Nov. 25, 2015

Game Week Central

November 25, 2015

Notre Dame-Stanford 2015 Preview: No Question on Irish Stakes This Week

By John Heisler

California (and Stanford), here we come (with apologies to Al Jolson, who recorded “California, Here I Come” in 1924, before it become the unofficial state song).

With the 10-1 Notre Dame football squad remaining in the mix for a spot in the College Football Playoff, the Irish have one final regular-season outing remaining to add to their 2015 resume.

It’s hardly the first time Notre Dame has headed to the state of California to finish off the regular season in a particularly meaningful contest. In fact, regular-season-ending West Coast games (generally at USC) have played a huge role over the years in determining where the Irish stand nationally at the end of those campaigns. Here are details of years when Notre Dame finished in California, when the Irish headed west with one loss or better (Notre Dame victories in bold):

* 1926-Notre Dame took an 8-1 mark to the play at 8-1 USC for the first time, and the Irish won 13-12.

* 1930-In what turned out to be Knute Rockne’s final season, the 9-0 Irish faced off against the 8-1 Trojans. Notre Dame won 27-0 to clinch a third consensus national title in the Rockne era.

* 1932-Notre Dame at 7-1 met 8-0 USC–with the Trojans prevailing 13-0 and finishing 10-0.

* 1938-Notre Dame at 8-0 and ranked No. 1 battled eighth-rated and 7-2 USC-and the Trojans won 13-0. The Irish ended up No. 5 in the final poll.

* 1947-The Irish came in ranked No. 1 at 8-0 and defeated No. 3 and 7-0-1 USC 38-7 to stake their claim to a consensus national title.

* 1948-The Irish came in 9-0 and ranked No. 2-and ended up in a 14-14 tie with a 6-3 USC unit. The final AP poll had Michigan and Notre Dame ranked one-two, both at 9-0.

* 1955-Notre Dame brought an 8-1 record and No. 5 ranking to Los Angeles, only to lose 42-20 to a 5-4 USC team.

* 1964-Top-rated and 9-0 Notre Dame took its national title hopes to USC, only to fall 20-17 when the Trojans (who came in at 6-3) scored with 17 seconds to go.

* 1966-Again ranked number one at 8-0-1, Notre Dame finished the year against 7-2 and No. 10 USC, this time winning 51-0 (a week after the 10-10 tie at Michigan State) and putting in its claim to a consensus national title.

* 1970-Notre Dame came in ranked No. 4 at 9-0 but fell 38-28 in the rain to the 5-4-1 Trojans despite Joe Theismann’s Irish single-game record 526 passing yards.

* 1972-The Irish were 8-1 and rated No.10 before falling 45-23 to top-ranked and 10-0 USC. The Trojans went on to claim the national title.

* 1974-Notre Dame was 9-1 and rated No. 5 but fell 55-24 to No. 6 and 8-1-1 USC. The Trojans ended up No. 2 in the final poll behind unbeaten Oklahoma.

* 1980-The Irish came in 9-0-1 and ranked No. 2 but lost 20-3 to No. 17 and 7-2-1 USC.

* 1988-Notre Dame and USC both came in unbeaten at 10-0 and rated first and second, respectively, and the Irish prevailed 27-10 to take a perfect record into the Fiesta Bowl. Notre Dame claimed its 11th consensus national title after defeating unbeaten West Virginia in Tempe.

* 1998-The Irish came in 9-1 and rated No. 9, but they lost 10-0 to a 7-4 USC team.

* 2002-Notre Dame entered at 10-1 and rated No. 7, but the Irish dropped a 44-13 game to a No. 6 and 9-2 Trojan team.

* 2006-The Irish stood 10-1 and ranked No. 6, but they lost a 44-24 decision to No. 3 and 9-1 USC.

* 2012-The Irish at 11-0 needed one more win at USC to assure a berth in the BCS title game-and Notre Dame got that with a 22-13 triumph over the 7-4 Trojans.

The Irish never have played at Stanford to end the regular season with this much riding on the outcome from the Notre Dame standpoint.

