September 30, 2010

WeIs Roundtable Week 5 Picks: Conference First Blood Edition

As the calendar flips to October, we welcome the first mega-week of matchups.  Last week was a nice feeling out process to weed out the haves from the have-nots.  Texas is most definitely a pretender; Arkansas and South Carolina showed a ton of grit in defeat; West Virginia played admirably in Death Valley, but being the best in the Big East this year is akin to being the tallest midget; Boise State cemented their place in the national title discussion; Oregon and Stanford solidified their legitimacy as West Coast threats.Saturday should answer even more questions about which teams will be left standing.   Your Week 5 picks…

Texas (+4) vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas)

Dan: Oklahoma (-4)  LOCK OF THE WEEK

Mack Brown’s team has really controlled this match-up in recent years after being Stoop’s punching bag for many a year. However, this year’s Texas team is a mess. The offense has no momentum, the defense couldn’t stop a bad UCLA team last week, and Mack may be wishing he retired after Colt McCoy (or even Vince Young) left town.  While OU has had its ups and downs, it has certainly looked like the better team. This may be Landry Jones’s first Red River Shoot-out, and OU’s defense certainly has its question marks, but I see no reason why OU can’t win this game by a touch.

OU 28 Texas 21

Jeremy: Oklahoma (-4)

The Red River Shootout has definitely lost some of its cache with the whooping UCLA put on the Horns last week.  The Bruins opened the eyes of the country by finally exploiting Texas’ numerous problems – their inability to run the ball, shoddy run defense and turnovers.  Colt McCoy isn’t walking through that door and the Sooner offense appears to be close to hitting on all cylinders.  This one could get ugly if Texas gets off to a slow start.

Oklahoma 31  Texas  17

Jimmy: Oklahoma (-4) 

Quite a bit of luster has worn off the annual Red River Shootout (no wait, now that we’re in the over-sponsored, politically correct era of sports, it’s officially the AT&T Red River Rivalry…what was I thinking?).  Texas is reeling after Mack Brown’s worst home loss ever, and the Sooners haven’t exactly dazzled anyone outside of Florida State (which happened to be their stiffest competition).  UCLA exposed the Longhorns’ run defense, so look for DeMarco Murray to plug himself into the Heisman talk with a massive game.  Bob Stoops can smell blood in the Austin water and would love nothing more than to buck the recent trend of Texas success (UT has won 4 of last 5 meetings). 

Fun Red River Rivalry “did you knows”:  Since 2000, either Texas or Oklahoma has been ranked in the AP top 10 for this rivalry (4 times they both were).  There are three standing trophies for this game alone. 

Oklahoma 24  Texas 13

Matt: Oklahoma (-4)

This game has lost some serious luster from Opening Day, hasn’t it? Oklahoma has looked like a team going through the motions at times, struggling against Utah State, Air Force and Cincy.   Not exactly murderer’s row there.  The one time they looked like a legit Top 10 team was against Florida State, who apparently was a little bit overrated at the time.  The one thing the Sooners still have going for them is a legit offense – Landry Jones, Demarco Murray and Ryan Broyles form a formidable trio that will challenge the Longhorn defense unlike any other team they have faced this year.

As for Texas, they have been a disappointment from the outset of the season.  The supposed commitment to the pro style running game has fizzled, and Garrett Gilbert has not progressed, with just 4 td’s and 4 int’s against weak competition.  This is a rivalry game so I expect it to be close, but I just don’t think the Horns can hang with OU.

Oklahoma 22 Texas 14

Mike: Oklahoma (-4) LOCK OF THE WEEK

After last week’s embarrassment at home, it is clear that Texas is not a top 10 team this season.  The Longhorns have not developed any semblance of a running game (though, unlike ND, at least they try to run) and their defense was gashed by UCLA on the ground.  Oklahoma should be able to stifle Texas’ offense and wear down the Longhorn defense with DeMarco Murray.  The Sooners will cruise to a comfortable win in Dallas.

