Stanford Cardinal (3-2 SU, 3-2 ATS) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish(2-4 SU, 2-4 ATS)
College Football Week 7
Date/Time: Saturday, October 15th, 7:30 PM
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
by Mike Mann, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: STAN +3 / ND -3
Over/Under Total: 54
Notre Dame and Stanford meet in South Bend for a Saturday night showdown between two historic teams looking to get their respective seasons back on track after disappointing recent performances. The Irish lead the series with a 19-11 record overall but its the Cardinal who have had the upper hand of late, going 5-2 over the past seven meetings between the teams.
This season started according to plan for Stanford with wins against Kansas State, USC and UCLA, but since they have run into serious trouble, losing 44-6 to Washington followed by last weeks 42-16 defeat at home to Washington State, which was just the 6th time in 55 games that they lost a game at Stanford Stadium. The also marked the first time since David Shaw started coaching the Cardinal back in 2011 that they dropped back-to-back games and equally surprising was the mass points allowed, letting up 40+ points in two straight games after having let up 40 or more only twice in the previous four seasons.
Unfortunately for Stanford fans the loss to the Cougars carried a much steeper price than just in the standings as do-everything superstar Christian McCaffrey was injured in the third quarter and was lost for the rest of the game. Head coach David Shaw commented after the game that McCaffrey did get banged up but due to the score there was no reason to put him in late in the game. Unfortunately for Cardinal fans he changed tune a bit on Tuesday and is now saying that McCaffrey is significantly beaten up which raises much doubt about the availability of the multi-dimensional RB/WR/KR for Saturdays game in South Bend.
With the status of their star and offensive focal point in question, Stanford will need the rest of its point scoring cast to rise to the occasion. Senior quarterback Ryan Burns has played positively mediocre so far, completing 69 of 104 passes for 775 yards and five touchdowns, while also throwing three interceptions. He has he been consistent in throwing one touchdown in each of their five games, including the past three weeks in a row to wide receiver JJ Areca-Whiteside. Fellow targets Trenton Irwin and Michael Rector should both also factor heavily into Saturdays game plan if McCaffrey doesnt end up playing, especially considering they are going against a porous Notre Dame defense that ranks 75th against the pass and 78th in points allowed.
Last week the Irish continued their 2016 tradition of playing incredibly frustrating to watch football and then following such a performance with a beyond infuriating press conference featuring their coach Brian Kelly assigning blame all over except for back at himself where it truly belongs. Despite playing in a near hurricane Kellys offensive game plan stayed the same and was all about the pass, which considering hurricanes consist of gusting winds and downpouring rain, raises many a question about the logic of such a strategy. N.C. State seemed to understand basic weather principles and passed the ball only 14 times in 65 plays, while Kelly passed 26 times compared to 38 runs, a few of which were calling as passing plays but turned into DeShone Kizer scrambles after he wasnt able to find in a open receiver in the tractionless muddy slop of Carter-Finley Stadium.
For the game Notre Dame averaged less then one yard per play on first down, and such early inefficiency led them to go just 1-15 on 3rd down. The love of passing in twister like conditions was a major part of Kellys first down offensive strategy as well, throwing 12 times on first down compared to only 11 rushing attempts (again using N.C. State as the comparison, the Wolfpack had 25 plays on first down, and 21 of them called for a run).
Kelly stated after the game that it was much more difficult throwing the football and I cant remember many games where it was that difficult, but seconds later contradicted himself when asked why he would have called so many passing plays all things considered, saying I dont think I would second guess that and I think it was pretty evident to me that we were in need of throwing the ball. These mind boggling statements combined with him again bus tossing one of his own players in the postgame press conference after continuously berating him on the sidelines on national television rather then truly taking any sort of accountability continues to strengthen the thought process that the Notre Dame administration needs move in a direction that does not include Brian Kelly. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder clearly had to be fired due to how bad his side of the ball was playing, but Kellys tarnish of the team extends much further then on the field. Their 2-4 record this year is obviously terrible, and they have been struggling against reasonable competition for a lot longer then just 2016, having gone a disappointing 14-14 in their last 28 games against Power 5 conference teams and 2-19 in their last 21 against teams ranked 13 or higher. Kellys biggest detriment though is an abrasive personality that combined with a lack of culpability and an especially disheartening lack of loyalty to his own players is not what any school that considers itself one of college footballs elite should want representing them.
With or without McCaffrey its difficult to pick against Stanford this week considering the downward spiral going on at Notre Dame. Neither team is far from hitting on all cylinders, but the Cardinal have a significant sideline advantage in head coach David Shaw, who I can not see allowing his team to drop their third straight game. Stanford may have struggled in the past in South Bend, winning just once in their past ten trips, but this weekend they stop their Indiana slide and get a win and cover on the road against Notre Dame.
Mike M’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Stanford +3
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