Notre Dame's Toughest Test Yet: Oklahoma

NOTRE DAME FACES ITS TOUGHEST BCS TEST YET ON THE ROAD AT OKLAHOMA SATURDAY NIGHT

Few expected the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to crash the BCS party before the season started. They were supposedly facing a brutal schedule that would keep them from having any shot of running the table. Many pollsters penalized them for this in advance, treating a team that may have had top 15 talent as somebody who barely deserved to be in the rankings.

Now...there are TV pundits who aren't afraid to say Notre Dame can go all the way!

How did we get here from there?

  • Michigan and Michigan State (particularly the latter), turned out not to be as good as expected, which made Notre Dame's schedule immediately easier.

  • Many projected powers who weren't on Notre Dame's schedule also turned out to be overrated...which allowed Notre Dame to scale the ladder in leaps and bounds rather than one week at a time.

  • Notre Dame turned out to be better than most expected, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. As we've discussed in past previews...it's like Brian Kelly spent the offseason watching San Francisco 49ers game tape. Notre Dame has played elite defense from the get-go, shutting down some talented offenses.

Unfortunately for Notre Dame fans, the single toughest challenge on the road to the BCS comes up Saturday Night in Norman, Oklahoma. This isn't an overrated Big Ten team. This is a Big 12 team that's hitting on all cylinders lately against the likes of Texas Tech and Texas. Oklahoma's only loss is to Kansas State, which may ultimately be a case of one top five team beating another. Even before Notre Dame can think about a showdown with Southern Cal, or a title tilt with Alabama, the Irish must score an outright victory as a double digit road underdog.

Let's see what our indicator data says about their shot at making that happen...

NOTRE DAME at OKLAHOMA (7 p.m. on ABC)
Las Vegas Spread: Oklahoma by 12, total of 48

Oklahoma is getting a lot of respect in that line...but you can argue that the Big 12 has clearly established that it deserves respect in intersectional meetings...while a team like Notre Dame that's played grinders vs. the disappointing Big 10 before barely surviving home games with Stanford and BYU isn't in the same class. The market is telling you that this is where Notre Dame gets exposed as a pretender as a national power. Give them "Best in the Midwest"in a down year. Just don't put them in the true elite until they beat somebody on the road.

CURRENT BCS RANKINGS
Notre Dame: 5th
Oklahoma: 8th

Obviously the market is scoffing at the BCS with its pointspread. Oddsmakers and virtually all Wise Guys would consider OU as the better neutral field team. They're not locked in to "penalizing"the Sooners for losing to a great Kansas State team. The BCS favors the undefeated. Maybe the BCS has it reversed, and it's Oklahoma who will be top five a week from now.

HEAD COACHES
Notre Dame: Brian Kelly
Oklahoma: Bob Stoops

An interesting contrast, and one that all handicappers should think about seriously as they ponder this game. Kelly used to be the kind of coach who would run up the score on lesser lights before having his weaknesses exposed vs. quality. You could say the same thing for Oklahoma on a much more explosive scale. The Sooners might score 60 against a good team, but would then stub their toe in explicable fashion against somebody just when they seemed indestructible. You could say that Oklahoma was an annual national championship contender who kept finding ways to disappoint...while Kelly's Cincinnati and Notre Dame teams were simply bowl caliber teams who were best advised to stay away from the true powers. Kelly has changed his stripes this year in terms of style and big game results. He's showing signs of improvement, while Stoops may have peaked many years ago. If Notre Dame springs an upset, it's likely to be traced to this area of analysis.

QUARTERBACKS
Notre Dame: Everett Golson
Oklahoma: Landry Jones

Golson has struggled badly much of the season. He's just dangerous enough with his legs to keep a job, but so erratic with his arm that the Irish can't pull away from teams who know what they're doing. This could be a big problem in front of a hostile crowd against a good team. Golson hasn't dealt with something quite like this in his young career, and could be a turnover implosion waiting to happen. Jones is tough for handicappers to deal with. The production is usually there. He just finds ways to underachieve that production on the scoreboard with poor decisions and badly timed turnovers. Is he ready for the defense that will be waiting on the other side of the scrimmage line?

LAST WEEK'S BOXES

NOTRE DAME 17, BYU 14
Total Yardage: BYU 243, Notre Dame 389
Rushing Yards: BYU 66, Notre Dame 270
Passing Stats: BYU 23-36-2-177, Notre Dame 8-17-1-119
Turnovers: BYU 2, Notre Dame 1
Third Downs: BYU 46%, Notre Dame 43%
Vegas Line: Notre Dame by 12, total of 41

Notre Dame was more impressive than the final score made it sound. Note that Golson missed this game as he recovered from a concussion. The Irish owned the point of attack, but limited aerial threats kept them stuck in another grinder. That style hurts them as home favorites, but arguably helps them significantly as road underdogs.

OKLAHOMA 52, KANSAS 7
Total Yardage: Kansas 309, Oklahoma 397
Rushing Yards: Kansas 195, Oklahoma 93
Passing Stats: Kansas 13-28-2-124, Oklahoma 21-33-0-304
Turnovers: Kansas 3, Oklahoma 1
Third Downs: Kansas 50%, Oklahoma 50%
Vegas Line: Oklahoma by 34, total of 55

OU had a punt return and a kickoff return, which helped them turn a pedestrian yardage advantage into a scoreboard blowout. This was a sandwich spot between Texas and Notre Dame...so it's not a shocker that the Sooners weren't hitting on all cylinders yardage-wise. They coasted to a 52-7 win anyway, ironically over the team coached by the man who preceded Brian Kellly as Notre Dame coach (Charlie Weis).

BEST EXPECTATION
Turnovers are always a big deal in football...but you could argue that they're the single biggest factor in determining who's going to cover this pointspread. If Notre Dame can stay clean on offense, then we have another grinder that will feel more like San Francisco 49ers football than Big 12 football. There's no margin for error because Oklahoma has better athletes and more depth of impact talent. Notre Dame must make it a wrestling match, then try to win with a late takedown. If the Irish give away any cheap points, then they have to open things up to play catch-up...which just invites more errors. A very volatile game that could miss the Vegas spread by double digits in either direction. It's also one of those games where who you like might generate an Over/Under play too. A grinder is going to stay Under, possibly WAY under. If the game blows up with cheap points, then a long night in Normal will coast Over.

JIM HURLEY knows everybody wants to cash a ticket in this game. It's one of the most high profile marquee matchups of the entire season. Notre Dame is important again...and they're playing Oklahoma! He's worked with every element of his full team of experts to find the best way to play it. His scouts and sources have reported in (focusing on Golson's readiness). His statheads have crunched the numbers from a variety of creative scenarios for this unique intersectional battle. His computer programmers have been running simulations around the clock to account for all possibilities. And, his Wise Guy connections in Las Vegas and offshore have alerted him to smart money interest.

Check the home page of this website today for the final word on whether Notre Dame/Oklahoma made the cut for the customer card. NETWORK doesn't force plays just because a game is on TV...so this game will only qualify if it truly deserves it. Game day selections including the TV Triple Crown will be up well before the first kickoff for credit card purchase. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Don't forget to check on early bird basketball rates...what looks to be a very exciting NBA season starts Tuesday!

Back with you Sunday with a stat preview of New Orleans-Denver in the NBC Sunday Night game. A fantastical football season just keeps getting better and better!

20
Aug

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