Oklahoma 31 Texas 14

Penn State (+7) @ Iowa

Dan: Iowa (-7)

Color me unimpressed with Evan Royster , Robert Bolden, and Penn State in general. Iowa is a physical game, that, despite the hiccup in the desert, should really contend (if not be favored for) the Big 10 title. Stanzi is a game manager, their defense is stout, and their running game, while needing some improvements, gives them enough balance to keep defenses honest. Penn State, on the other hand, is a bit lost. And in Iowa City, expect Bolden to be rattled again, and struggle with a few key turnovers.

Iowa 20 Penn State 10

Jeremy: Iowa (-7) LOCK OF THE WEEK

Penn State isn’t good.  Iowa might not be very good either, but this game’s at home and I’m still not ready to trust a freshman QB in Joe Pa’s system at Kinnick.  Iowa gets angry and rolls big time here.

Iowa 28  Penn St. 3

Jimmy: Iowa (-7)  LOCK OF THE WEEK

The Hawkeyes defense will be hungry to feast on true frosh Bob Bolden, while Ricky Stanzi and the offense is striking a good balanced attack.  The Nittany Lions weren’t too convincing slipping by Temple last week.  Iowa City will not be so forgiving. 

Iowa 27  Penn State 13

Matt: Iowa (-7)  LOCK OF THE WEEK

Penn State was trailing at the half last week to Temple.  If Temple running back Bernard Pierce doesn’t get hurt, they probably lose that game.  As it is, they could only muster 5 field goals until the last three minutes of the game when they tacked on a TD.  All supporting evidence points to the fact that Temple is not a very good football team.   I don’t think Iowa is that great either, but at home and with a veteran QB and dominant line play, I think they handle Penn State fairly easily.

Iowa 22 PSU 6

Mike: Iowa (-7)

Penn State is ranked for some reason, but this appears to be a rebuilding year for the Nittany Lions.  By contrast, Iowa, notwithstanding a tough loss at Arizona, seems poised to contend with Ohio State for the Big 10 title.  Although the Hawkeyes might encounter some difficulty in their running game due to their recent loss of Jewel Hampton and the continued absence of Brandon Wegher, they should be able pass the ball effectively with Ricky Stanzi and their fine receiving corps.  For Penn State, success on the ground with Evan Royster is imperative because Robert Bolden is not ready to lead this team to a road win against a quality foe.  Unfortunately for Penn State, the Hawkeye defensive line is much stouter than the Temple front four, so it will likely be tough sledding for Royster.

Iowa 28 Penn State 14

Wisconsin (-1.5) @ Michigan State

Dan: Wisconsin (-1.5)

Likely the only game of the weekend to feature two 230+ pound running backs, this should look like an old school pound them into submission Big 10 game. But I like Wisconsin’s O-line to control the line of scrimmage. Kirk Cousins still seems to be in a funk and the Spartan defense has done nothing to impress this year. Throw in the fact that the Spartans are now ranked plus it is now October, and the formula is ripe for the typical MSU mid-season swoon.

Wisconsin 24 MSU 20

Jeremy: Michigan St. (+1.5)

Tough game to pick here.  Wisconsin hasn’t been terribly impressive thus far, and that game last week against Austin Freakin’ Peay shouldn’t even count towards their record.  What a joke.  Sparty will have their hands full with Big John Clay and the efficient Badger passing offense, but I’m banking on MSU rallying around the return of Dantonio and grabbing a big win at home.

MSU  24  Wisconsin 21

Jimmy:  Wisconsin (-1.5)

The Spartans have the sympathy of many with coach D’Antonio returning to the booth.  I’m sure it will provide an emotional lift for the team.  Sparty has rushed for 200+ in every game this season.  But scanning their opponents thus far isn’t exactly a who’s who of college football.  Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Notre Dame, Northern Colorado enjoy a combined 5-9 record (and a couple of those wins were of the charitable D-AA variety).  Sparty is in for a rude awakening with a Badgers team hell bent on contending for the Big Ten crown.  Big John Clay will outshine either of the Spartan runners and Scott Tolzien will continue his efficient ways.  Michigan State hasn’t started 5-0 since 1999 when a certain Nick Saban was donning the green and white.  They’re not about to change that distinction Saturday.

