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Early football previews and predictions: Stanford Cardinal

| Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Notable ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit drew many headlines, as well as Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s ire, for admitting that he would be “shocked” if there was football this fall due to the lack of a coronavirus vaccine. In the spirit of the Easter season, however, the Sports Department of The Observer is holding out hope that it will be safe to begin the season as scheduled. Perhaps if we all continue to embrace “social distancing” to protect our fellow citizens, Notre Dame will resume its historic rivalry with Stanford on Oct. 10 in the first of two scheduled primetime games at Notre Dame Stadium in 2020. 


Opponent: Stanford Cardinal

Date: Oct. 10, 2020

Location: Notre Dame Stadium

Kickoff: 7:30 pm EDT


History of the matchup

This will be the 35th contest all-time between Notre Dame and Stanford, with the Irish leading the overall series 21-13 (including the famous 2012 victory later vacated by the NCAA). The first showdown between the two schools was the 1925 Rose Bowl, when Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen defeated Pop Warner’s Cardinal 27-10. The two programs would only play three more times before the tenure of Lou Holtz.

The Legends Trophy has been contested annually since 1997, and in 1999 the series was coordinated to alternate with the USC schedule. The pattern of the Irish facing off against one California school at home in October or September and playing the other Golden State program on the road in November was established.

Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw’s Stanford teams largely dominated the rivalry from 2009-2017. The Irish did punctuate this run, however, with two iconic victories at Notre Dame Stadium. In 2012, the Irish defense made a heroic goal line stand in overtime en route to the BCS National Championship game, while Everett Golson tossed a 23 yard touchdown pass to Ben Koyack on a 4th-and-11 with just over a minute to go for a 17-14 win in 2014.

Annie Smierciak | The Observer
Irish senior defensive lineman Khalid Kareem jumps over the line to try to swat a pass during Notre Dame’s 45-24 win over Stanford on Nov. 30 at Stanford Stadium.

The Irish snapped a three-game losing streak against the Cardinal with a big 38-17 home win during their undefeated regular season in 2018. The 2019 edition of the rivalry was Notre Dame’s first win at Stanford since 2007, but the Irish started slow against a Stanford team languishing at the bottom of the Pac-12. With the Irish down 17-7 in the second quarter, freshman defensive end Isaiah Foskey provided a spark with a blocked punt in the red zone that set up a quick score. Ian Book threw for four touchdowns, defensive lineman Khalid Kareem punctuated his last collegiate regular season game by returning a fumble off an Ade Ogundeji sack for a touchdown, and the Irish clinched a third consecutive 10-win season on Thanksgiving weekend with a 45-24 win.  


2019 performance

After ten straight bowl-game appearances, the Cardinal had a dismal 2019, posting their first losing season under Shaw with a 4-8 record (3-6 Pac-12). Stanford was plagued by injuries all season long, especially along the offensive line, but the valuable experience gained by their freshmen was a silver lining. Twenty-one true freshmen saw time, with eight of them combining for 43 starts.

Quarterback K.J. Costello, a two-year team captain who started 25 games for the Cardinal, transferred to Mississippi State in February. This leaves Davis Mills, who took the job from Costello late in the season, as the definite starter in Palo Alto. Despite the lopsided loss, Mills played well against the Irish, earning a 87.1 QBR by throwing for 276 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions.

Stanford fans also received a much-needed boost when cornerback Paulson Adebo announced he would return for his senior season instead of entering the 2020 NFL Draft, which Shaw previously asserted had “no chance” of happening. The projected first-round draft pick regressed a bit in 2019 after leading the nation with 24 passses defended in 2018, but he still managed to pick up first team All Pac-12 honors for a second consecutive season. When Adebo faces Notre Dame’s largely unproven receiving corps in October, he could be the favorite for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the best defensive back in college football. 

Back on the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver Simi Fehoko put the Pac-12 on notice late in 2019 in his first full year of eligibility. Fehoko hauled in six touchdown passes in the Cardinal’s final five regular season games and caught six passes for 63 yards last year versus the Irish. 

Stanford should also be bolstered by its 2019 recruiting class. It was ranked 20th in the country by ESPN, just six spots behind the Irish, and includes seven players from the ESPN 300 list.  


(Way-too-early) predictions:

Hayden Adams — Sports Editor

I’ll keep this brief. All I have to say for Stanford is, “sheesh.” Fifteen players have already entered their name in the transfer portal, so just managing to put together a competent starting lineup will be difficult. If they had K.J. Costello returning under center then maybe there’d be some cause for concern, and maybe if this was in Palo Alto, but the Irish just broke that losing streak. The days of Bryce Love are long gone, and with them Stanford’s relevance in the CFP or even Pac-12 conversation.

FINAL: Notre Dame 45, Stanford 13


Charlotte Edmonds — Senior Sports Writer

It’s still hard to fathom the complete meltdown that was Stanford’s 2019 season. While they hardly entered the season with title expectations, Stanford has cemented itself as a perennial force in the Pac-12 under head coach David Shaw, often besting the Irish in the process. However, countless injuries resulted in a disappointing 4-8 season. Now, Shaw and the Cardinal find themselves at a point of soul searching. With quarterback K.J. Costello having transferred to Mississippi State and still likely nursing their wounds from last season, a lot of question marks remain for this team.

I’ll always be weary of the Cardinal, but I think this own goes to the home team. The Irish simply have too much stability and leadership to fall on this one. Taking place in the thick of the season, expect this to be a tune-up in preparation for their next marquee matchup — Clemson.

FINAL: Notre Dame 34, Stanford 14


Gregory McKenna — Sports Writer 

Stanford was the tenth winningest college football program of the last decade, but David Shaw’s team is still recovering from their worst season since Jim Harbaugh’s first year in charge in 2007. Records often do not predict rivalry games though, and I expect Stanford to start strong. Win or lose, Notre Dame will enter their second primetime game in as many weeks battered and fatigued after their Lambeau showdown against Wisconsin. Similar to the 2019 matchup, the Irish will find themselves trailing a few minutes before halftime. 

Also like the 2019 game, however, Notre Dame will recover, this time at home. Stanford has struggled mightily to run the ball ever since the injury and subsequent departure of 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Love. The Irish D-line should eventually get to Mills, just like they did in the second half of the game in Palo Alto. Ian Book, meanwhile, will likely be supplemented by a stronger running attack this year. Book showed improvement and a greater willingness to look deep late in 2019, and though Adebo will take away one target per play, I expect Book to again find openings in the Cardinal secondary. Unlike some of the classic games played by these two programs over the last decade, this one will not hang in the balance late. 

FINAL: Notre Dame 30, Stanford 17

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