This game marks the seventh time Notre Dame has finished out the regular season playing at Stanford (the Cardinal has won four of the previous six games, including the last three). The most meaningful previous outing for the Irish at Stanford came in 2005 when Notre Dame came in 8-2 and rated No. 6-and the 38-31 Irish victory pushed Notre Dame into a BCS Fiesta Bowl berth against No. 4 Ohio State.

This probably qualifies as the best Stanford team to play host to the Irish at the end of the season since 2011 when the No. 4 and 10-1 Cardinal defeated the Irish 28-14. That Stanford team went on to fall 41-38 in OT to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.

A close second was the 2013 Stanford squad that was 9-2 coming in, defeated the No. 25 Irish 27-20, defeated No. 11 Arizona State in the Pacific-12 Conference title game and then fell to No. 4 Michigan State in the Rose Bowl (the lone Spartan loss that year came 17-13 at Notre Dame).

Beyond these six games, Notre Dame had two other years when it played at Stanford on Thanksgiving weekend but finished the regular season a week later-2001 at Purdue (in a game moved due to 9/11) and 2003 at Syracuse.

— Six of the late November games at Stanford between Notre Dame and the Cardinal have been decided by seven points or fewer.

— Including games at Stanford played in early October, Notre Dame is 6-7 overall at Stanford Stadium-with victories in 1989 (when the Irish ranked No. 1), 1991, 1993, 2003, 2005 and 2007.

— This is the fifth straight year both Notre Dame and Stanford come into their meeting ranked nationally. The only other time that happened in the series was in 1992. The Irish won seven straight meetings (2002-08) and now have won two of the last three (Stanford won three straight from 2009-11).

— Notre Dame will be trying to defeat a ranked Stanford team for the third time overall (2-6 in previous attempts) and the first time at Stanford Stadium:

* 2012-No. 7 Notre Dame 20, No. 17 Stanford 13 in OT at Notre Dame
* 2014-No. 9 Notre Dame 17, No. 14 Stanford 14 at Notre Dame

— Stanford will be trying to defeat a ranked Notre Dame team for the fifth time overall (4-13 in previous attempts) and the third time at Stanford Stadium:

* 1990-Unranked Stanford 36, No. 1 Notre Dame 31 at Notre Dame
* 1992-No. 19 Stanford 33, No. 7 Notre Dame 16 at Notre Dame
* 2011-No. 4 Stanford 28, No. 22 Notre Dame 14 at Stanford
* 2013-No. 8 Stanford 27, No. 25 Notre Dame 20 at Stanford

— This game marks the fourth game in 2015 in which Notre Dame’s opponent has either a head coach or athletics director with specific Notre Dame ties:

* Texas-Head coach Charlie Strong was an Irish assistant coach from 1995-98.
* Georgia Tech-Athletics director Mike Bobinski is a 1979 Notre Dame graduate, a former Irish baseball player (1976-79) and a former ticket manager and assistant/associate business manager (1984-89).
* Boston College-Head coach Steve Addazio is a former Irish assistant coach (1999-2001).
* Stanford-Athletics director Bernard Muir was an associate senior associate and deputy athletics director at Notre Dame from 2000-05.
Meanwhile Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick owns a law degree from Stanford.

— Irish scholarship California products coming home this weekend are RB Josh Anderson (Chatsworth), WR Amir Carlisle (Santa Clara), TE Tyler Luatua (Paramount), SAF Max Redfield (Mission Viejo), injured WR Equanimeous St. Brown (Anaheim), WR C.J. Sanders (Granada Hills) and ILB and captain Joe Schmidt (Orange).

— These are two evenly matched teams. Here’s where Notre Dame and Stanford are this week in key NCAA statistical categories:

Category Notre Dame Stanford
Total Offense 29th at 465.9 37th at 439.0
Rushing Offense 29th at 207.5 15th at 228.3
Passing Offense 37th at 258.4 79th at 210.7
Scoring Offense 32nd at 34.6 21st at 36.8
Total Defense 40th at 357.0 43rd at 361.7
Rushing Defense 68th at 168.0 28th at 131.0
Passing Defense 25th at 189.0 74th at 230.7
Scoring Defense 28th at 21.0 36th at 22.0

— Notre Dame’s defense limited Boston College to 28 yards or less on 12 possessions, 15 yards or less on nine possessions and nine yards or less on eight possessions. Eleven Eagle possessions lasted five plays or less.