Wisconsin 31  Michigan State 23

Matt: Wisconsin (-1.5)

Every single team that has beaten Notre Dame has received excessive recognition in the polls.  Do I think Michigan State is a good team?  Probably.  But I wasn’t blown away by them against ND, and obviously ND is not what people thought they were going to be.  I don’t really know how good Wisconsin is – I’ll admit I haven’t seen them play yet this year – but I just think MSU is a little over their head right now. 

Wisconsin 27 MSU 20

Mike: Michigan State (+1.5)

Both teams appear to be built in the same mold and evenly matched.  Wisconsin, in keeping with its custom, relies upon a trio of strong running backs, while QB Scott Tolzien plays the role of “game manager.”  Michigan State similarly leans on its strong running game and the occasional deep ball from Kirk Cousins.  On defense, Michigan State’s front seven is better than Wisconsin’s, but the Badgers have a stronger secondary.  In a tightly contested affair, I will side with the host Spartans.

Michigan State 24 Wisconsin 21

Stanford (+7) @ Oregon

Dan: Stanford (+7)

I know Notre Dame sucks. I also know that Autzen is one of the most difficult places in the country to play. Oregon has a great speed match-up here, because Stanford’s strength is certainly not speed. However, I love the physical brand of football that Stanford is playing right now. It’s a breath of fresh air given the recent emphasis on athletes and speed. And I also think it is a brand of football that Oregon is not used to seeing. I like the Cardinal to control the clock, the line of scrimmage, and, in the end, the game.

Stanford 31 Oregon 30

Jeremy: Oregon (-7)

I’m still refusing to watch last week’s game, but I’m still not ready to believe that Andrew Luck is the “real deal” yet.  The Irish gave Stanford quite a few 3rd and manageables, and the Cardinal converted at a ridiculous rate.  Just doesn’t seem sustainable.  Stanford doesn’t have any real big-play threats to keep up with the explosive Duck offense on the road.

Oregon 38  Stanford 24

Jimmy: Oregon (-7)

Really exciting matchup.  Two teams executing exceptionally well at this early point of the season.  The job Jim Harbaugh has done cannot be emphasized enough.  The Cardinal might be getting more out of their collective talent than any team in America.  Andrew Luck’s leadership sets the tone for the team, while the defense mixes different wrinkles every week and is a force to be reckoned with. 

Well, Reckoning Day visits Eugene.  Chip Kelly’s Midas touch on offense will feature his full-throttle Quack Attack.  Brand new QB Darron Thomas has given the Duck faithful immediate amnesia about that joker Jeremiah Masoli.  LaMichael James may be the finest RB in America.  It’s a shame the nation’s viewership will be split with Bama-Florida and Penn State-Iowa all sharing the 8pm ET time slot.  This Pac-10 matchup should be the most entertaining.  I think this one stays close for a while, but Oregon breaks away in the 4th with some help from the Autzen Stadium acoustics. 

Oregon 37  Stanford 27

Matt: Oregon (-7)

Stanford blasted Notre Dame so thoroughly that I turned off the game before it was over, taking in the 4th quarter of the Bama-Arkansas game.  I don’t do that very often, but it was so disheartening to see Stanford – freaking Stanford – just abuse ND.  Having said all that, I was very impressed with Stanford’s system and coaching and intangibles and toughness…but it was still Stanford out there.  Wasn’t really blown away by Luck, wasn’t really blown away by their receivers, their defense was fundamentally sound but it was more the system of dropping 8 that got to us, not any freakish athletes.  And am I really ready to accept living in a world in which Stanford is a Top 5 team?

The answer is no.  Oregon is absolutely explosive on offense, with speed that Stanford just can’t match.  Needless to say, I think Oregon will be better prepared for Stanford’s defense, whether they drop 8 again or bring pressure.  First of all, Oregon has a great RB in LaMichael James (if you are a recruit whose name begins with a La or Le, are you just automatically heading to Eugene these days?) and QB Darron Thomas has thrown 10 TD’s with only 3 INT’s.  Really, the only reason I think this game is even remotely close is the Jim Harbaugh factor.  I think he is already a Top 10 coach in America , which is amazing, because again – it’s Stanford!  Nevertheless, Ducks win at home.

