By Stiofán Mac Fhilib

A relatively comfortable victory over Wake Forest last week should be repeatable for Notre Dame as they head to California this week. They match up against Stanford and look to finish the regular season with a flourish. Stiofán Mac Fhilib gives us his weekly lowdon.

Looking back at last week

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As Senior Day unfolded at Notre Dame Stadium last Saturday, the moderately-heralded ‘Sam Hartman Bowl’ turned out to be the only bowl game Wake Forest looks like being eligible for this year. The Demon Deacons fell to 4-7 for the season as their 2022 Quarterback threw four touchdowns en route to leading the Irish to a facile 45-7 victory.

On a day when the likes of Joe Alt and Audric Estime probably graced the field at ND Stadium for the final time, it was fitting that the offense produced one of its better performances in the second half of the season. With Center Ashton Craig, and Right Guard Billy Schrauth making their first career starts, the Irish offensive line allowed Estime to run for his fifth 100-yard game of the season on the day he passed the 1,000-yard mark.

Sam Hartman capped his home career in South Bend with a four-TD performance that saw him move into fourth place in the NCAA all-time TD list with 132. Three more TDs would see him jump Graham Harrell into third. A not-unrealistic target this Saturday evening in California.

While the spotlight naturally focused on the upperclassmen whose careers at the college level may now be over, some of the talented underclassmen shone and gave Notre Dame fans a further glimpse of what could lie in store in 2024 and beyond.

Rookie WR Rico Flores became the first Irish receiver to have a 100-yard game since Marcus Freeman’s first game in charge in the Fiesta Bowl. Flores and fellow freshmen Greathouse and Faison combined for 212 yards and 2 TDs. Sophomore TE Eli Raridon, whose two years in the program have seen him overcome a pair of ACL injuries, also caught a 19-yard TD pass. 

Defensively, it was more of the same from Al Golden’s suffocating unit. Wake’s mesh offense was held to under 100 yards passing and 3.7 yards per rush. The Demon Deacons managed just two long drives in the first half and never threatened to make the game close after that.

The week ahead

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Stanford Cardinal (Stanford Stadium); 7.00pm EDT; 12.00am IST/BST

Notre Dame always likes to finish the season with a warm-weather game in California on Thanksgiving weekend. Since 1999, they’ve travelled to Stanford in the odd-numbered years where they play USC at home. The Irish are 5-7 at Stanford Stadium over that period, though ND has won on their last two visits, 45-14 and 45-24.

Between 2009 and 2017, the Cardinal were 7-2 against the Irish in an era when Jim Harbaugh and then David Shaw had Stanford regularly competing for PAC 12 titles and Rose Bowl berths. Those teams are now firmly in the rear-view mirror, disappearing over the horizon a long way off in the distance.

The 2023 Cardinal team are 3-8, coming off a 15-27 defeat to Cal in the Big Game last week. They have struggled against the better offenses on their schedule, regularly giving up over 40 points to USC, Oregon, UCLA, Washington and Oregon State.

Offensively, the brightest spot has been the emergence of WR Elic Ayomanor, whose 294-yard day at Colorado helped Stanford mount a remarkable 46-43 comeback victory. He has helped offset the loss of their best offensive weapon, TE Benjamin Yurosek, who was injured halfway through the season.

They do like to utilise the QB run game often, and given ND’s struggles against this at times, expect to see more of it on Saturday evening. How successful it will be behind an OL that is below average, up against an Irish front seven that will regularly bring at least five, is another thing. Bizarre turnovers and special teams oddities aside, it’s hard to see a path to anything other than a comfortable Notre Dame victory.

Game Prediction

Notre Dame 38-13 Stanford

Stanford always plays the Irish tough, regardless of the talent levels on either side. They should be able to keep the game competitive in the first half. But Sam Hartman should have ample opportunity to throw the three TD passes he needs, and the Irish should be giving the backups a run out by the fourth quarter.

Where to watch:

PAC 12 Network (free via YouTube); coverage starts at 12:00am IST/BST 

PAC 12 Network (in the USA)

Playoff Picture

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“It’s been a while since we last reached the penultimate week of the regular season with five P5 teams still unbeaten, even if one of those 10-0 records does come with an asterisk the size of, well, the state of Michigan.”

If it were good enough for last week’s piece, then just change ‘penultimate’ to ‘final’ and ’10-0’ to ’11-0’, and we’re all good! 2007, it surely isn’t. Chaos? The football gods appear to be on strike at the moment as the top eight teams just keep on winning. Obviously, The Game in Ann Arbor will change that, but it’s feasible that we may see an upset-free slate of rivalry games for the rest of these teams. And sure, where would the fun be in that?

Or perhaps said footballing gods are simply teasing us and saving a season’s worth of chaos for rivalry week and the conference championship games. Maybe we’ll end up with half a dozen or more one-loss teams and make the college football playoff committee earn their big bucks for the awful burden inflicted upon them. Having to watch loads of college football with free food in a luxury hotel!