Ten regular-season wins Notre Dame Stanford for the second time in two seasons. A probable assignment to one of the New Year’s Six bowl games (also for the second time in three years). A regular season with six more wins than a year ago, matching the second-best turnaround in school history in terms of victories (only the 1964 team going 9-1 after a 2-7 mark in ’63 would have done better).
All those compliments will come eighth-ranked Notre Dame’s way if the Irish can defeat 21st-rated Stanford Saturday.
But Brian Kelly’s squad will be required to put an end to the Cardinal’s 17-game nonleague home win streak–and the Irish also will have to defeat a ranked opponent on the road in their Thanksgiving weekend assignment for the first time since 1992.
Here’s what to look for Saturday night in Palo Alto:
1. There’s another rivalry trophy on the line. Kelly displays the various rivalry trophies just outside the door to his second-floor Guglielmino Athletic Complex office. A Notre Dame win would mean the Irish in 2017 would add to their collection (thanks to this year’s previous wins over Boston College, Michigan State, USC and Navy).
2. The Irish are overdue in California. Notre Dame traditionally ends its regular season in California, playing either Stanford or USC. The Irish last posted wins on the West Coast with victories over USC in 2010 (20-16) and 2012 (22-13). But it’s been 10 years since the Irish won in Stanford Stadium (a 21-14 victory in 2007). Beginning in 1999 the Irish began playing at Stanford on Thanksgiving weekend in those odd-numbered seasons. Since that year Notre Dame stands 3-6 against both Stanford and USC in those-end-of-season California clashes, but the Irish are winless (a combined 0-9, including 0-4 versus Stanford) when those Cardinal and Trojan teams have been ranked. The last time the Irish won against a ranked opponent in California to finish the year came in 1992 against 19th-rated USC.
3. Look for lots of Adams vs. Love vs. hype. Notre Dame’s Josh Adams (14th nationally at 121.5 yards per game and fourth at 7.82 yards per carry) and Stanford’s Bryce Love (tops in the country at 172.3 yards per game and second at 8.84 yards per carry) rank as two of the most ballyhooed running backs in the country–so expect plenty of promotion of the tailback comparisons.
4. The Irish need to regain their running form. Notre Dame in consecutive games against Miami (Ohio), North Carolina, USC, N.C. State and Wake Forest as a team ran for at least 318 yards and averaged 349.8 per game over that stretch. That average dipped to 136.0 over the last two weekends against Miami (Florida) and Navy. A return to the 300-yard variety would put the Irish in better position to meet their goals Saturday night in Palo Alto.
5. Notre Dame needs to keep the Stanford run game at bay. An ankle injury has frustrated Stanford’s Bryce Love in recent weeks–yet he’s still running for more yards per week than any other player in the country. Meanwhile Notre Dame’s run defense over the first eight weeks was one of the best in the country–with the Irish allowing only 116.6 yards per game over that stretch, including four games permitting 86 yards or fewer. But in the last three games that per-game mark has jumped to 251.0 per outing. So one key Irish goal Saturday will be to regain that previous form.