Plamondon: Irish must reestablish identity for playoff push
Brian Plamondon | Friday, October 16, 2015
On Nov. 3, the College Football Playoff selection committee will announce its first 2015 rankings. While that may seem like light years away, for a Notre Dame team that has a bye coming up, it is only two games from now.
Sure, the first rankings will probably look nothing like what the committee presents to the public after the conference championship games are played. Still, prior impressions are hard to overcome — especially with human beings doing the picking for the College Football Playoff rather than a computer system.
Now six weeks into its season, the knock on Notre Dame has been that the Irish are slow out of the gate and don’t have a signature win. They struggled to put away Massachusetts and Navy until the second half while digging themselves into too big a hole to overcome against a strong Clemson team. Wins against Texas and Georgia Tech don’t look nearly as good as they did on paper in August. Where does that leave the Irish?
In need of a decisive win against their biggest rival.
It should go without saying that a loss would spell the end of Notre Dame’s playoff chances. On the other hand, simply winning isn’t good enough for Notre Dame anymore. With a watered-down schedule, scraping by and finishing 11-1 won’t cut it.
Instead, Notre Dame must come out like a top-10 team and win convincingly Saturday against USC. Coming off three slow starts in a row, that image is slowly becoming Notre Dame’s identity this season. Whether it is the offense sputtering early like against Clemson or the defense getting knocked around during the first few drives against Navy’s triple option, Notre Dame needs to put it together and play a full 60 minutes against USC.
The Trojans have had one of the more tumultuous weeks in all of college football, falling to Washington and losing their coach due to well-documented personal reasons and now don’t present the same opportunity as they did just a few weeks ago.
“Certainly, if they’re ranked 10th in the country, that’s going to affect us a little bit differently than them not being ranked, but I still think, when you talk about beating USC, I think it still carries a lot of weight because people know the talent that they have on that football team,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said.
Kelly had better hope so. With USC struggling to a 3-2 record so far, it is all the more reason the Irish have to play sound football and show the committee they are even worthy of consideration.
Another slow start, or a close finish in a game in which Notre Dame now has clear favorite status, and the Irish are just feeding the idea that their identity this season is settled.
Starting tomorrow, the Irish need to establish a new identity for their 2015 season. Six games into the season, it’s not too late for Notre Dame to change the course of its play on the field. Sporting a solid overall offense and defense, the Irish have faltered this season by taking possessions off here and there. To be a playoff-caliber team, that can’t happen nearly as often.
Although USC doesn’t present itself as the same type of powerhouse opponent it did a few short weeks ago, it does have enough talent for Notre Dame to see where it measures up. Quiet the Trojans with a convincing win and the Irish will be talked about as one of the best one-loss teams in the country, if not the best. Struggle with a downtrodden USC team and the Irish will move closer to an also-ran among playoff teams.
Although the first rankings aren’t released until after three more games for most teams, the time is now for Notre Dame to assert itself and change its identity for the committee to see.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.