Oregon 38 Stanford 27

Mike: Oregon (-7)

Although Stanford won convincingly over ND, I am not as impressed with the Cardinal as is the national media.  Jim Harbaugh has a nice little team that plays tough, but Stanford does not have the athletic ability to compete with the top programs in the country, such as Oregon.  The Ducks will score early and often, as is their tendency in Autzen Stadium, and Stanford will not be able to keep pace.

Oregon 48 Stanford 24

Florida (+8.5) @ Alabama

Dan: Florida (+8.5)

Florida isn’t very good. Alabama is the best team in the country and is at home. Yet, something about this spread strikes me as too high. I can’t justify this statistically, looking at match-ups, or in any other analytical manner. And I realize that Urban has had the luxury of Tim Tebow for years. But since he’s gone to Florida, Urban has not lost many games, and even fewer by more than a touchdown.

Alabama 23 Florida 20

Jeremy: Alabama (-8.5)

I haven’t seen much of Florida since their Week 1 debacle but a brief look at the box scores appears to indicate that they still haven’t really got the offense on track yet.  Plus, no Rainey, (possibly) no Demps and an extremely green front seven on defense could point towards a big day for the Tide. 

Bama  31  Florida  17

Jimmy: Florida (+8.5)

THE glamour matchup of the weekend.  There’s hype, and then there’s an early October meeting between the two alpha programs in college football, winners of 3 of the last 4 national championships.  In fact, the last two matchups have boasted a #1 vs. #2 armageddon atmosphere.  Florida’s “paltry” #7 ranking takes nothing away from the outcome of this one.  Have to imagine the line would be inside of 3 pts. if the game were played in The Swamp.  As it is, I think it’s too many points for such a heated contest.  This Trey Burton cat came out of nowhere to rejuvenate the Gators offense.  If anything, it should give the still raw Tide D something to think about.  Pure athleticism will be on full display everywhere you look.  Should be a doozy.

Alabama 24  Florida 20

Matt: Florida (+8.5)

Game of the year so far.  God bless the SEC – they just play the game of football at a different speed down there.  This game is on opposite the ND game on Saturday, and I can say with all honesty that this game will get most of my attention.  The JV game is ND-BC, and I still can’t understand why that game is on in primetime.   Anyway, back to this game.  Florida finally put it all together last week against Kentucky, and in the process may have found the wildcard that Urban loves to play around with.  Trey Burton, the freshman QB, came in and out-Tebowed Tebow by setting a school record 6 td’s in all possible manners.  It will be interesting to see how effective he is against Bama now that the cat is out of the bag. 

Bama showed why it is the defending champion last week, harassing Ryan Mallett into a dreadful 4th quarter performance that flushed away his Heisman campaign.  On the road against a Top 10 team, Bama wasn’t great but they did what they had to do.  I think this game will be just as close – can’t believe a Meyer – Saban showdown is an 8.5 point spread – but I expect the Tide to prevail at home.

Alabama 24 Florida 20

Mike: Alabama (-8.5)

Despite Florida’s large win against Kentucky, the Gators still have plenty of problems on offense.  As such, Florida should struggle to move the ball consistently against an Alabama defense that performed admirably last week on the road against an elite quarterback.  On offense, Alabama’s ground game is simply an unstoppable force that should administer a stern beatdown to the young Florida defensive front.  Roll Tide.

Alabama 41 Florida 17

Bonus Picks

Dan: UTEP (-15) @ New Mexico

I don’t know much about either of these teams. I just New Mexico has lost its 4 games by an average of 45 points. UTEP on the other hand is 3-1 (in reality and against the spread). A friend of mine tipped me off to New Mexico last week – no one has caught on to just how bad they are. I trusted him, and won some money. All UNM does is fail to cover.  Easy money.

UTEP 42 New Mexico 14

Jeremy: Miami (-3) @ Clemson

The beatdown in Columbus may have provided something of a wake-up call for Jacory Harris and the Canes.  If it hasn’t, then a tough game in Death Valley followed by the rivalry game with the Seminoles should do the trick. 

