Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-2 SU, 7-4 ATS) vs. Stanford Cardinal (8-3 SU, 4-6-1 ATS)
College Football Week 13
Date/Time: Saturday, November 25th, 8:00 PM
Where: Stanford Stadium
By Mike M., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ND -2.5 / STAN +2.5
Over/Under Total: 56
Notre Dame heads west to Silicon Valley to take on Stanford for their annual showdown with the winner of their matchup taking home the Legends Trophy. The Irish hold a 19-12 all time advantage in the series, though it is the Cardinal that have gotten the upper hand of late, having gone 6-2 in the last eight games between the teams.
The Cardinal find themselves with a 8-3 record, which is a lot better than most could have expected after they started their season with a surprising and disappointing mark of 1-2 with losses to USC and San Diego State in the first month. From that point on they have been able to turn things around and have since won seven of their past eight games, with their only blemish a three point loss to Washington State in Pullman.
An unexpected turn in the Stanford season was the switch at the quarterback position from incumbent Keller Chryst to KJ Costello. Chryst had led the team to six straight wins to end their 2016 season, but struggled to begin his final season with Cardinal after being injured and was never able to recapture the magic that previously helped catapult the team to success. The sophomore Costello has put up better statistics than Chryst so far (higher passing percentage, better TD/INT ratio) and is also a more opportune option to be able to make plays with his legs with three rushing touchdowns on the year so far, but will need to get his team into the end zone at a more frequent pace with just one passing touchdown in his past three games.
While there has been the surprising turnover at the quarterback position there has been no such issue at running back with Bryce Love, who has had a Heisman caliber season and the statistical rankings to back up such a claim as he ranks nationally second in rushing yards (1,723), third in yards per carry (8.8) and seventh in rushing touchdowns (16). Love has had to take on nearly all of the position productivity with Christian McCaffrey having left after last season for the NFL, and is one of just two non-quarterbacks on the team to have scored on the ground this season with backup Cameron Scarlett the only other to have made it in to the endzone in 2017. Unfortunately for Cardinal fans Love has been dealing with ankle issues of late that have limited his recent availability, though he is expected to play this weekend against a Notre Dame team he was able to find strong success against a season ago when he ran 23 times for 129 yards and a touchdown in his teams 38-36 win at South Bend.
Stanford had an additional reason to celebrate after beating the rival Cal Bears this past weekend, and that was the win giving head coach David Shaw his 72nd victory with the Cardinal which made him the all-time leader in program history after surpassing the total set by the legendary Pop Warner. When Jim Harbaugh left Stanford to head for the NFL to coach San Francisco in 2010, many fans were worried the school wouldnt be able to keep up their winning ways but Shaw has assuaged any such fears and has his team in position to get to a double-digit win total for the sixth time in the past seven seasons.
Notre Dame fans unfortunately find themselves in a much different coaching situation, as when their previous coach left (Charlie Weis) there was no fear of things getting worse as they were already near rock bottom in terms of what the Irish expect out of their team, and while things have certainly improved, they are still stuck with a mercurial head coach in Brian Kelly that seems to avoid showing up for big games as much as their last coach avoided logical dietary intake.
The Irish and Cardinal both run a similar type offense in which they rely on a strong running game to balance out a questionable passing attack. For Notre Dame, the most consistent quarterback issue they have had to deal with this season is accuracy, as their signal caller Brandon Wimbush has only completed 51% of his passes on the season and has eclipsed 57% in a game just once all year. There is no questioning Wimbushs ability to make plays on the ground with him already setting the ND quarterback record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 14, but his lack of pocket passing presence has been a thorn in their side all season as despite having one of the best offensive lines in football, the Irish rank on 50th in sacks allowed with twenty on the season due to Wimbushs difficulty when attempting to get into position to throw the ball. They will need him to progress as not only a passer but also to be more careful with the ball, as his turnover rate has had a direct correlation on the teams success with their only losses coming against Georgia and Miami, and in both of which he had trouble holding onto the ball with two crushing second half fumbles against the Bulldogs and three interceptions versus the Hurricanes that were all turned into points. The Cardinal have faced some of the most highly touted quarterbacks in college football this season in Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Jake Browning and Luke Falk, and how Wimbush adapts to their well tested defense will undoubtedly be a deciding factor in Saturdays outcome.
The clear strength of the Irish offense continues to be that running game, which ranks at sixth in the nation in yards per game thanks in large part of Wimbush and Josh Adams, though the latter has seen the shine come off of his Heisman campaign after getting banged up against in the first quarter Wake Forest and struggling since with zero touchdowns in his past three games. Thankfully for Notre Dame they still have ample backup for when Adams needs a breather or recovery time, with Deon McIntosh, Dexter Williams and Tony Jones Jr. all averaging over 5.5 yards per carry and each having scored at least three touchdowns on the season.
This was one of the more difficult Notre Dame games to pick on the year, as the two teams have a similar makeup and neither looked particularly great last week with both winning by only a touchdown in games they were favored by at least 14 points to win. The oddsmakers appear to be in the same boat as they instilled the Irish as just a 2.5 point favorite, which seems to be a logical direction to go in considering their parallel status and the fact the last five games between the two have been decided by just one possession. In a close game two important factors are usually coaching and home field advantage and Stanford has a clear upper hand in both, with David Shaw significantly better than Brian Kelly and the Cardinal playing in the friendly confines of Stanford Stadium where they have gone 40-6 since Shaw took over as their sideline leader. While I would hope Notre Dame could step up against quality competition and clinch their first meaningful bowl berth since 2012, their previous history under Kelly states otherwise and that is why I am going with Stanford and the points on Saturday against the Irish.
Mike M’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Stanford +2.5. - Bet this game for FREE by taking advantage of a FAT 100% bonus up to $1000 at MyBookie! (Use Promo Code: PRDCT14)