October 23, 2015

Rakes Report #29: Potpourri and hodgepodge (The Bye Week Edition)


Happy bye week, everyone! Having an open weekend after a big win is a great feeling and so much better than wallowing for a fortnight following a loss. It’s the medium-term equivalent of winning an early game, then sitting around and watching the primetime games, enjoying life as your score rolling across the bottom of the screen and other teams struggle with failure and sadness.

I was thinking, if there was interest, that we could try a mailbag next week since there’s no game to review? If anyone has questions about Notre Dame or anything else that might be fun, please reply to this e-mail. Maybe it’s its own edition, maybe it’s part of an edition or maybe it’s nothing.

Couple more notes before we go further:

1) Thanks to NDMSPaint for the art today. Top-notch recreation of my favorite play from Saturday night that didn’t include Adoree’ Jackson staring at the back of Will Fuller’s jersey.

2) I should have some good news for those of you who were interested in Bob Elliott Institute t-shirts in the very near future.

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Notre Dame is currently 11th in the AP poll, which we will use as a guiding metric since playoff rankings aren’t out until November and the coaches’ poll is a joke. For the sake of this exercise let’s say that late-season losses will be seen as worse than earlier season losses and Notre Dame will jump every team that goes down. This will not be entirely accurate because I doubt the Irish could move ahead of one-loss Clemson or a one-loss SEC champion LSU team, but this is a start to the discussion. All right:

  • Stanford: Notre Dame plays them. This is easy, we’re up to ten.
  • Michigan State/Ohio State: Play each other. We’re up to nine.
  • Clemson/Florida State: Opponents. Up to eight.
  • LSU/Alabama: Opponents. Up to seven.
  • Baylor/TCU: Opponents. Up to six.

That’s within striking distance, at least, and while we’ll need a some more help, it’s potentially sitting there. TCU and Baylor still have to play Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, who have a combined one loss between them. LSU still has to play Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M, plus the SEC title game. Alabama closes the season at Auburn, if you think the Tigers might have fixed some of their issues by then, and then would have the SEC title game. Utah still has games with USC, UCLA, Arizona and potentially the Pac-12 title game. Michigan State still has Penn State and Nebraska, while Ohio State must go to Ann Arbor. There’s also a match-up with a potentially undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten title game, which could be an issue, because I don’t see how a 13-0 Big Ten champ – even if it’s a team with Iowa’s schedule – doesn’t make it. Florida State has Florida, and the winner of FSU/Clemson will play a decent team in the ACC title game.

One potential hiccup: If Alabama and Ole Miss both win out, the Rebels would go to the SEC title game saddled with a second loss against Memphis. Does 11-1 Alabama get in the playoffs even if they don’t participate in their league's title game? Considering they’re Alabama, I’d guess yes. I would love to see SEC champion Ole Miss having its resume compared to an undefeated Memphis team that beat it.

We’re going to need some help, and that help can start this weekend. Southern Cal over Utah, Tennessee over Alabama, Miami over Clemson and Georgia Tech over Florida State are all upsets that could maybe happen (the Trojans are actually favored, so that’s not even really an upset). Bonus points if Rutgers or Indiana can take down Ohio State or Michigan State, but I will not hold my breath. At this point Notre Dame fans should root for Stanford to get to Thanksgiving 10-1, but I’m not going to tell anyone they have to support David Shaw and a dancing tree. Do what your heart tells you, that game is still far enough away.

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There was a request to run through how Notre Dame’s past and future opponents are doing this season, so let’s take a quick look.

Texas: The Longhorns are 2-4, but it’s a really respectable 2-4. They lost to a decent Cal team by one on a missed extra point and an undefeated Oklahoma State team by three on a shanked punt, but they beat Rice and an otherwise undefeated Oklahoma team. Yes, they got their heads caved in against Notre Dame and TCU (combined margin: 88-10), but those teams are good! They play a reeling Kansas State team Saturday and then have a bunch of winnable games (Iowa State, Kansas, West Virginia, Texas Tech) before traveling to Baylor in the season finale. This is a team that could get to a bowl and will be a nice opening test for the 2016 season.

Virginia: Virginia is very bad. They got their first FBS win on Saturday, taking down Syracuse in triple overtime, but after throwing the kitchen sink at Notre Dame they lost to Boise 56-14. That game did feature some successful plays out of the “Hey, what if I just chuck the ball in the air? Could that work?” offense that plagued the Irish, but yeah, Mike London is not going to be the coach next year. They close with North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami, Louisville, Duke and Virginia Tech, which means four wins would honestly be kind of a miracle.

Georgia Tech: Oh, Georgia Tech. After starting the season 2-0 against tomato cans, the Yellow Jackets have now lost five straight. To be fair, they’ve been dinged with injuries and the teams they’ve lost to over that stretch have a combined four defeats between them, but this is a team that was ranked in the preseason now on the verge of missing a bowl. They host Florida State on Saturday and Georgia in the finale, with a mushy ACC middle (Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami) in between where they could make up some ground. Really disappointing season for Paul Johnson’s crew.

Massachusetts: 106th in the FEI, which still puts them ahead of Kansas, so. The Minutemen are 1-5, but three of those losses are to Notre Dame, undefeated Temple (by two) and a really good Bowling Green squad. This was probably always going to be the worst game on the schedule, and that’s where we still stand.

Clemson: Still really good, although untested save for surviving the Irish in a monsoon. The computers love them (first in FEI) while recognizing it’s been an easy road (78th in Strength of Schedule; Irish are 12th, if you were curious). If the Tigers lose a game the rest of the way, it’s going to be an upset, as Florida State travels to Death Valley and they’ll be favored easily in every other game (Miami, NC State, Syracuse, Wake, South Carolina, potential ACC championship). Deshaun Watson has pretty much been in game manager mode all season, although he did have a bit of a breakout throwing for 420 yards against Boston College (to go with three scores and two picks). Considering Notre Dame probably needs this team to lose twice to jump them, not ideal.

