The bye week has come and gone for the Irish, so I thought I’d take this off week as an opportunity to reassess the year that’s been, and preview what’s on the horizon for the now 13th ranked team out of South Bend. Year in and year out Notre Dame’s bye week is typically my favorite week of the year, because it’s the only Saturday during college football season where I can act like a sane person, not stressed over how Notre Dame will find a way to lose this week. This bye week was particularly enjoyable, however, because with four ranked teams falling the Irish rose three spots without having to play a minute of football.
Truth be told, this year really hasn’t been all that bad watching Notre Dame. I’m often times too pessimistic about Notre Dame, so that’s about as high of a compliment you’ll get from me. But this team has won convincingly against teams they should beat, went on the road and beat Michigan St. soundly in a night game, and were one stupid penalty and two missed field goals away from beating Georgia, who’s now third in the country.
These wins have been team efforts too, which is stunning. A common trend for Notre Dame is one player or group shouldering the load that proves to be unsustainable (2012 defense, Brady Quinn, Michael Floyd). This year though, the team appears to be well balanced on both sides of the ball. Drue (crazy way to spell Drew) Tranquill has looked comfortable in the new defensive scheme as the Rover Linebacker, Wimbush is way more athletic than any QB has been in recent memory, and Josh Adams is having a sneaky Heisman worthy season without getting nearly enough love. He is ahead of Barkley in multiple rushing categories, including rushing yards and yards per attempt.
All this being said, the second half of the schedule is BRUTAL for Notre Dame. They open up this week with a home game against an underachieving #11 USC, home again against #16 NC St which was the ugliest game of 2016 in a driving hurricane, Wake Forest, at #8 Miami, home against Navy who does nothing but score and run clock so that SCREAMS trap game, and finish the year at #22 Stanford. Four out of six opponents ranked in the top 25, and Navy just fell out of that poll a week ago.
If Notre Dame survives these six games and wins out there’s no conceivable way they’re left out of the playoff with their only loss coming from the SEC East Champion. The biggest issue facing this team will be stamina and I just don’t know if a run heavy offense will have enough gas to win all six of those games. Hell, having watched Notre Dame for almost 20 years of my life, it wouldn’t shock me if this team found a way to go 1-5 in these games and play in some bowl game I’ve never heard of like the Avocados from Mexico Bowl (which would actually be sick if a. it was a bowl game and b. they played it in Azteca in Mexico City).
But, because I seemingly refuse to learn my lesson, I genuinely believe this Irish team can pull this off. The games won’t be fun to watch, my Saturdays will be filled with stress and a looming threat of heartbreak, but I’m all in on this team finding their way into the four-team playoff. Run the ball, eat up clock, the defense will bend not break. It all starts this weekend with USC.
Wake up the fucking echoes.