Saturday, November 28, 2015

Notre Dame Football: Time-Out Edition

The dream is alive at 10-1, with a make-or-break matchup against Stanford this afternoon (or evening, I guess) that should decide our playoff-worthiness once and for all. Probably. 
Except I kind feel like we’ve been kicked off the playground at recess and been told to take a time-out.
It’s like the playoff committee looked at the BC game and said, “Whoa! Five turnovers? All right, Notre Dame. Why don’t you just go sit at #6 for a while. Let us know when you feel like you’re ready to play with the Top 4 again, and then maybe you can come out.” 
From this view, two spots out of playoff contention, this seems a tad unfair. After all, there are three one-loss teams ranked ahead of us now, and who did their losses come against? Now-#18 Ole Miss, unranked Texas, and unranked Nebraska. Whereas our only loss of the season came against #1 Clemson. And our strength of schedule, while apparently not A-plus SEC-worthy, is nothing to sneeze at. 
Of course, suppose you’re looking at the way Notre Dame played against Boston College, and you’re asking yourself, “Does this look like a team that could beat Alabama in a playoff game? Does this even look like the same team that was a 2-point conversion away from tying Clemson?” the answer would be no.
So many fumbles. So many dropped passes. BC was stripping harder than a dancer at a gentleman’s club. However, I don’t think anybody who’s watched more than one BC-ND matchup (or really, more than one BC-against-a-highly-ranked-opponent matchup) should’ve be surprised to find the Irish in a near-nailbiter against the Eagles. (Upsets are really the only thing BC is good at.) As Winston Shi at the Stanford Daily put it: “The Irish played ugly against Boston College last week, but everybody plays ugly in Boston.” 
Of course I would’ve liked to see us put forth more of a dynamo effort against our Catholic nemesis-in-arms--but not for a second did Notre Dame play like it was going to be defeated. No matter what happens, this team does not give up, does not concede, and does not let anything--not even an outrageous number of season-ending injuries--stop them from playing to win. It’s not just mental toughness. It’s mental resilience. 
But those kinds of intangibles don’t matter so much if you don’t look good while you’re winning. Apparently. And the selection committee (like most pollsters before them) is playing with a system of weighted grades. How you finish the season matters far more than how you started it (as the now-#3, lost-to-bleeping-unranked-Texas Sooners can attest). It doesn’t matter that we creamed Texas in the season opener if we can’t shellack 3-7 Boston College in our second-to-last game. It doesn’t matter who we lost to if the other 1-loss teams fighting for a playoff spot score more points against their lesser-ranked opponents than we do.
Because of course all championship-worthy teams improve steadily over the course of the season. Nobody ever has a hard-fought brawl against an old rival at a “neutral site” in their opponent’s backyard the week right before they’re supposed to play top-10 Stanford in the game that decides their playoff contention once and for all. I mean, what kind of team loses the ball four times and then holds their opponent scoreless for an entire half? What kind of team kills its own momentum over and over and over and yet never allows their opponent to lead or even tie for the entirety of the game? 
Obviously I’m not going to say we played well against Boston College. But I think it’s a testament both to how bad BC’s offense is and how good ND is overall that we kept a five-turnover game from getting out of hand. (Just like we kept all those turnovers against Clemson from getting out of hand.) And it’s a little bit hard to swallow being dropped two spots in the polls after a win. 
Then again, some of the things I dislike about the playoff committee are also the things I like about the playoff committee.
For example: I like that the playoff committee refused to rank Ohio State #1, even though when the first playoff poll came out the Buckeyes were still the undefeated defending national champs. Because come on--let’s not be slaves to last season. 
I also like that they’re currently giving Iowa kudos for being 12-0, even though the Hawkeyes have defeated pretty much nobody of interest in the Big 10 west and whoever they face in the championship game next week (either Ohio State or MSU) is probably going to send them hobbling out of the top 4 with skinned knees and a bloody nose. (Though interestingly, no matter who emerges victorious from the Big 10, it probably isn’t going to help ND.)
I really don’t know how I feel about Oklahoma jumping four spots to #3 after a one-point victory over TCU. I mean, it’s kind of exciting the playoff committee is willing to bounce teams around like that--but did the Sooners look so much better beating #18 TCU by one point than they did beating #6 Baylor by 10 points the previous week? Or was it just that beating two ranked opponents in a row finally convinced the playoff committee to forget Oklahoma’s little hiccup against Texas and catapult them into true playoff contention? 
With any luck, Oklahoma State will dispatch Oklahoma this evening and keep the Rodgers-and-Hammerstein hopefuls from snagging a lead in the playoffs, and then we’re back out of the corner and swinging from the great crazy road-to-the-championship jungle gym again. 
Of course, let us knock on wood (NOT JINXING US) because absolutely none of this matters if we don’t manage to beat Stanford this evening.
Which will be tough. Stanford is a good team. We’re pretty evenly matched in terms of size and cunning--and apparently ND’s performance at Fenway rattled confidence in the Irish so much that the ninth-ranked Cardinal are favored to win by four. I haven’t looked up many score predictions for the game, but I was amused to see that all of the sportswriters for the Stanford Daily (except one, who picked ND to win--smart man) predicted Stanford would score at least 30 points on the Irish. Which I suppose makes sense considering Stanford has rarely scored less than 30 in a game this season, but seems a bit cheeky considering the only team to score more than 30 on Notre Dame this season is USC. 
Stanford has beaten Notre Dame by a touchdown or more the last three times they’ve played in Palo Alto, so playing on the Cardinal’s home turf is no joke. Stanford’s also got a huge playmaker in running back Christan McCaffrey, which could be lethal, given Notre Dame’s tendency to give up huge plays on defense.
Everyone’s predicting a high-scoring, big-12 style brawl this evening--but considering neither team has put up more than 30 points on the other for the last 5 years, I’m not convinced. Though always hopeful for an ND breakaway victory, I think the teams are evenly matched enough that this game is going to be tighter than people expect. 
But who knows. I’m terrible with predictions. Don’t listen to me. 
All I know is our players came here to win. 
Time-out’s almost over, guys. Let’s get out there and kick some schoolyard ass.


No comments:

Post a Comment