Making the case for Notre Dame
By DAVID ROBERTS
College Contributor Network
The college football gods stomped on the hands of Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas A&M on Saturday, prompting each team to tumble down a few pegs on the ladder leading to the College Football Playoff.
Ducking a near disaster was Notre Dame, which fended off a physical Stanford team 17-14 in a game that has become typical of the two teams. For the Irish, wins like that are instrumental for reaching that four-team playoff, as they are essentially a man without a nation.
Classified as a member of the ACC in all sports but football, Notre Dame will rely heavily on quality wins and strength of schedule. That schedule is among the most brutal in the nation -- outside most of the SEC -- and Notre Dame's win over the Cardinal was quality in every sense of the word.
Okay, let me stop you right there. The Notre Dame team that was rolled by a semi-pro Alabama team in the national championship game in 2012 is long gone, as are many aspects of that team. The most noticeable already seems to be the departure of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, which led to the hiring of Brian VanGorder. The installation of VanGorder has been nothing short of a revelation for Notre Dame, which is ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense and 28th in defensive efficiency.
Let's look at the Fightin' Irish's schedule:
vs. Rice (W 48-17)
vs. Michigan (W 31-0)
vs. Purdue (W 30-14)
at Syracuse (W 31-15)
vs. Stanford (W 17-14)
vs. North Carolina
at Florida State
at Arizona State
at Southern Cal
Aside from its win against Stanford, Notre Dame has won each of its games with relative ease (the team's average margin of victory is over 19 points), a sign of a good football team. To be the best, you have to perform and dominate inferior opponents. It sounds simple and that's because it is. Champions don't choke against the Arizonas of the world (looking at you, Oregon).
Even more impressive is Notre Dame's ability to win despite missing five players due to an ongoing academic investigation. Among the five, three have significant experience with the Irish. DaVaris Daniels has the most receiving yards of any Notre Dame player on the team and KeiVarae Russell started all 26 games at corner back since coming to South Bend. Linebacker Ishaq Williams was a four-star recruit out of high school and was expected to be a large contributor to the defense this season.
Sandwiched in the middle of the Irish's schedule is a date with the defending champs in Tallahassee, Fl. It's quite easy to point out that if Notre Dame is able to beat Florida State, its ticket to the playoff will be as good as punched -- provided it wins out.
Oregon has fallen, which will make it next to impossible for any team other than undefeated Arizona to make the playoff. Oklahoma also went down, giving undefeated teams Baylor and TCU a shot to run the table and sneak into the dance. The Big Ten is awful and the ACC will likely send its conference winner to the playoff. Talk of two SEC teams in the postseason is becoming more and more realistic, so that leaves one more vacancy.
And Notre Dame is looking for a room.
David Roberts is a fourth-year English major at the University of South Carolina. He was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, but relocated to the land below the Mason-Dixon line in grade school, citing earthquakes and Raiders fans as minor nuisances. David is a die-hard Cubs fan and still breaks down when thinking about the 2003 NLCS. Follow him on Twitter: @davidjayroberts