Miami 27  Clemson 21

Jimmy: Michigan @ Indiana (+10)

Does Shoelace only need to play 1 quarter per game the rest of the year to keep leading the nation in rushing?  Well, the Hoosiers are no MAC team (a contested argument on the gridiron for anumber of years, whereas Tom Crean still has something to prove…you read this far Ravi?).  Ben Chappell (no relation to Dave that I’m aware of) will pass at will on the depleted Wolverine secondary.  If I had any stones, I’d pick IU in an outright upset, but I think it’s a safe cover. 

Michigan 41  Indiana 35

Matt: Texas A&M @ Oklahoma State (-3)

It’s a battle of the undefeateds!  Despite either team being ranked because of absolutely embarrassing opening schedules (TAMU needed a comeback at home against FIU, while OK St. squeaked by Troy by 3 at home), the winner of this game will still be off to a 1-0 start in the Big 12 and more than likely ranked next week. 

It’s a matchup of an explosive offense that has come out of nowhere with Brandon Weeden at QB (ND fans, OSU beat Tulsa 65-28, remember that when we are biting our nails in the 4th quarter clinging to a three point lead against the Golden Hurricanes) against what was supposed to be an explosive offense with Jarrod Johnson at QB.  The results have been mixed despite the gaudy numbers, with Johnson throwing 7 TD’s and 4 INT’s.  Expect this game to be a shootout, and I think OK St. pulls it out at home.  Should be a fun one to kick off the college football weekend.

Oklahoma State 44 Texas A&M 37

(Editor’s Note: Matt dressed up like Coach Gundy for a night in Vegas at the apex of Gundy’s press conference popularity.  Matt’s performance was one for the ages.  And no, it wasn’t Halloween).

Mike:  Tulane @ Rutgers (-14.5)

Odd line here.  Rutgers has struggled in the early season, but Tulane is quite possibly the worst team in the FBS.  The Scarlet Knights should cruise at home.

Super Bonus Pick (that most certainly will not count towards boosting his picks percentage)

Mike: Florida International (+19.5) @ Pittsburgh
FIU has played three close games this year against decent competition (Rutgers, Texas A&M and Pittsburgh), whereas Pittsburgh has looked decidedly underwhelming.   Also, I can’t imagine that Pitt will be particularly excited about playing a Sun Belt opponent in a half-filled Heinz Field.  Maybe some of the Steelers fans will show up to the game to get an early spot for their Sunday tailgating festivities.

Last Week (Lock of Week +/-):
Dan: 4-3 (+)
Jeremy: 6-1 (+)
Jimmy: 5-2 (-)
Matt: 3-4 (-)
Mike: 6-1 (+)

Season-To-Date (Locks of Week):
Dan: 12-15-1 (1-2-1)
Jeremy: 18-9-1 (2-2)
Jimmy: 14-13-1 (2-2)
Matt: 14-13-1 (1-2)
Mike: 20-7-1 (3-0-1)

September 28, 2010

The Bad, The Ugly, The Uglier (Week 4 - Stanford)

Jeremy, to his credit, can't stomach a rewatch (or a first watch) of this debacle, so I'm bringing you a first-hand account of the Cardinal carnage.

Things didn't seem right from the get-go with a subdued crowd (for Notre Dame standards), raising the needle just above "art museum gallery opening buzz" on the intimidating noise scale.  It seemed fans had little confidence in the team's ability to compete with Stanford (writing that sentence made me dry heave for two minutes).  What a shame that the intangible element of a crowd lifting a team up to another inspired level never had a chance.  Or as much of a chance as Crist avoiding a sack when Stanford used a cheat code when an LB greeted him in the backfield as he received the snap.  (Still haven't seen a replay of that dumbfounding play.  Either we witnessed the greatest snap count timing guess of all time, or that LB deserved laundry and Pac-10 officials choked on applesauce).  

The closest thing to something "Good" that came from the game was the exceptional individual performance of Manti Te'o.  21 tackles, including several bone-rattling hits, should be cause for celebration, but half of them were made 6-8 yards down field.  And where was everyone else?? 

The defense held their ground while allowing 5 field goals, and intercepted Luck twice (his first blemishes on the season), but the unit continually let momentum escape by allowing Stanford convert 11 of 16 3rd downs (and punt only once!) - a deflating feeling every time the chains moved.  Oh yeah...and zero sacks.

