The Cardinal are fresh off one of the most impressive losses in recent memory, in which they snapped victory from the jaws of defeat against an Oregon State squad featuring a backup quarterback. They have now lost 11 games in a row against FBS competition, and ending that streak doesn't get any easier, as they head to South Bend to take on an improved Notre Dame team. After a rough start to the year and a loss against Marshall, they have now won three games in a row and are knocking on the door of the AP Poll.
We sat down with Pat Rick from Notre Dame fan site One Foot Down to get his take on the Fighting Irish and how they match up with the Cardinal.
Notre Dame is on a 3 game winning streak after a rocky start to the season. How do you feel about new Head Coach Marcus Freeman now that we’re halfway through the season? We’d also love your comment on this revelation:
In a word: BETTER.
I certainly wasn't willing to be one of the ND-fan idiots who started declaring that Marcus Freeman was clearly wrong for the job after that Marshall loss (it was his 3rd game as coach!), but of course I was in full-on meltdown mode with the rest of the Irish faithful after such a bad showing at home against a middling Sun Belt team (especially because it wasn't some fluke...the Thundering Herd legitimately outplayed Notre Dame across the board).
But considering Marcus Freeman has done everything right off the field -- reinvigorating recruiting, saying all the right things in press conferences and interviews, reiterating that Notre Dame's unique qualities are selling points instead of the obstacles Brian Kelly saw them as -- it has been nice to see the team get back on track and start playing some good football, because Freeman is so easy to root for, especially compared to Kelly. He's young, charismatic, a tireless worker, and seems like a legitimately good guy -- all he needs to do is also be a good coach, and I'm fully on-board.
So I think now that we're past that panic of Marshall and the first half of the Cal game, his future at ND looks exciting again. With that said, I don't think the Irish will suddenly run the table this season or be making the College Football Playoff for at least another year or two, if not a bit longer. But I DO believe he's capable of exceeding Kelly in terms of where he can take the program, especially considering he still has plenty to learn as a first-time head coach.
Also, that revelation is indeed a *chef's kiss* story that couldn't be more perfect for a Notre Dame head coach (it feels like something out of a comedy, like a bad sequel to Angels In The Outfield or something Selina Meyer would do in Veep to garner the Catholic vote or something...except it wouldn't work for her like it's apparently working for Freeman). I love it enough that I will forever point to Freeman's baptism as the turning point in his tenure, especially if he ever actually takes the Irish to a national title. As someone who went to Catholic school from kindergarten through college, I can appreciate Marcus deciding to go so all-in at this job that he literally picked up a religion to get God on his side. He's now #blessed, no doubt.*
*Also also, his conversion to Catholicism coincides perfectly with Drew Pyne taking over as the starting QB. I have a theory about Pyne actually being an angel sent from heaven to help Marcus, but I'll keep the details to myself until we see Pyne against the Clemson defense.
Former ND Head Coach Brian Kelly is respectable 4-2 at LSU, but he’s had his fair share of gaffs this offseason, most notably adopting a cringy southern accent. How do you feel about your former flagbearer, and do you think he’ll be successful in the SEC?
I'll try to be polite and diplomatic with my answer here: Brian Kelly is an arrogant, stubborn, low-ceiling, can't-win-the-big-one head coach who thrives in a CEO-type role at the head of a program with lots of inherent advantages, as long as you don't ask him to bring in better talent or actually beat any elite opponents.
I will admit that I do appreciate the fact he dragged the Irish program out of the hole that Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, and Charlie Weis dug while in the same role, but it was extremely obvious within the first 5-6 years that he would NEVER be the guy to bring Notre Dame back to true glory. Then, when he got things humming over the last 5 seasons after that 4-8 debacle in 2016, it was obviously more enjoyable, but still pretty frustrating to see so clearly that his program's ceiling was making the CFP and then getting blown out by a real opponent.
I don't think he will be particularly successful in the SEC, no. I think he'll be able to maintain an LSU team that goes roughly 8-4 to 10-2 every season (which is good for plenty of programs, but LSU fans/boosters won't be loving that for long), but until Nick Saban retires and/or until the SEC reorganizes with the new teams coming in, I don't even see a path for Kelly to make the SEC title game with all the good teams in the SEC West, let alone win it over an SEC East team like Georgia.
