Notre Dame (8-3, 22) at Stanford (10-1, 4)
8 p.m. EST, TV: ABC
With the Irish likely headed to the Champs Sports Bowl, they have one final chance to move up in the rankings and knock off a marquee opponent. Stanford will be highly motivated, as they hope a signature win could clinch the Heisman for Andrew Luck and potentially earn them a BCS at-large bid.
Stanford is 10th in the nation in total offense, averaging 485 yards/game. They are also fourth in scoring offense. The Cardinal have put up a ton of points against everyone, including quality opponents Oregon, USC and Washington. Andrew Luck leads the offense as he is hitting almost 71 percent of his passes with 31 touchdowns.
The top rusher for Stanford is Stephan Taylor, who is over the 1,000 yard mark and averages close to 100 yards/game. Notre Dame comes in ranked 28th in total defense and 22nd in scoring defense, as they give up about 20 points per/game. I think the Notre Dame defense is much improved and has the potential to hold Stanford down, however, the edge here still goes to Stanford.
After watching Stanford get lit up by Oregon, give up a ton of points to USC and look quite pedestrian against Cal, it is hard to believe they are 24th in the nation in total defense. This is an area that I would have favored Notre Dame had Jonas Gray not gotten injured.
Stanford is just 77th in the nation in passing defense, so the question will be whether they can stop Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert. That being said, the way that the Irish looked on offense against Boston College (73rd in the Nation) does not inspire a ton of confidence. The Irish will be able to move the ball and make plays. The larger question is, will they make enough?
David Ruffer could not have picked a better game to give his best performance of the year. Kyle Brindza turned in a poor effort and continues to be inconsistent. It was funny back in the summer listening to people talk about how Brindza would be a touchback machine based on practice reports. Those same people obviously forgot how different it is for a freshmen when you put 80,000-plus people in front of him.
The punt game seems about equal, as the averages are very close, and neither punter is in the top 50 in the rankings. Stanford does feature a top punt returner in Drew Terrell (12.2 average return) and Notre Dame will be wise to keep the ball out of his hands if possible. Kickoff return man Ty Montgomery also has an average over 25 yards and one touchdown. Stanford kickers Jordan Williamson and Eric Whitaker are a combined 16-19 on the season.
EDGE: STANFORD (SLIGHT)
Notre Dame continues to be an enigma on Saturday's. Last week, Notre Dame jetted to a 10-0 lead and then basically disappeared, nearly allowing a bottom feeder of the ACC to come in to South Bend and win on senior day.
Stanford is a strange team in that they are 10-1 but, with the exception of USC, really haven't beaten anyone. Last week, on a sloppy field, they let a 6-5 Cal team hang around. Yes I know it is the "Big Game" but it still shouldn't happen.
The motivation this week for Stanford will be the Heisman and Luck. He holds a narrow edge over Trent Richardson and will have the national stage on Saturday Night to try and nail down the Heisman. The early weather forecast shapes up to be a great night, unlike last week versus Cal. I still don't think Stanford is as great a ball club as advertised. Look for some new wrinkles by Coach Kelly to offset the loss of Jonas Gray.
I'm only 7-4 at picking the Irish this year, so my opinion/analysis seems about as inconsistent as our play. I do believe that tough losses even out over time or you get fired. Lou Holtz lost a ton of close games his first season (Michigan and Penn State come to mind). At the end of the season the Irish stole a late one at USC and it seemed to turn their fortunes.
Brian Kelly has had similar luck in his first two seasons, as games that could have been won, or often should have been won, slipped away (Michigan twice, Tulsa, Michigan State, South Florida). This trend needs to reverse itself, or Kelly will likely not survive for a second contract at Notre Dame.
That being said, his teams have been best when expectations are low, or their backs are against the wall. This is one of those times. Stanford is a little better and is playing with perhaps a Heisman in the balance. Nevertheless, in a season of inconsistent and topsy-turvy play, the Irish keep it close and win with a late special teams' play. My head says Stanford but my heart takes the Irish in a nail-biter!
Notre Dame 33, Stanford 31