On the other side of the ball, Crist was at his inaccurate best, spraying balls everywhere and forcing throws to the double (and sometimes triple) covered man.  I understand Stanford dropped more guys into coverage than they had shown all year, but don't you practice/plan for situations like this?  Did Harbaugh's "chess move" completely flabbergast Brian Kelly and his offensive savvy?  The offense looked inept, plain and simple, and the running game was manhandled at the line of scrimmage. 

The clock mismanagement at the end of the 1st half made absolutely no sense, and I hold Kelly accountable for that.  Down 13-6 with 1:21, on the heels of a momentum-turning interception (with a drive-hurting clipping call pushing the drive back to the Irish 14).  Does Kelly try to move the ball quickly, his trademark, to possibly tie things up before half, or at least cut into the lead? 

An Allen rush up the gut for no gain certainly quelled any quick strike thoughts.  OK, we'll take a one score lead into half.  Don't like it, but acceptable. 

Hurry up offense snaps the ball without letting much time burn off...incomplete.  Wait, huh?  What is Kelly trying to accomplish here?  3rd and 10 with just under a minute to go...Allen run for three yards.  Stanford astutely calls timeout with :45 seconds left, knowing they were just gifted another possession.  Talk about brain farting on a crucial series.  Making matters worse, Turk embraces his mediocrity and pushes Stanford all the way back to midfield.  Bing, bang, boom - 32 yards laters, Stanford kicks a FG to send the teams to the tunnel.  And the game is now a two score margin that feels much wider.  A terrible sequence of plays that should not have happened in the first place.  It was infuriating at the time and doubly so now.  Good teams don't make those mistakes! (Not that I'm calling ND a good team...but that's still the goal, right?)

If that were the sole ugly sequence, the title of this entry would not have been changed.  But, alas, we found the Irish grasping at momentum again near the end of the 3rd quarter.  Stanford's punter shakes off the cobwebs and makes good on his only punt, pinning the Irish at the 2 yard line.  A couple passes to Floyd and a 9 yard run by Allen brings a 3rd and 1 at midfield.  We're now in the 4th quarter with ND trailing 19-6.  It's now or never time.  You would think Kelly would find a way to get a new set of downs in Stanford territory and keep marching.  A failed pass attempt to Rudolph (who wasn't open) leads to an Irish timeout to figure out how best to attack on 4th down.  You could say the game was riding on this call.  Kelly decides to roll the dice with his 3rd string RB who had already been stuffed for no gain earlier in the drive.  Result?  Turkey stuffing again.  Turnover on downs.  Stanford converts two third downs on their way to a head-for-the-exits touchdown. The stadium is officially a morgue. 

The last straw occurs on the next play from scrimmage - Crist's ill-advised (to put it mildly) pick six, making Owen Marecic a household name for a week.  Everyone watching could see what a terrible decision Crist's pass was.  What very few people saw was what happened directly before the play while NBC was at timeout.  This curious sequence sticks in my craw as

After Stanford's back-breaking TD (27-6), there was a customary tv timeout.  Following the kickoff, NBC apparently felt worried about getting in all of their breaks, so they cut to timeout again.  Brian Kelly took exception to this perceived assault on ND's offensive rhythm (not that there had been any to that point, but there's always next possession).  Kelly walked all the way from the far end zone to strike up a conversation with the NBC official on the field.  I'm sure he was frustrated as all get out at this point, so the fact that NBC would do this rankled him enough to vent a little. 

Only problem is, Kelly has a young quarterback playing the worst game of his career and a small window of time to adjust game plans and bitching to a brick wall (NBC field official following network orders) isn't exactly the best practical use of a timeout?  Could #10 have benefited from some help deciphering his progressions, or a pep talk at the very least?  Quite distressing.  We found this perplexing as it unfolded before our eyes.  And the first play coming out of this ill-fated timeout?  Crist's pick six.  Would Kelly have done this if the game were closer or tied?  I pray not. 

Things have to get better from this point...right? 

