Should Notre Dame get on a roll again Saturday night against a mediocre Stanford team, don’t look for the surging Irish to tack on an extra late score or two.
Sure, Brian Kelly’s team has climbed all the way back to sixth in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, but it hasn’t been because Notre Dame has been seeking so-called style points.
Even last week, in a 55-0 home win over lowly Georgia Tech, that was more a function of two defensive scores than Kelly and Co. seeking to pour salt in the outmanned visitors’ wounds. Backup quarterback Tyler Buchner was still passing in the fourth quarter, but that’s not even his best skill.
So, for all the talk about head-to-head comparisons and “data points” and the idea that perhaps 55-0 would shimmer a bit more if top-ranked Georgia can’t pound the Yellow Jackets at least that badly this Saturday, Kelly isn’t really interested in anything but closing out the regular season with a seventh straight win.
“I don’t think it really matters,” he said of trying to impress the CFP committee. “I think they have their opinions. The AP has us ahead of Michigan. The coaches have us ahead of Michigan. The group in that room doesn’t, so adding a few more points against Georgia Tech is not simply changing their point of view.”
Notre Dame has handled far better Stanford teams by exactly three touchdowns the past two times the programs have met, so it wouldn’t be any surprise to see this one get out of hand. Since outlasting North Carolina 44-34 to close out October, Notre Dame has outscored its past three opponents by a combined 117-9.
Navy managed just two field goals. Virginia, playing without star quarterback Brennan Armstrong, could muster but a single field goal.
Notre Dame’s defense, after a shaky start under first-year coordinator Marcus Freeman, has held the opposition out of the end zone for the past 187 minutes and 23 seconds.
Perfect in November over its past 15 outings, Notre Dame is again playing its best ball when it matters most. It also has seen early-season wins over Wisconsin and Purdue grow more significant with the in-season improvement those programs have shown.
That still might not be enough to earn a third ticket to the playoff in four seasons, but with the right combination of upsets over the next two weekends, perhaps the committee would be willing to ignore the one-sided losses Kelly’s team suffered to Clemson and Alabama in its past two playoff trips.
“You know how this is going to play out: We have to beat Stanford,” Kelly said. “Regardless of what that looks like, it’s not going to be played as, ‘Oh, that was a signature win.’ We think a lot of Stanford; we know their personnel. But it’s not going to be perceived that way.”
If that sounds a bit like whining to ND haters, so be it.
“We’re going to have to go beat Stanford, play well and then rely on what happens in front of us,” Kelly said. “We lost that control when we lost to Cincinnati, but we’ve done everything else.”