Navy: The Midshipmen have one of the best five or ten offenses in the country by whatever advanced metric you want to use, which gives them a chance in two huge road games (at No. 18 Memphis, at No. 21 Houston). If they can split the pair they’d possibly earn an American title game berth against Temple, which would be very helpful for the Irish. I would be surprised if Navy ended up with fewer than nine wins, which is good news for the Irish SOS, although they’ll need to take out the Tigers or Cougars to be in the Top 25 come selection Sunday.

USC: There is a world where the Trojans win the Pac-12 South and a world where they miss a bowl entirely, although most likely reality is a 7-5 finish. If they can down Utah on Saturday night, they’ll earn the tiebreaker over the Utes and close the division gap to one game. If they lose to Utah, they will need to go 3-2 against a slate of @Cal, Arizona, @Colorado, @Oregon and UCLA just to get to a bowl. Judging by their solid, didn’t-pack-it-in-down-24-10-performance against Notre Dame, I have hope for the Trojans, but who knows how they’re going to handle things under Clay Helton the rest of the way.

Temple: The Owls rallied Thursday night to win and put their primetime game with the Irish on the radar for “GameDay” next Saturday. (The other alternative if both teams win this weekend would be Stanford at Washington State, as the “GameDay” crew has been looking for a way to honor the Flag People for their diligent waving over the years.) We’ll save most Owl thoughts for next week, but the pertinent information is 1) They’re undefeated 2) They’re ranked and 3) They’ve got a great shot at winning their division and playing for a conference title. This is far more than we could have hoped when they were added to the schedule.

Pittsburgh: Sneakily competent all season long, the Panthers sit at 5-1 and 27th in FEI, their lone loss coming on a 57-yard field goal against undefeated Iowa. In his first year on the sideline, former Sparty defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has gutted out wins at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech despite the loss of star tailback James Conner in the season opener. The Panthers travel to Syracuse Saturday, then have a Thursday night game with North Carolina, which will give them a few extra days to prepare for the Irish. Not looking forward to this game.

Wake Forest and Boston College: Just lumping these two together because they played in one of the worst games ever and we should talk about it. On October 10, 2015, the Demon Deacons went into Chestnut Hill and left with a 3-0 victory. Wake Forest had five first downs and 142 yards of total offense, which is almost as impressive as their nine penalties for 104 yards. The two teams combined to go 4-for-30 on third downs and turned the ball over six times. Wake Forest’s offense is 114th in FEI. Boston College is 117th. They cannot score. The Eagles technically have an elite defense, but I’m skeptical that teams don’t just stop trying on offense after they hit double digits, because when pressed, Clemson put up 520 yards and 24 first downs. An additional note regarding the Demon Deacons: Under Dave Clawson, Wake Forest is 2-1 in ACC games when it doesn't score a touchdown…and 0-9 when it does. Losing to either of these teams would make me very sad.

Stanford: After scoring six points in their opener against Northwestern (in a game that kicked off at 9 a.m. PT), the Cardinal have been rolling on offense, putting up 31, 41, 42, 55 and 56 points in five straight wins. Kevin Hogan has been steady, Christian McCaffrey is channeling the spirit of Toby Gerhart and the defense is doing enough (only 56th in FEI, but they made big plays against UCLA). The schedule sets up nicely for them getting to the Irish at 10-1, with Washington, @Washington State, @Colorado, Oregon and Cal.

Here’s our wish list, but feel free to ignore rooting for any teams you hate:

  • Stanford wins the Pac-12 North.
  • USC steals the Pac-12 South.
  • Georgia Tech and Texas make bowls.
  • Navy or Temple win the American.
  • Pitt wins the Coastal Division and perhaps the ACC.

It’s a lot to ask, but we’ll see. Plenty of football to be played.

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C.J. Prosise is realllllly good, Part 675, with bonus DeShone Kizer and offensive line praise:

To be fair to the Trojans, they had every reason to focus to some degree on Prosise, who had a fantastic game (earning a +4.7 grade that’s tough to achieve for a running back). Prosise forced nine missed tackles on his 19 carries and gained 66 yards after contact. On nine carries right up the gut (either side of center), Prosise gained 85 yards, forcing three of his nine missed tackles.

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There has been plenty of ink and HTML spent on Joe Schmidt, but E and Larz at One Foot Down took the time to really drill down his play against USC. My thought is that Schmidt was pretty good but not great last year, and since Notre Dame was winning there wasn’t much sense in critiquing the nice guy with the great story who worked his ass off. He got hurt as the defense submarined and when he was voted MVP of the team despite only playing in two-thirds of the game the legend only grew. Now he’s back on the field with a “C” on his chest and the expectations are higher, which makes the mistakes more glaring. I would love for Greer Martini and/or Nyles Morgan to get a few snaps earlier in the game just so we can have a fair comparison, but it doesn’t seem like those close to the program (Irish Illustrated podcast, for one) think that’s possible. Thin line between loyal and stubborn, and I'm not sure on which side of the margin this falls.

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CORRECTION FROM MONDAY: I wrote that Redfield and Farley were shuffling until Redfield closed the game, but Farley was getting consistent snaps with the Redfield relegated to special teams until he took over the safety position in the second half. The junior missed a tackle early before settling into a pair of strong final drives. Thanks to @PootND for pointing this out.

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Fail To The Victors, one more time. I wish I could take the Michigan radio call in pill form any time I’m feeling a little down. Please listen to this as well: Michigan State's announcers calling Saturday's win at the same time as App State's announcers calling their 2007 Big House win.

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