If Notre Dame Runs The Table, It’s Probably Going To Be In Very Good Shape

The aftermath of Saturday’s riveting and consequential Notre Dame-Florida State demands further discussion, as does the Kansas State-Oklahoma game. Neither contest can be fully processed without an examination of what the result means for both teams. That’s the newest roundtable at The Student Section.


Question No. 1: How, if at all, did the Notre Dame-Florida State game change your opinions of both teams relative to your pre-kickoff assessment?

Bart Doan:

On Twitter @TheCoachBart

Not a bit, actually. In my heart of hearts, I didn’t think Notre Dame was getting enough credit relative to the other teams that were still unbeaten and figured they could hang with anyone.

Florida State just reaffirmed what I thought about them as well … that while not as dominant and imposing as last year’s team, they’re still not going to go quietly into the night and have the hearts of champions when the iron gets jammed in the fire.

The path for Florida State is crystal clear … keep winning, remove any doubt, you’re in the playoff. Notre Dame’s gets a little more sloppy, though it’s hard to really hold losing in Tallahassee at the gun against a team, but if this is anything like the BCS, it will be.

For instance, take Auburn or Michigan State. Auburn lost a sloppy affair in Starkville where they got off the bus late and Mississippi State tried to let them back in the game. Michigan State hung around for three quarters, but ran out of gas at Oregon and was outclassed in the end.

Yet if you look at the polls, which, again, don’t matter and hopefully don’t give any window into the way the allegedly reasonable CFB Playoff committee is supposed to act … both are ahead of the Irish. Why? Notre Dame-Florida State was well played by both teams, who understood the moment all game long.

In a system where we inevitably will be splitting hairs about “better losses” come December (shudder), it’s hard to really hold this one against ND. Losing football games doesn’t necessarily mean you automatically should drop in the polls.

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter @SectionTPJ

From Saturday’s “instant classic,” I took away three very important points.

First, Florida State is the team to beat in the College Football Playoff. Sure, they’re currently second and will likely remain there thanks to all of the SEC Kool-Aid drinkers in the media. But, unlike any other team in the country over the past two years, the Seminoles continue to get the job done when the game is on the line. Regardless of the circumstances or how imminent defeat seems, Florida State does what it needs to in order to win the game.

Saturday’s contest merely reiterated that point.

Another takeaway from Notre Dame – Florida State is that Jameis Winston should join Archie Griffin as a two-time Heisman Trophy winner. Just as he’s done throughout his career, Winston was at his best under pressure. Trailing 17-10 entering the second half, Winston was fantastic over the final 30 minutes, completing 15 of 16 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown. His precision passing allowed the Seminoles to match every Irish score in the second half, keeping his perfect record as a starter intact.

Let’s also not forget that he turned in this outstanding performance against Everett Golson, who entered Saturday night’s action with an undefeated record in regular season play.

I’d like to see all of the people who publicly said they wouldn’t vote for Winston try to rebut that.

Not even his fiercest critics can deny that Jameis Winston made a very strong statement in the Heisman Trophy race Saturday night. Winston's virtually perfect second half is the best half of football from any skill player in the FBS this season if the weight of the occasion and the quality of the opponent are factored into the equation.

Not even his fiercest critics can deny that Jameis Winston made a very strong statement in the Heisman Trophy race Saturday night. Winston’s virtually perfect second half is the best half of football from any skill player in the FBS this season if the weight of the occasion and the quality of the opponent are factored into the equation.

The final – and most important – lesson learned from this game is that Notre Dame deserves a place in the College Football Playoff if it wins out. The Irish went toe-to-toe with the best team in the land, and nearly emerged with a “W” — on the road. Since the Selection Committee uses the “eyeball test” when determining strength of the schedule, this near miss is going to carry plenty of weight come selection time.

So will the Notre Dame schedule, which includes two road trips across the country (Arizona State and USC), and as many as 10 bowl-bound opponents.

Matt Zemek:

On Twitter @SectionMZ

Florida State has become the toughest out in college football. What it did against Notre Dame in prime time was different from its escape against Clemson only in the sense that Jameis Winston got to lead the team back from the brink. Yes, critics will say that if Sean Maguire had played against the Notre Dame team which showed up on Oct. 18, Florida State would own a loss by now.

Yet, that’s not how sports work: You play the team in front of you on a given day in a given situation. Florida State always has the answer on gameday. This is not news, and so the prevailing assessment of the Seminoles should not change.

The revelation to emerge from this game is that Notre Dame, under Brian Kelly, continues to craft a certain kind of curious yet laudable consistency. The Irish, in 2012, played Pittsburgh, Stanford, USC, BYU, and Oklahoma (among others) close. Great teams, good teams, average teams — the Irish did not crush them, and they didn’t really flourish against them… but they didn’t lose to them.

