Why I still think Notre Dame, Oregon will win 10 games
I didn’t see more than a half of either the Oregon-LSU or the Notre Dame-USF games, but I was engaged enough to note that both Fightin’ Kelly’s suffered one of the more frustrating losses of their respective coaching careers. The teams combined for 9 turnovers in 120 minutes of football. I have that as “way too many.”
Oregon at least can step back, attribute the turnover silliness to injury, and move on. This is a little more difficult for Notre Dame. Weather was a factor for the Irish, sure, but their wounds were painfully self-inflicted. The Notre Dame defense more or less stifled USF QB B.J. Daniels all game, and even given the fact that the Irish went into half down a fortunate 16-0, I still feel underwhelmed at the second half effort that saw them outscore the Bulls by a margin of 20-7 with two additional turnovers. Even if you give Notre Dame a complete mulligan for the first half, 20-7 is probably not the margin at home they should be beating a team like USF by. The offensive performance under Tommy Rees in the second half left plenty to be desired, which is something to keep in mind before Brian Kelly announces his quarterback for a really big game in his tenure at Michigan. With that said, even an underwhelming performance as such should be enough for ND to win at least 75% of its games going forward. Going 9-3 or better will require wholesale offensive improvement.
Notre Dame’s blessing is that they get another hyped, national game in just a Saturday. Oregon won’t be so lucky. Their next four opponents: Nevada, Missouri State, Arizona, California. Then after a fairly interesting Pac-12 matchup with Arizona State, they get Colorado, Washington State, and Washington. Oregon will not play another nationally ranked opponent (in all likelihood) until November 12th in Palo Alto, California, where Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal play. The Ducks will be punished by national pollsters for not running through this schedule in a series of blowouts leading to an 8-1 record. Fortunately, they are more than capable of exactly this kind of run. But there’s no question that Oregon’s season has a different feel if they had knocked off an LSU team that they certainly felt was inferior to them in many ways.
It’s never easy to stomach a loss in college football when the other team absolutely lacks the ability to attack you through the air, since FBS offenses have long played a schematic game well ahead of their defensive counterparts, a lot of guys who are just now catching up to the days of read option. But Oregon and Notre Dame both gave their opponents enough short fields to make exactly this a reality. But their ability to be stingy to opposing passing games is exactly why the Irish and Ducks merit belief going forward instead of scorn. An offense that coughs up the ball too much is one of the easiest things to correct during the practice week, and it goes without saying that each team will make this a point of emphasis. For Notre Dame, who only gave up 15 first downs, and Oregon, who gave up just 16, defensive strength must overshadow their offensive ineptitude going forward.
Notre Dame has a tough schedule the rest of the way, and a 10-1 finish will make this loss look more fluky than anything, but that’s the mentality they should take to Michigan next week. Oregon plays a very soft Pac-12 schedule until they end with at Stanford, vs. USC in consecutive weeks. 10-2 or better should be the Ducks’ expectation at this point. It would be easy to lose faith in a positive preseason prediction for either team after not just an upset loss to open the season, but one where neither team appeared to be impersonating a BCS-bound team, but upon a deeper examination of what went wrong in the opener for Notre Dame and for Oregon, it’s probably an overreaction to the first game to jump off the bandwagon right now.