September 24, 2010

WeIs Week 4 Pick: Notre Dame - Stanford

Dan: Notre Dame
Notre Dame has beaten Stanford 7 straight times at Notre Dame. Additionally, Stanford, in recent years, seems to be the team that we somehow pull it off at the very end, despite playing poorly (last year notwithstanding). Now the Cardinal arrive toting Heisman candidate and likely #1 NFL drafted QB Andrew Luck and their high scoring offense. Can Kelly rally the troops?

On offense, ND has started to gel. I think three things need to happen to make this an incredibly potent offense: 1) Michael Floyd needs to get his head out of his ass. He continues to drop catchable balls, make mistakes, and run sloppy routes. I think he’s frustrated because, point blank, Dayne Crist is not Jimmy Clausen. But he never will be and Floyd needs to get over it. 2) Timing  and rhythm need to continue to improve. This got better last week, and I expect it to continue to do so. Stanford’s defense does not have enough speed to cause our O-line too many issues, and our new tackles are starting to adjust to game sped. 3) Armando needs to see at least 15, and preferably 20, carries a game. He’s running possessed right now. He sees the gaps, hits them with much more determination than in the past, and is running through tacklers. I can’t envision a scenario where we don’t hang at least 30 on Stanford this week.

On defense, I think ND’s strengths match up well against Stanford. On the ground, Stanford plays a tough, bruising up the gut style that plays right into one of the few strengths of the ND defense – stopping the run up the middle. Teo needs to continue to improve tackling, but he’s all over the field right now. I think it’s an issue of him over-pursuing or feeling like he needs to make the big play with a monster hit. This will improve as he gains more trust (whether justified or not) in the rest of the ND defense. The other strong point of the defense is Gary Gray. I have been incredibly impressed with his play. He’s practically taking away one half of the field. I don’t think Stanford’s receivers are athletic enough to really abuse our terrible, terrible unathletic safety play, so that is also a plus.  (Please get healthy soon Slaughter).

In the end, I feel oddly comfortable with this game – much more so than last week. Maybe I’m delusional, but I think we match up well with Stanford. And I think Kelly rallies the team and they come out at home and shock everyone. That said, and not to channel Doug “Kool-Aid” Riddell, but… it’s STANFORD. I don’t care how well they are playing now. It’s still STANFORD.

Notre Dame 34 Stanford 31

Jeremy: Stanford
I’d love to go with my heart and pick a big upset here, but I really think the Irish are going to struggle with the lethal Stanford rushing attack.  The ND defense should get a big lift from the return of Jamoris Slaughter, but the backups on the defensive line will really struggle with the experienced Stanford OL. 

On offense, Crist continues to improve every week, and the emergence of Theo Riddick is huge for the Irish attack.  This game will almost certainly end up being a shootout, but the Irish have just been too inconsistent to keep up with the Cardinal attack. 

How can the Irish win?  First and foremost, the Irish must win the turnover battle.  ND has not been that careful with the ball thus far, and it hurt in a big way last weekend on the road. 

On defense, the secondary will have to bait Luck into some poor throws, and the OLBs need to generate some more pressure and big plays this week.  I don’t expect the Irish to shut down the running game, but if they limit the “explosive” running plays and make the Cardinal work hard for every 1st down, things could be interesting in the 4th quarter.

On offense, Kelly must make a more significant commitment to the running game, if for no other reason than to keep the defense off the field.  If the Irish have more than two 3-and-outs, I think they’re really going to have a tough time hanging around. 

Ultimately, I think the Irish are primed for a big game, but they’re still a week away from getting a big win. 

Stanford  37  ND  34

Jimmy: Stanford

For all the Chicken Little ND fans , slow your roll.  The sun is not careening into an alternate apocalyptic orbit.  Sure, the state of Michigan currently owns the deed to St. Mary Lake, but that’s why Western Michigan is on the schedule.  Double (St. Joseph Lake) or nothing. 

Brian Kelly’s sky-high (unrealistic, some would say) expectations have been tempered by an individual performance for the ages and a brilliant (desperate) all-or-nothing play call.  So Notre Dame stands at 1-2.  Much more important than those numbers on either side of the hyphen is the makeup of that record.  Coming out after halftime three times now, I’ve seen a team make adjustments, find offensive rhythm and actually sack the QB when they send men.  Yes, there are still mistakes and room for improvement, but overall I’m happy with the outward signs of progress in many areas.  This season is about changing the way ND competes and executes in practice and in games.  So far, the results are positive, even if the record paints a different picture.