Heading into this game against Florida State, Notre Dame had just beaten North Carolina in a 93-point game (50-43) after crawling past Stanford in a 31-point game (17-14). Would another Kelly-and-Everett-Golson team continue the pattern of playing to the level of its competition, even though the level of the competition differed dramatically from week to week?

I was skeptical.

I was also wrong.

This team has a little more offense and a little less defense compared to 2012, but Notre Dame’s uncanny ability to create a 15-round fight instead of a quick bout (on either the winning or losing side) shows that Kelly knows a thing or three about how to get his teams primed for the biggest teams on the calendar… and to ride his teams just enough to take care of the less daunting games on the schedule. That’s an art, and it deserves to be appreciated.


Question No. 2: Is Kansas State the Big 12 favorite in your estimation?

Matt Zemek:

In a season that feels as cluttered and chaotic as 2007, it’s a bit too early to anoint Kansas State as the Big 12 favorite. There are still too many plot twists left in the journey.

However, if you were to expand that question and ask, “Is Kansas State going to be one of the two teams left in the Big 12 at the end of the season?”, the answer would more likely be “yes” than “no” at this point. The Kansas State-Baylor finale on Dec. 6 is likely to help decide the Big 12 champion from one side of the matchup or the other (if not both).

If you share the belief (and it’s only an opinion, after all) that KSU-Baylor will decide the Big 12, you will then agree with the claim that Kansas State’s path to the Big 12 title needs to put the Wildcats a game clear of Baylor entering that contest. Baylor has been a thorny opponent for Kansas State with Art Briles in charge of the Bears. Baylor knocked Kansas State out of the 2013 BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame with a convincing upset blowout in November of 2012.

How does Kansas State reach Dec. 6 with a cushion relative to Baylor?

Step 1: Beat everyone else in the Big 12.

Step 2: See Oklahoma beat Baylor in Norman.

Step 3: Profit!

Step one is the hardest part of the equation, but we have seen this movie play out with Bill Snyder before. The Wildcats don’t put up the most gleaming statistics, but they don’t make the mistakes Oklahoma made this past Saturday. They stay close enough to pounce when a foe sweats — they are like the San Francisco Giants in the Major League Baseball playoffs, winning games with fielder’s choices and mishandled bunts and other small-ball devices.

Is Kansas State the Big 12 favorite? No. It’s enough of a testament to this team that it’s awfully close to meriting the distinction.

Bart Doan:

Nope. As impressive as winning in Norman was this past Saturday, the cold, hard reality is that their schedule sucks down the stretch. To close out the season, they’ll have to play at TCU, West Virginia, and Baylor with the annual in-state scrimmage against the Jayhawks before heading to Waco to end things.

It’s an awfully tall task no matter who the team is to have to play that many games against contenders to end the season on the road and come out unscathed. KSU’s main hope is that the rest of the Big 12 finds themselves additional losses on the schedule.

Contrast that to TCU first, who has to go to West Virginia, but other than that sees their only road contests against flaccid Kansas and still-not-there-yet Texas.

WVU might be in the best shape of the brood … getting both TCU and KSU at home but having to go to Stillwater this weekend against what had best be a pissed off Oklahoma State bunch after the caning they took from TCU.

Then you’ve got Baylor, who will need to win in Norman to have a shot to win the conference very likely. Now, things don’t go according to chalk … obviously … but of the main players, KSU has the most brutal fare to close out the year.

Terry Johnson:

No, that’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do.

Make no mistake about it: Kansas State is an excellent football team. They might not be as flashy as some other teams are, but the Wildcats play sound, fundamental football and rarely beat themselves. This style of play won’t win any style points, but it’s highly effective. After all, KSU currently sits atop the Big 12 standings with a perfect 3-0 record – the only squad in the league with an unblemished mark in conference play.

However, that doesn’t make it the favorite to win the Big 12 this fall. Remember, it’s virtually impossible to navigate conference play undefeated. Even the Collin Klein-led Wildcats that played in the Fiesta Bowl suffered a loss in league play, a crushing 52-28 defeat to Baylor, which ended any hopes the team had of playing for the national championship. Considering that the K-State still has road games against three teams that rank in the top seven nationally in total offense (Baylor, TCU, and West Virginia), it’s difficult to see the Wildcats escaping that brutal stretch unscathed.

With that said, keep this nugget in mind… the last team that went through conference play with a perfect record ended up playing in the BCS National Championship Game (Texas in 2009). Provided the Wildcats can accomplish this feat – which hasn’t happened since the league expanded to the current 9-game format – there’s no way the Selection Committee could leave them out of the field.


Question No. 3: How did Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State adjust your perception of the Sooners and Bob Stoops, if at all?