You guys will have to tell me if I'm being too bitter/biased, but I just don't think he makes sense in that job and LSU will let him go after ~5 seasons.
Stanford Football allowed one transfer this year (S Patrick Fields from Oklahoma). Compare that to U$C’s 29 and you can sniff out a new source of disparity in college athletics. How has the emergence of the transfer portal impacted Notre Dame? How do you feel about its growing influence?
I'd say Notre Dame is definitely closer to Stanford on this topic than most, so Irish fans feel your pain. The Irish largely only allow graduate transfers, just because undergrads often can't transfer credits and still be on track to graduate on-time, so Admissions won't allow it. There are definitely exceptions -- current safety Brandon Joseph was able to undergrad transfer from Northwestern, and a while back ND got S Alohi Gilman from Navy and RB/WR Amir Carlisle from USC, but for the most part it's really difficult to find undergrad transfers in the portal who can get past Admissions and also are good enough to contribute to the team.
I will say, though, that grad transfers have been pretty big for the Irish over the last 5-10 years, so I don't mind that as a quick-fix way to bolster the depth chart, although I don't love relying on it either. Notre Dame has had several really key grad transfers of late: QB Jack Coan, OL Cain Madden, WR Ben Skowronek, CB Nick McCloud, CB Cody Riggs, and a few others. So I like it for that aspect, as all those guys were starters and pretty important to their respective teams.
But then also, like everyone, ND has to deal with more departures from the program than before due to the existence of the Portal. Lots of kids don't want to wait a long time to play if they can go somewhere and start right now, and I get that, and also like that players have a bit more freedom to move to a good fit since coaches can freely do that whenever they want. Notre Dame DL Jacob Lacey literally just made that decision a week ago, wanting to redshirt this season and then go somewhere else to start for his final 2 years of eligibility. I get the appeal of that.
So I guess the above is a long-winded way of me saying that I wish ND could take more advantage of the Portal, but they cannot, and so I agree that it can be a bit of a disadvantage for the Irish and Stanford and a few more academically-minded programs as opposed to someone like USC who's just all about bringing in 30 mercenaries to jump-start their rebuild.
If Notre Dame wins on Saturday, what will be the main reason? Any particular players (offense or defense) we should keep our eyes on?
The main reason will be that the Irish will have continued to execute in a strong fashion on the ground, as they've been running the ball super well the last two games, accumulating 521 yards and 3 touchdowns while picking up 5.4 yards per carry. If they continue to do that, it will also allow QB Drew Pyne to pick his spots and continue his ultra-efficient passing attack to find TE Michael Mayer for some big plays.
Secondarily, I think ND winning probably means their defensive front got some good pressure on Tanner McKee and forced a turnover or two, which they haven't been great at to-date but certainly have the talent to do more of on that side of the ball.
In terms of particular players, offensively it has to be Mayer first and foremost, as he just set the ND career record for receptions by a tight end only 5 games into his junior season, and has 33 catches for 351 yards and 5 touchdowns already this year. He's the most complete tight end in the country and a complete mismatch for almost every defense. I'll also throw in the ND running backs, especially Audric Estime, who's a 5'11", 227-lb physical freak who's got 351 yards and 4 touchdowns on 5.3 yards per carry so far this season -- he's a LOAD to tackle and surprisingly nimble for how bulky he is.
Defensively, DE Isaiah Foskey and S Brandon Joseph are the preseason All-Americans of the group, but both have been pretty quiet this year relative to expectations. I wouldn't be surprised if Foskey got a couple sacks or a forced fumble on Saturday, though, or if Joseph finally got himself a pick considering how much McKee will likely be throwing the ball. Other names to know on defense are DT Jayson Ademilola and DBs Benjamin Morrison (starting as a true frosh) and TaRiq Bracy (has been ND's best DB this season, but might not play after hurting his hamstring last weekend, which would be a tough loss for the game).
If Notre Dame loses (dream with me here), what will be the main reason?