— Here’s how the four other Notre Dame teams finished that started 10-1 (no matter when the defeat occurred). Three of these teams played in bowl games (two wins) and two finished in the Associated Press top 10:

Year Final Record Final AP Ranking
1921 10-1
1974 10-2 6th (Orange Bowl champion)
1977 11-1 1st (Cotton Bowl champion)
2006 10-3 17th (Sugar Bowl)

— The 11 teams Notre Dame has played so far in 2015 stand a combined 63-57. The 10 Irish wins have come over teams that are a combined 52-57, including 9-2 Temple and 9-1 Navy, plus Pitt (8-3) and USC (7-4). The one team remaining on the Irish slate is 9-2 Stanford.

This week’s NCAA toughest schedule numbers (no games versus non-FBS teams are included) show Notre Dame’s cumulative schedule ranking 31st (63-48 for .568), its past schedule 47th (54-46 for .540) and its future schedule tied for 15th (9-2 for .818).

Notre Dame’s last seven games have been against teams that are a combined 50-26: Clemson 11-0, Navy 9-1, USC 7-4, Temple 9-2, Pitt 8-3, Wake Forest 3-8 and Boston College 3-8. By comparison, Maryland is the team the NCAA says has played the toughest schedule to date, with Terp foes going 68-27 (.716).

— The Notre Dame-Boston College game drew a 1.15 final rating and 2.0 million viewers on NBCSN. Notre Dame’s win ranks as the highest rated and most-watched college football telecast ever on NBCSN (previously VERSUS and OLN), topping the previous highs of 1.1 and 1.9 million for Oregon-California in November 2010. The game also drew more viewers than two of Notre Dame’s six games on NBC this season, against Wake Forest the week before (1.9M) and against Massachusetts in week four (1.99M to 1.96M).

— Notre Dame’s schedule ranks second in degree of difficulty among teams in the College Football Playoff top 10 this week, behind only Alabama. Here’s where the top 10 in this week’s CFP rankings stand in the NCAA’s current toughest schedule ratings:

CFP Rank/Team NCAA Schedule Rank Schedule Numbers
1. Clemson (11-0) tie/52nd 52-47 (.525)
2. Alabama (10-1) 5th 63-38 (.624)
3. Oklahoma (10-1) 40th 59-48 (.551)
4. Iowa (11-0) 86th 46-57 (.447)
5. Michigan State (10-1) 36th 63-50 (.558)
6. Notre Dame (10-1) 31st 63-48 (.568)
7. Baylor (9-1) 66th 50-50 (.500)
8. Ohio State (10-1) 60th 59-55 (.518)
9. Stanford (9-2) tie/33rd 64-50 (.561)
10. Michigan (9-2) tie/33rd 64-50 (.561)

— Former Irish football players in the NFL caught a combined 24 passes for 897 yards and three touchdowns last weekend: Kyle Rudolph had six catches for 106 yards and a TD for Minnesota, Golden Tate 8-73 for Detroit, Theo Riddick 5-72 for Detroit, Tyler Eifert 3-22-2 TDs for Cincinnati, Anthony Fasano 2-14 for Tennessee. Eifert, with his 11 TDs, is tied for the NFL lead in scoring with Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman. Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins is second in receiving TDs with nine.

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame.

Heisler produces a weekly football commentary piece for titled “Sunday Brunch,” along with a Thursday football preview piece. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series. Here is a selection of other features published recently by Heisler:

— Top 10 Things Learned About the Irish So Far in 2015:

— Brey’s Crew Receives Rings, Prepared to Raise Banner-and Moves On

— Jim McLaughlin: New Irish Volleyball Boss Is All About the Numbers:

— Men’s Soccer Establishes Itself with Exclamation:

— Australia Rugby Visit Turns into Great Sharing of Sports Performance Practices:

— Bud Schmitt Doesn’t Need a Map to Find Notre Dame Stadium:

— Sunday Brunch: Irish Leave RISP, Still Win Game No. 10

— Remembering Bob Kemp: Notre Dame Lacrosse Family Honors Devoted Father

— Community Service a Record-Setting Event for Irish Athletics in 2014-15: