Sunday, October 12, 2014

A sort of bold sort of prediction. Sort of.

I can see the future, a day after Notre Dame 50, North Carolina 43. And it looks a lot like 2002.

It looks a lot like an undefeated Notre Dame team going down to Tallahassee (in the very midst of Ty Willie Mania) to play a Florida State team that was ranked in the Top Ten. Finally, conventional wisdom went, the Irish were going to get theirs. And that was going to happen because, even though they were 7-0 under first-year coach Tyrone Willingham (i.e., Ty Willie), they really weren't all that good.

Lot of smoke and mirrors and tricks of the light in that 7-0 record. That was the CW on the Golden Domes.

Of course, then Notre Dame hauled off and beat the Seminoles. And Bobby Bowden spoke for most of the country when he said in the postgame he was flat-out "bumfuzzled" by the whole deal.

I think there could be more bumfuzzling ahead next week in Tallahassee.

I think this Notre Dame team is again undefeated and ranked in the top five, and yet it doesn't look, feel or smell like an undefeated, top five team. Not after giving up 43 points to a North Carolina
team that had given up 70 to East Carolina, and gave up 50 to the Irish in that 50-43 loss.

That's 93 total points if you're a math major, plus 1,129 combined total yards and so many touchdowns -- 13 -- that Touchdown Jesus could barely lift his arms by the end of it.
And all that was impressive until you realized it wasn't really.

The 50 points Notre Dame scored, after all, was about what North Carolina had given up on average in the last month. And the Irish defense, so solid so far, got turned into road cheese by a quarterback, Marquise Williams, who'd up until Saturday had been sharing snaps.

All Williams did to the formerly vaunted Irish "D" was run for 132 yards and a touchdown against it, and pass for 303 yards and two more touchdowns against it. He even caught a touchdown pass.

His counterpart, Everett Golson, accounted for 71 yards rushing and 300 yards and three scores himself. That was a Heisman candidate performance if you took away his two lost fumbles and the pick six, which momentarily made him look less like a candidate for John Heisman's trophy than for a trophy named after, say, Myron Heisman.

The obvious takeaway is that both Golson and the Irish got exposed even in victory. And that if Marquise Williams can go up and down the field on them like Jeff Gordon, what's Jameis Winston gonna do?

I'll tell you: Lose.

There's no way it should happen, of course, but if this isn't a setup straight out of the Notre Dame Lore Handbook, I don't know what is. They're coming off a win that raised even more eyebrows than were already raised, which means they'll be in nobody-believes-in-us mode, a role the Irish have traditionally craved. And they're in against a No. 1-ranked Seminoles team that for a variety of reasons looks ripe to fall.

First and foremost, there's the whole ongoing flap about Winston's off-the-field string of bad acts, which has now grown to such disquieting lengths the university seems finally compelled to address it.  Stung by the growing perception that it's coddling a miscreant for the greater glory of No. 1, this week Florida State will finally hold a disciplinary hearing on What To Do About Jameis -- and even if the school doesn't sit him down, that can't help but help Notre Dame.

If Florida State finally sits Winston down, the entire landscape of next Saturday obviously changes in Notre Dame's favor. And even if Winston is deemed fit to play, there's no way the entire ordeal can't be a massive distraction for a team that's occasionally looked less than dominant as it is.

In any case, it's no way to be going in against a top five team that thinks it has something to prove, and knows it will have no bigger stage on which to do it.

And so ... welcome to 2002 Redux. Maybe.

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