Notre Dame’s 6-0 Start Turns Doubters Into Believers
I wasn’t a believer in Notre Dame football when the season started. This morning, I re-read the July post I had written about the Irish and my outlook was even bleaker than I recalled. But these Fighting Irish team is making a believer out of me. They’ve now put together three quality wins (Michigan, Stanford, Virginia Tech), started 6-0 and put themselves squarely in the conversation for the College Football Playoff.
GREAT 1980s SPORTS MOMENTS
Start reading today.
The most noteworthy development has been a change at quarterback. It was already assumed Ian Book was going to get playing time after he led Notre Dame to a bowl victory over LSU last year, but Book has gone one step further and completely displaced incumbent Brandon Wimbush.
The contrast between the two quarterbacks is stark—Book’s completion rate is 73%, he gets 8.4 yards-per-attempt and has a 9/1 TD-INT ratio. Those are numbers that, extrapolated over an entire season, scream “Heisman contender”. Wimbush is physically gifted, but never could overcome his erratic passing. His numbers are 55%, 7.8 YPA and 1-4 TD/INT ratio. The quarterback change alone could explain the Irish success in 2018.
But there’s more. The running game was supposed to suffer, and Josh Adams was gone to the NFL, as were his All-American escorts up front, Mike McGlinchey and Quentin Nelson. Instead, Brian Kelly has introduced us to Dexter Williams, who delivered huge games in the wins over Stanford and Virginia Tech.
The defense faced a challenge when coordinator Mike Elko, who had turned this unit around in 2017, departed for the same job under Jimbo Fischer at Texas A&M. Instead, the Irish are getting solid play in the trenches, controlling the line of scrimmage and at least keeping opponents under control. Khalid Kareem and Jerry Tillery lead up a unit that completely shut down the rushing attacks of Michigan and Stanford.
Notre Dame is ranked fifth in the current AP poll and with Oklahoma and LSU losing on Saturday, the Irish are now first in line in any of the Big Four—Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Ohio State—should stumble. What’s more, the schedule works in ND’s favor. The remaining games are Pitt, Navy (at San Diego), at Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse (in Yankee Stadium) and a visit to USC.
That’s not exactly an easy slate, but the Irish will be favored in at least the first five of those games, with a wait-and-see approach taken towards inconsistent Southern Cal. If nothing else, none of the opponents are as good as Michigan appears to be or as Stanford and Virginia Tech might be.
Furthermore, Notre Dame’s biggest strength in the first half of the season is a steady consistency. If that continues, getting the four wins necessary to put themselves in the New Year’s Six is a virtual lock and the five wins needed to at least be in serious consideration for the Playoff also likely. With the emergence of Book and Williams, along with the quality of the defensive front, this has the look of an 11-1 team right now.
Here’s the updated New Year’s Six bowl projections, with the field filled by 11 power conference teams and one from the mid-major ranks. Texas’ win over Oklahoma puts three Big 12 teams in the projections. I also didn’t dock LSU that much for their close loss at Florida, only dropping them from 5 to 6. The Tigers have played a good early schedule.
The 12th: Central Florida
Cotton Bowl (College Football Playoff): Alabama-Clemson
Orange Bowl (College Football Playoff): Ohio State-Georgia
Rose Bowl: Penn State-Washington
Sugar Bowl: Texas-LSU
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma-Notre Dame
Peach Bowl: West Virginia-Central Florida