I think that result definitely means that Stanford found a way to mostly shut down the Irish running game, and might also mean that Drew Pyne has either gotten injured (forcing true freshman Steve Angeli into the game) or at least reverted back to his performance at the end of the Marshall game and the beginning of the Cal game, when he looked like he had never played QB before (he has since significantly improved, thank the Lord).
ND losing also probably means the Irish linebackers continued to play slow and occasionally out-of-position, the defensive line didn't get to McKee too much, and the secondary let guys like Michael Wilson get behind them for several big plays -- all entirely possible, but hopefully not all simultaneously.
Can you give us a score prediction?
I don't know if the first half will be a complete blowout, especially if ND gets off to a slow-ish start or gives up some big plays to Stanford early, but I think the Irish are finally clicking a bit, especially on offense, and their defense still has their best football ahead of them once they figure a few more things out. So I believe by the end of the 3rd quarter the Irish will lead by 2-3 scores over a reeling Stanford squad, and they end up winning by something like 17-20 points.
I'll go ahead and predict ND 41, Stanford 23.
Conference realignment talks have mentioned both Notre Dame and Stanford as future potential Big Ten members. What’s your dream realignment scenario for Notre Dame? How would you feel about being in a conference with Stanford? How do you feel about CFB moving away from a regional paradigm and toward a national one?
Dream realignment is absolutely Notre Dame being able to remain independent while still getting a seat at the table for CFP/national title contention.
However, I realize we may be trending toward an eventual future where the super-conferences won't allow that, and if that becomes the sad reality, I think being in the same conference as Stanford makes complete sense, especially from an academic and other-sports standpoint. There's no doubt it's a good fit there.
In football, I would say overall it would be a good fit too, I just wish Stanford hadn't fallen off recently, as it's much more fun to play Stanford every year when the Cardinal are bringing big, physical teams to town and competing for conference titles and Rose Bowl bids. So as much as I'm not really a fan of David Shaw, I hope he -- or his successor -- gets the Cardinal turned around, as it's much more fun to consider being in Stanford's football conference and continuing to play y'all each year if both programs are in good shape, Marcus Freeman's God willing.
On moving away from a regional paradigm toward a national one, I don't think it makes much sense logistically or from a financial side of things, especially for non-revenue sports, and I do think it causes college football to lose some of its weird, local, traditional magic when you sever ties between schools that go back decades and divide regions the way those rivalries do.
But, I will admit that it's fun to see all these teams mixing and matching and joining conferences where they'll have to play a lot of different and new and challenging teams than they were playing, e.g. Oklahoma and Texas having to play SEC schedules, USC and UCLA joining a conference with Ohio State as the top dog, etc. That's a fun development, even if it isn't what I would choose overall.
Below is the newest Stanford Tree. Bask in its spookiness. Please react and then provide (1) three adjectives you’d use to describe it, (2) the horror movie monster it most resembles, and (3) how you would plan to kill it if necessary.
Initial Reaction: it reminds me of this big spider web jungle gym thing on the playground at Holliday Park in Indianapolis, but with a hat on top. Here's a photo of what I'm talking about (in the foreground*) -- I can just imagine a horde of 3rd graders climbing all over the Tree and then panicking as it starts to walk with all of them hanging on for dear life.
*Note: that spider web thing looks so much smaller than I remember it being as a kid.
Three Adjectives to Describe This Latest Stanford Tree: 1. Unsettling, 2. Discombobulated, 3. Chemically-imbalanced (probably should be two words, but I like being liberal with hyphens so we're gonna count this as one)
Horror Movie Monster It Resembles: His color scheme is giving me Dracula, but after staring at that picture for way too long and my eyes nearly burning from looking directly into the eyes of that monstrosity, I can't help but think of that new horror movie about Winnie the Pooh and Piglet that's coming out. I don't know why, but this conveys the same vibes to me and I don't love that.
How I Would Kill It (If Necessary): I might try a wooden stake, but I'm afraid that wouldn't be enough and would bring me too close to it when I attempt the kill and it ends up eating me or something. So, I would either try to light it on fire from afar (fire always seems like a good bet for dealing with trees and/or monsters), or I would maybe try sending ~100 of those 3rd graders to climb on top of it (thinking it's part of a playground) and bring it down/crush it under their sheer weight.
--Fear The Me.