank as a more difficult game situation than a battle vs. one of college football’s storied programs to open the season?
Questions such as these and dozens related to them were the impetus of our annual Trouble Spots series six summers ago – our attempt to project Notre Dame’s toughest games situations on any and every given Saturday, rather than merely rating the overall strength of each foe.
In other words, USC might prove to be Notre Dame’s best overall opponent, but is that mid-October tussle in South Bend a more difficult game situation than a season-ending trip to Stanford?
Will Boston College be better than Texas? I don’t know, and neither do many at this stage of the calendar year – but I’m certain Notre Dame’s Nov. 21 trap game against its Napoleonic Complex rival presents a trickier matchup than does the season opener against a Longhorns program that spent 2014 attempting to eradicate the rats from its ship.
And thus, our Trouble Spots series continues with the trap game of 2015…
Former Irish assistant Steve Addazio (1999-2001) is in his third season at the helm on Chestnut Hill after a brief stay at Temple (2011-12) and extended stint under former fellow Notre Dame coach Urban Myer at Florida (2005-2010), where the pair won two national titles.
Addazzio’s 14-12 record with the Eagles is highlighted by a victory over USC, two wins against Virginia Tech, and a pair of tough losses against Florida State.
When and Where? Nov. 21 at Fenway Park in Boston, Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series contest for 2015.
The Eagles in Review: The strength of the Boston College program has long been its line play, but on one side of scrimmage the current edition is in flux as the Eagles are forced to replace their entire 2014 offensive line, though a former starter returns from injury that kept him from action last fall.
A bevy of experienced, talented ‘backs return in an attempt to replace superstar Andre Williams (2,177 rushing yards) who moved onto the NFL. Dual-threat quarterback Darius Wade will lead the way for a run-first group that’s likely to be far more cohesive in November than September -- four of its “new” offensive line starters are seniors.
The Eagles defensive front seven should again rank among the nation’s best after boasting the No. 2 rush defense last fall.
Boston College defeated USC last season, 37-31 behind an obscene 452 rushing yards and also nearly took down Florida State in November, losing 20-17 in Tallahassee. They held Clemson to 17 in a 17-13 defeat but were ripped up by Louisville, 38-19 and lost a Pinstripe Bowl battle with Penn State, 31-30 as part of an uneven 7-6 campaign.
Actual Ranking Among ND’s 12 Foes: As high as No. 6 but as low as No. 10.
Game Situation (Trap City USA): Let us count the ways:
--Notre Dame precedes its contest against the Eagles with a road date at Heinz Field, a venue in which they’ve dropped two of their last three against Pittsburgh, and then go through Senior Day festivities and the resulting emotions in a "cant lose" contest against Wake Forest (#11 on our list). BC will enjoy a bye week prior to taking on the Irish.
-- Notre Dame’s opponent following the Eagles is modern rival (in recruiting, on the field, you name it) Stanford and a contest against the Cardinal that could have playoff implications. BC has an innocuous meeting with Syracuse, a game that only mattered in the Big East. In basketball...
-- Notre Dame will be feted with a week of uniform oddities and 48 hours of pageantry leading up to this annual Shamrock Series affair. BC? The Eagles will boast 80-85 athletes not recruited by Irish head coach Brian Kelly, and thus hell-bent on revenge as a result, thereby stifling the annoying masses that infiltrated their city.
-- Notre Dame has at least five and as many as seven perceived “more important” games than this one. BC has one (Florida State).
Yeah, this isn’t shaping up as an ideal spot for the Irish…
Why No. 7 could be too high: Texas could certainly be a better team than Boston College, though the Longhorns of September aren’t likely to be in better position to hang with the Irish than will be the Eagles of November.
If Notre Dame faced Boston College in the opener, or in Week Two in Fenway Park, the Eagles would rank as low as No. 10 on our Trouble Spots slate.
Previous No. 7s in the Trouble Spots series include: Connecticut 2009, Michigan 2010, BC 2011, Pittsburgh 2012, Arizona State 2013, Navy 2014.
-- Connecticut won outright against a head coach in Charlie Weis with one foot (pushed) out the door. (Of note, we picked the Huskies to do just that…in overtime, to boot.)
-- I ranked Michigan far too low (Denard Robinson was not-yet a realized entity of mass destruction) while the Eagles of 2011 were ranked appropriately and gave the Irish trouble on Senior Day, losing 16-14.
-- Pittsburgh 2012 was the easily identified “Trap” of 2012 (followed Oklahoma) while the presence of Arizona State in this slot illustrates well how difficult the schedule was for Kelly’s 2013 Irish.
-- Michigan 2014 was ranked relatively accurate (no way to argue FSU, ASU, USC, Stanford, and North Carolina, the obvious trap of 2014, below them), while Navy also ranked one spot higher on our list than did the Wolverines. I erred thought putting Michigan ahead of Louisville, last year’s No. 7, in retrospect, as the Irish were clearly going to be sky high for Michigan in Week Two and Louisville came to South Bend after the grind.
Prediction: An ugly, relatively low-scoring affair (the winner won’t top 28). A battle in the trenches which on the surface favors Notre Dame’s projected M.O. for 2015, but likewise plays into the hands of the Eagles, a power-running program that will feel at home with a close contest entering the fourth quarter.
Will the teetering-on-playoff-contention, more explosive Irish – likely double-digit favorites entering the contest – respond to a close contest as well?
-- Overall opponent’s strength: Eight wins seems likely for the Eagles, but this series identifies the only Saturday that matters to Irish fans. Twelve of them…
-- Game situation: It’s a classic trap game scenario against a foe well versed as November spoilers of Irish championship dreams.
-- Determining factor: The Eagles rank higher than Texas on our Trouble Spots list because not only do I think the game will be played to a closer margin, but that there’s a better chance for ND to lose to BC rather than in the season-opener against the Longhorns.
-- Trap Game History in our Trouble Spots Series: 2009 Connecticut (check, loss), 2010 Tulsa (check, loss), 2011 Air Force (WAY off, blowout win), 2012 Pittsburgh (check, win), 2013 Purdue (check, win) and Pittsburgh (check, loss), 2014 North Carolina (check, win).
2015 Boston College?