Pregame thoughts from South Bend

Greetings from South Bend, folks! It's the first game of autumn and it definitely feels the part – it's a chilly 57 degrees with total cloud cover and more wind here than when we left the Windy City on the imitation BootTrain.


…Wind, of course, affects the kicking game, so maybe the wind was at fault here, but I've just watched Stanford warm up for 90 minutes, and unfortunately, I can't tell you whether Nate Whitaker and our kicking game is back to its usual strength after missing two extra points last week. Nate, a Notre Dame transfer, and his sophomore brother Eric nailed a few from 50-plus yards and were looking pretty good, but then I saw some misses – with the ball shanking off to the right as it had against Wake. So who knows? With Stanford a solid six-point favorite, hopefully it doesn't come down to field goals anyway.

One of the last times I saw Troy Clardy was in this very press box four years ago, as Walt Harris' Cardinal lost 31-10 to Charlie Weis' Irish. My how things change. Stanford last won here in 1992, 33-16, so hopefully more change is a-comin'.

Watching the teams warm up, Notre Dame looked okay, not great, a few drops. For Stanford, meanwhile, the receivers looked like the Harlem Globetrotters, with leaping and one-handed catches galore. Andrew Luck looked on as well, throwing a 40-yard corner route right on the money. If you were just eyeball testing this one, you would definitely go with the Cardinal right now. The one dude on Notre Dame who did look amazing, however, was Armando Allen. I think we might be hearing that tailback's name once or twice by day's end.

A bad omen for the home team is that Purdue is losing 24-20 to Toledo with eight minutes left. Purdue, of course, is Notre Dame's only win of the season, 23-12 Week One. Then again, Michigan and Michigan State, Notre Dame's two narrow losses, are up 65-21 and 45-7 respectively, albeit against cupcakes.

Probably three times as many Stanford fans as were at this game four years ago. A Cardinal-clad crowd of maybe 200 was on hand to cheer as the team journeyed from the buses into the locker room two-plus hours before kickoff. This team has come a long way.

Then again, Stanford still has a long way to go. Probably four times as many people in the Notre Dame press box as in Stanford's a week ago. Your credentials here now have to be scanned and have the same sort of watermark technology you see on new $20 bills – I've never seen that anywhere else, very cool. There's a framed replica of every Sports Illustrated cover featuring the Irish, too numerous to count. There are nice, old ladies up here in the box who do not merely offer you donuts, hot dogs and chili, but darn near force it upon you with a genuine smile and a "you'll be back for seconds!" It's no wonder us press folk as a whole are a rather rotund group. Maybe host hospitality shouldn't affect media coverage, but it does, and Notre Dame charms like no other media department I've seen.

Relatedly, I was discussing with Troy this paradoxical disconnect: individually, most Notre Dame fans are painfully nice, but as a group, there is no fan base in the country I hate more. He agreed and we were stumped for a moment, but I think it has to do with delusional expectations and a delusional sense of history.

To wit, I'm overhearing the Notre Dame Rivals guys talking to each other, "Oh, I haven't really seen Stanford play, but I'm not convinced about their stats." The guy then proceeded to bash UCLA. Or the 80 year old usher who didn't want to watch the close ACC game ("I don't care about those teams") but was really glad Michigan, up by 40, was on the tube.

It's not 1972 anymore and the college football universe is no longer bounded within 500 miles of South Bend. It's not that the ND fans didn't have valid points, heck, many of us diehards aren't convinced about Stanford's stats either -- but at least we've seen us play! And, again, many of us probably have an opinion as to our ability to handle Notre Dame, but again, they've been on national TV three weeks running. We are forming our opinions off all available facts, not willfully ignoring the facts to form our opinions!

The gall and intellectual dishonesty to first claim, "oh I haven't seen them play, so they can't be that good" and then say, "oh, they're not a Midwest team, so I don't care to see them play" captures this fanbase to a T. I'm no lawyer, but gee, what's the logical conclusion here? If we only see Midwest teams play, then only Midwest teams can be any good! Well no wonder Notre Dame deserves to be in the preseason Top 10 every year! [Notre Dame, as its media handouts proudly mention, is still receiving an AP Top 25 vote at 1-2.]

Oh yeah, that's why I hate this school.

Okay, I just got goosebumps through the ND pregame show, even though I don't know about all these guys in kilts, so it's gametime. Sure enough, Stanford lost the toss and will kick. We'll try to update at halftime, and then have postgame coverage as well. Go Card!

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