Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-1 SU, 7-4 ATS) vs. Stanford Cardinal (9-2 SU, 8-3 ATS)
College Football Week 13
Date/Time: Saturday, November 28, 7:30 PM EST
Where: Stanford Stadium
By Mike M., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ND +3 / STAN -3
Over/Under Total: OFF
Notre Dame heads west to California to take on Stanford in a regular season finale with major BCS playoff implications. This will be the 30th meeting between the teams, with the first coming in 1925 followed by a few sporadic games through the century before settling on a scheduled annual showdown starting in 1997. If the game is in Stanford, it is always played the Saturday after Thanksgiving while if they meet in South Bend, the matchup takes place in the first half of October. This will be the fifth game in a row against one other in which both teams are ranked in the Top 25, with the home team holding serve and winning in the previous four.
The Cardinal enter the final week of the regular season with a record of 9-2. They lost their 2015 opener at Northwestern 16-6 but then won eight games in a row before falling to a rejuvenated Oregon Ducks squad 38-36 two weeks ago. Head coach David Shaw has done an incredible job at Stanford since taking over the position after the 2010 season when Jim Harbaugh left for a brief stint in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, guiding the team to a 51-14 record which includes four straight postseason appearances, three of which were in BCS bowl games. The Cardinal have already clinched the Pac-12 North division and will play either USC or UCLA in the conference championship game next week, so regardless of how they do against Notre Dame this weekend a BCS bowl berth is in their grasp yet again.
While Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan has done another great job leading the offense in his third year as the Cardinal signal-calling starter, the focal point of the offense is clearly Christian McCaffrey. The son of former Denver Bronco great Easy Ed McCaffrey, Christian has catapulted up the charts for the 2015 Heisman race in the past month as his dominant performances week in and week out have gotten to the point of being unignorable. Last week against rival Cal McCaffrey had his best game yet, rushing for 192 yards while also returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, leading the team to a 35-22 win while setting the Stanford team record for total yards of offense in a game with 389. This is the fourth time this season McCaffrey has gotten over 300 all-purpose yards in a game and now needs just 444 to break the record set in 1988 by the great Barry Sanders (though in fairness to Sanders he was able to set the record playing in only eleven games compared to the possible thirteen for McCaffrey, and also set the record as the only viable offensive option on a subpar Oklahoma State team). On the season Christian has run for seven touchdowns and 1,546 yards, including nine straight games with 100+ yards, while catching 34 passes for 416 receiving yards and three additional touchdowns. While Notre Dame has played against some gifted quarterbacks this year (DeShaun Watson, Cody Kessler, Keenan Reynolds), they haven?t experienced anything close to the multi-faceted talents of a skill position player like McCaffrey, and how they go about game planning for him will be arguably the biggest factor toward their success on Saturday.
The Irish defense took a big hit on Saturday, as cornerback KeiVarae Russell was lost for the remainder of the year due to a fractured right tibia that he suffered in the fourth quarter against Boston College. Russell will be greatly missed as he was easily the most consistent of an inconsistent Notre Dame defensive backfield, and was second in the team in tackles with 60 while also contributing 3.5 tackles for loss. Having already lost safety Drue Tranquill for the year to a knee injury, the Irish can nary afford to lose another starter from a unit that is the clear low point of the team?s defense and now has to go up against a potent Stanford offense that has scored at least 30 points in their last ten games in a row.
While the defense will have to deal injuries, the offense will look to heal the multiple bullet wounds it suffered Saturday night as they continuously shot themselves in the foot in their brutally terrible to watch 19-16 win against Boston College last Saturday night in Fenway. Five offensive turnovers, all of which happened on the BC side of the field including three inside of the five yard line, ruined any chance of a quality win that the Notre Dame was hoping for to impress the BCS Playoff voters. Despite all the turnovers, the Irish still could have covered the 16 point spread as they had the ball with a 19-9 lead with only four minutes left, but usually reliable wide receiver Will Fuller dropped an easy touchdown catch that hit him directly in the chest so rather be up 26-9 late in the ball game against a sputtering offense, the Irish eventually had to punt and BC took advantage of their new found momentum and eventually cut the lead to 19-16 before their onside kick attempt was unsuccessful and the game ended with a only a point difference of three.
Notre Dame was able to put up 447 yards of total offense against the number one ranked defense in the NCAA, but none of that matters if you can?t finish off a drive with points. DeShone Kizer looked his freshman age multiple times in the game, including another horrendous redzone interception, and while he struggled at times his performance certainly wasn?t benefited when running back C.J. Prosise was lost for the game with a high ankle sprain after starting the game off strong with 57 yards on eight carries. Prosise?s backup Josh Adams, who had been highly effective in his previous two starts filling in for C.J. was dismal against the strong Eagle front seven, gaining only 36 yards on 14 carries for a paltry average of 2.6 yards per rush. Fuller, who had the junior varsity type drop late in the game that could have clinched the win (and probably the cover), had his second straight game with just three catches and zero touchdowns. They will need significant improvement from their major offensive contributors if they have any chance of keeping pace with the McCaffrey/Hogan powered offense of Stanford.
The loss of Ohio State last weekend helped Notre Dame’s chances of claiming one of the four spots for the BCS Playoffs, but a loss against Stanford makes all a moot point as any stumble would immediately knock the Irish out of contention. Both teams have done well against the spread of late against quality teams, with Notre Dame going 6-1 in their last seven against teams with a winning record while Stanford has gone 7-2 in their last nine against the same scenario. Recent trends between the teams may favor the Irish, with ND covering in six of their last eight games at Stanford and the underdog in the series going 7-3 against the line in the past ten, but I think the injuries to Russell and Prosise will be too much for Notre Dame to overcome this weekend. The Irish have not played their best over the past month with far too many easily avoidable mistakes and going up against an intelligent and well coached team like Stanford they can ill afford to continue the same nonsense this weekend. With a spot in their conference championship game already wrapped up Stanford may not have as much to play for as Notre Dame and their BCS Championship dreams, but the Cardinal are playing better ball when it matters most and because of that should get the win and cover at home against rival Notre Dame.
Mike’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Stanford -3
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