Matt Cashore /

Trouble Spots: The Conclusion

Part 3 focuses on the four most challenging game situations facing the Irish in 2016.

October 29 in South Bend. The contest follows a bye week that coincides with Notre Dame’s fall break.

  • Game Situation For the Irish: Post Bye (two weeks after facing Stanford) and seven games into the 2016 season, which means Notre Dame’s playoff hopes will have crystallized. Will they have a shot, or will they be saddled with two-plus losses?
  • Kelly Following a Bye Week: 6-1
  • Kelly in October’s Final Weekend: 5-1
  • Game Situation For the Hurricanes: Miami has nine days to prepare following a Thursday evening trip to Blacksburg against Virginia Tech one-week prior. The Hurricanes will have faced Florida State earlier in the month and will thus be battle-tested entering South Bend.
  • Miami’s Talent Level: Seventh among Irish foes according to Tim Prister’s “First Rate” formula.
  • Hurricanes Coaching Situation: Former Georgia Bulldogs head man Mark Richt takes over for the fired Al Golden. A former Hurricanes quarterback (he preceded Jim Kelly at the position), Richt spent the last 15 seasons in Athens after serving for an aggregate 14 years at Florida State under Hall of Fame head coach Bobby Bowden, the bulk of it as Bowden’s offensive coordinator. 
  • Is It A Trap? Um, no. Miami could bring its Water Polo team, dress them up in helmets and pads, and Notre Dame fans would hate those Hurricanes on a Saturday in South Bend, too.
  • Final Thought: The ‘Canes boast the best quarterback the Irish will face in 2016 in junior triggerman Brad Kaaya. As noted in a summer edition of Monday Musings, beating the best quarterbacks is a rarity for the modern-era Irish.

Game #3 for the Irish, September 17 at Notre Dame Stadium. Kickoff at 7:30 EDT.

  • Game Situation For the Irish: On paper, it’s ideal, one week after facing a lesser program (Nevada) in South Bend. 
  • Kelly Against the Spartans: 3-1 including wins in three straight after an overtime loss in 2010. The programs haven’t played since Notre Dame’s 17-13 win over the eventual 13-1 Spartans of 2014.
  • Kelly W/L In Game #3: 5-1 including 2-1 vs. MSU
  • Game Situation For the Spartans: Welcome to the season, Spartans! MSU hosts Furman on Friday, September 2, then has 15 days to prepare for the Irish. The Trials of Job indeed!
  • Michigan State Talent Level: Ranked third among Irish foes according to Prister’s “First Rate” formula irrespective of coaching staff and schedule. Add those elements, and Prister ranks the Spartans at the top of the list.
  • Spartans Coaching Situation: Head man Mark Dantonio has the program at the peak of its powers, winning at least 11 games in five of the last six seasons.
  • Final Thought – Michigan State ultimately plays a tough schedule this fall, squaring off against Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, BYU, and Penn State, et al, but the Spartans can nonetheless begin preparing for the Irish when they open training camp.

October 15 at Notre Dame Stadium, kickoff in prime time (7:30 EDT). The University’s annual Fall Break begins following Friday’s mid-term exams.

  • Game Situation For the Irish: Follows a trip to Raleigh against NC State and precedes the squad’s bye week.
  • Kelly Against the Cardinal: 2-4 with each of the last four decided by a touchdown or less. (2-2 in that span.)
  • Kelly W/L During Mid-Term Week: 4-1 including 4-0 in home games (lost at Florida State, 2014). Wins over Stanford (2012) and USC (2013, 2015) are included.
  • Game Situation For the Cardinal: A brutal opening slate awaits Stanford: Kansas State, USC, at UCLA, at Washington, and Washington State precede Stanford’s biennial trip to South Bend.
  • Stanford’s Talent Level: Excluding coaching staffs/schedule, the Cardinal players ranked second among Irish foes according to Prister’s First Rate series, trailing only USC and Michigan State.
  • Cardinal Coaching Situation: David Shaw enters his fifth season with three of the last four ending in Rose Bowl bids.
  • Final Thought – The contest is a college football “Game of the Year” candidate, as always. The current point spread has Notre Dame favored by three points.

Thanksgiving Saturday in Los Angeles to conclude the season.

  • Game Situation For the Irish: Follows a Senior Day matchup with Virginia Tech, the latter of which comes on the heels of two games vs. triple-option foes Navy and Army.
  • Kelly in Game #12: 2-4 with three straight losses
  • Kelly W/L vs. the Trojans: 4-2 including 2-1 in LA
  • Game Situation For the Trojans: Follows the annual cross-town matchup vs. UCLA. The Trojans will have already faced Alabama, Stanford, and Oregon before hosting the Irish and thus could be relegated to spoiler status – a dangerous three, even four-loss squad at this point in the season.
  • Trojans Talent Level: Ranked No. 1 among Irish foes – and ahead of Notre Dame – according to Tim Prister’s First Rate formula. Throw in rookie head coach Clay Helton and the Trojans plummet to #4 in Prister’s rankings behind Stanford, Notre Dame, and Michigan State.
  • USC Coaching Situation: 2015 interim head coach and former offensive coordinator Clay Helton enters his initial season at the helm – his first as a head coach at any level.
  • Final Thought – The Coliseum…where Irish national title dreams often went to die during the Parseghian and Devine tenures (five such crushing defeats). It’s worth noting though the tide has turned a bit in that regard as the Irish have lost meaningful contests (i.e., one with Major Bowl or national title implications) in Los Angeles just four times in their last nine such scenarios.

    Notre Dame squads lost in 1996, 1998, 2002, and 2006 – each of which would have put the program in a Major Bowl. Conversely, victories occurred in the following matchups out west:

    -- 1988 a 27-10 win in a #1 vs. #2 matchup
    -- 1990 a 10-6 victory to stay alive for a title shot (Orange Bowl)
    -- 1992 a 31-23 win to finish 10-1-1
    -- 2000 a 38-21 handling of the Trojans to qualify for the Fiesta Bowl
    -- 2012 a 22-13 win to finish 12-0

Will 2016 qualify? Today’s point spread shows the Trojans favored by 6 points as one of the nation’s featured “Games of the Year.”

Final Trouble Spots Rankings:
Need the Cliff’s Notes version?

12. Army (neutral) – On field mismatch but there are far worse teams nationally than Army Football 2016
11. Syracuse (neutral) – Not enough talent and the New Meadowlands crowd will be pro-ND
10. Navy (neutral) – The Mid’s likely lost too much to graduation to contend with the Irish this fall, but it won’t be a laugher, either.
9. Nevada – Short prep week, an experienced opponent, and a head coach primed for the task among the underlying issues for the Irish.
8. Duke – Will the ND crowd need a reason to cheer one week after facing MSU? Will the Irish squad sleep on the capable Blue Devils?
7. Virginia Tech – Upset Alert on Senior Day
6. At NC State – Any Given Saturday in the South
5. At Texas – An electric atmosphere awaits the Irish
4. Miami – An NFL-caliber QB and big boost from Mark Richt
3. Michigan State – A head-knocker, as always, awaits
2. Stanford – Ultimately, they’re a better team than MSU, and are thus #2 in our rankings.
1. At USC – If you don’t realize this is No. 1, you don’t know your Irish history.

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