Bob Stoops and Bill Snyder are two of the best coaches we've seen in the past quarter-century of college football. Yet, given the extent to which Stoops was criticzed after a one-point loss in which his previously heralded kicker missed a PAT-length field goal in the final minutes, you'd think his career was running on fumes. Stoops is, in so many ways, a victim of his own outrageous success from 1999 through 2008, a decade of shimmering brilliance which now seems far more than only six years ago.

Bob Stoops and Bill Snyder are two of the best coaches we’ve seen in the past quarter-century of college football. Yet, given the extent to which Stoops was criticzed after a one-point loss in which his previously heralded kicker missed a PAT-length field goal in the final minutes, you’d think his career was running on fumes. Stoops is, in so many ways, a victim of his own outrageous success from 1999 through 2008, a decade of shimmering brilliance which now seems far more than only six years ago.

Terry Johnson:

It doesn’t change my perception one bit. The man is one the best coaches in college football, and a first ballot Hall of Famer. (Yes, I have a vote in case you’re wondering.)

Nothing that happened on Saturday will change that perception. While many people want to criticize the “reverse pass” call that resulted in an interception, it was actually a good call – his team just didn’t execute it properly, forcing a throw into coverage rather than pulling it down and gaining a few yards.

Similarly, many critics destroyed Stoops for relying on his kicker on fourth-and-goal from the one rather than going for a touchdown. To those people, I ask the following question, “What’s more likely to happen: That OU’s running game will get stuffed by the league’s best run defense on short yardage (just like the play before) or that the Big 12’s all-time leader in field goals is going to misfire on a 19-yard field goal?”

It’s tough to argue with him playing the percentages in that situation.

Of course, I find it strange that anyone wants to openly question a coach that’s won 80 percent of his games over a 16-year period. With a track record like that, he’s more than earned the benefit of the doubt.

Matt Zemek:

I’ll focus on the Stoops part of this question.

The fresh wave of “Does Bob Stoops need a fresh start in his career?” sentiments that swept across the college football community in the wake of Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State were hard to take, but they were not new and should not be seen as surprising.

It’s one of the most enduringly perplexing phenomena in recent college football media coverage: Bob Stoops, who put the Big 12 (especially Texas) at his feet for nearly a full decade and gave Oklahoma football a 10-year period that is worthy of being compared to the best 10 years of Barry Switzer, is hounded with a persistence better saved for coaches with far poorer resumes.

Near-miss seasons — this one being the newest (likely) example — are treated as severe crises, when they’re sometimes just bounces of the ball. Did Stoops (more specifically, brother Mike, OU’s defensive coordinator) fail to put the Sooners in position to win against Kansas State on certain levels? Yes. Not wasting timeouts on defense would have helped. Not using a shotgun on third and goal from the 1 (a Josh Heupel problem) would have advanced OU’s cause. Stoops and his staff could have done better in multiple areas.

Yet… the offense thrived under Trevor Knight, who regrouped after a difficult pair of weeks. Michael Hunnicutt, widely acknowledged as one of the finer kickers in the nation entering Saturday’s game, had a PAT-length kick — not from the severe-angle hashmark, either — to give the Sooners a lead inside the final five minutes of regulation. Stoops coached his team to a point where it expected to lead near the finish line at home.

You don’t hang Hunnicutt’s spectacularly unexpected failure against his coach. That’s madness. It’s possible to cite Stoops’s deficiencies against Kansas State yet note in a separate box of thought that Oklahoma was supposed to have carried a 33-31 lead into the closing minutes. Questioning Stoops’s place at OU in the wake of this loss is just the latest in a long line of severe overreactions about this coach’s fitness for one of the best jobs in college football. How soon we forget the “rabbit out of the hat” mini-miracle Stoops pulled off last year, getting a highly flawed team to the Sugar Bowl victory stand.

Bart Doan:

Sweeping generalizations and mood swings based on one event is for mid 20s females. Now, I’ll be honest … personally, I thought this Oklahoma team was “different.”

Early on, this looked more like one of the older, more cantankerous OU teams that could run it down your throat when they needed to. It turns out that wasn’t the case, because if it were, they wouldn’t have settled for a chip shot field goal which shows you why you never count points as on the board until they actually get completed that way.

It also shows the risk you run leaving it up to kickers, because in an individual field goal attempt, there are so many moving parts and chances to screw yourself out of points on your own without the other team forcing any of it. A lousy snap, the laces not being turned right, a slip by the holder, and obviously a bad kick, and the whole operation is blown up.

I’m getting away from the question though. It’s hard to win championships, especially the ones on a national level, and OU has been in the mix of things more often than not. If you’re looking for perception change at a program, you’re looking at places like Michigan, Florida, and ones that are in quicksand for several years rather than one that just seems to get upset one or two times too many every year.