Tomorrow is the first game this season the Irish are truly the underdog.  Stanford may be ranked #16, but they are playing like one of the top 10 teams in the land.  Jim Harbaugh has earned a gig in greener pastures for creating a bonafide Pac-10 power in Palo Alto (as opposed to the mirage Tyrone L. Willingham won a conference title with, parlaying that into multiple counts of program grand larceny.  Great, now I need to take a walk).  I’m anxious to see if Kelly uses the role as motivation, tapping into the dormant, intangible edge this team has lacked for many, many years. 

Andrew Luck has looked anything by lucky, expertly engineering a high-octane offense that is firing on all cylinders.  The return of Jamoris Slaughter to the defensive backfield should help the Irish unit slow the Cardinal down, but I don’t see them stopping Stanford a whole lot without the aid of turnovers.

Crist is looking more and more natural running the show.  He even found a new weapon in last week’s Theo Riddick Coming Out Party (no, not that kind of party…not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Still have an APB out for Duval Kamara’s whereabouts and Floyd remains a bit of an enigma, though his end zone prowess will be pivotal tomorrow.  If Crist is flinging the ball 50+ times, all the WR need to slide in and make plays when their number is called.  I really wish Kelly’s spread incorporated the run more, both to take advantage of the talented stable of RBs and give the defense a little more recovery time. 

If Notre Dame is to turn the tables on Stanford and be the one pulling off the upset, they’ll need to win a shootout.  It could happen, but it requires 4 quarters of execution, not a half.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen enough to talk myself into an Irish W.

Stanford 42  Notre Dame 38

Matt:  Stanford

Do I think that ND can win this game?  Yes.  Cmon, it’s still Stanford.  Notre Dame has just as good, if not better athletes than Stanford – always has and always will.  But last week’s performance by the Cardinal against my second alma Wake Forest has me a little concerned.  Being that it was an 11:20 East Coast start time, the specifics are a little hazy, but obviously the scoreboard reflects that they just destroyed a decent Wake Forest team by hanging 68 on them.  (Although I could have done without Harbaugh calling a timeout late in the 4th quarter to ice the Wake kicker while up by 40.  There’s gamesmanship, and then there is being an a**hole.  That was the latter.  You want to pull that stuff against USC or UCLA, fine.  But why against Wake?)  Stanford obviously has Andrew Luck, but they also have a ground game averaging 5.8 YPC and some decent receivers, including Chris Owusu, who made several big plays against Wake and I predict will light up the Irish D in place of the injured Ryan Whalen.

On the other side of the ball, ND should be able to move the chains and produce points against a decent Stanford D that already has a shutout of UCLA on its resume.  I would love to see Cierre Wood get more involved in the gameplan, Theo Riddick continue his emergence as a slot receiver, and Mike Floyd eliminate some of the careless drops and fumbles that have plagued him so far this season.  And really, I would love to see some sustained drives to keep Luck and company off the field and keep the defense a little fresher for the 4th quarter, but at this point that seems to be wishful thinking under Brian Kelly.  The return of Jamoris Slaughter eliminates the whitewash at safety and should lead to more leeway to run the nickel and allow Motta to slot in and give Smith and Slaughter breathers.  Overall, I see a shootout developing that the Cardinal win in another 4th quarter heartbreaker.  As I said last week, I hope I am wrong.

Stanford 37 ND 35

Mike: Stanford

After watching the Notre Dame games over the last two weeks, Jim Harbaugh must be licking his chops this week.  Stanford is averaging 475 yards per game and now the Cardinal have the luxury of facing a Notre Dame defense that is yielding an average of 444 yards per game (good for 102nd nationally).  Considering Harbaugh’s track record, he will be looking for every opportunity to humiliate Brian Kelly and the Irish, even if the game is out of reach.  On the bright side, at least I’ll be able to catch the second half of Alabama-Arkansas after this game becomes unwatchable.

Stanford 51 Notre Dame 31