CAMPUS CHECK-IN: Can Notre Dame pass this Top 5 test at Georgia?
SOUTH BEND – With the margin of error thin as an independent, this may very well be Notre Dame’s playoff to stay alive in the hunt for a College Football Playoff berth.
It’s likely that Georgia will be the highest-ranked opponent that the Irish will face this season, coming in at No. 3 ahead of their match-up at Sanford Stadium in Athens.
Following a bad showing against Clemson in last year’s College Football Playoffs, anything short of an undefeated season and Brian Kelly’s team could be eliminated from contention.
It’s a tough task for the Irish, who will face a Bulldogs team whom they beat out for a playoff spot a season ago. Georgia was vocal in staying they believed they should have been there, and the Notre Dame loss to Clemson only added fuel to that thought.
A nearly two-touchdowns underdog, the Irish could show that they’ve improved from last season if they can spring the upset against Georgia. On top of that, they could end a ten-game losing streak to Top 5 opponents, which stretches all the way back to 2005.
Like usual, Kelly isn’t putting any particular emphasis on this game, especially when asked if this could be one of the biggest wins in his career at the school if they can pull it off.
“No. It is not even part of what we do for preparation. To me, it’s about our players, it’s about our coaches giving them a great game plan, it’s about my job to make sure we put together the best possible preparation for our team,” said Kelly. “The rest of that stuff, I really could care less about.”
NORTHWESTERN: Playing Great Against State
EVANSTON – Last year, they were reeling after a tough non-conference season led to a tough first loss of the Big Ten season.
A win over Purdue in Week 1 seemed far away when Northwestern faced then-No. 20 Michigan State in East Lansing in October of 2018. They were 1-4 off a loss against Michigan in which they blew a 17-0 first half lead in a three-point loss. The campaign looked headed nowhere and perhaps with a losing record for the first time since 2014.
But the Wildcats came alive that day, knocking off the Spartans 29-19 in East Lansing in what was then a sizable upset. Northwestern would ride that momentum to win six of their next seven games – including everyone in the Big Ten – to capture the West Division title.
On Saturday, the Wildcats open the slate with the Spartans, and do so with a three-game winning streak in the series dating back to 2016. If they can knock off Michigan State, who lost to Arizona State last week, it would be the longest streak against the school in Wildcats’ history.
So why has Northwestern has such success against Michigan State – who is consistently in the top half of the Big Ten? Pat Fitzgerald had his thoughts on that this week.
“Coach ‘D’ and I have been in the league for a long time and most of these games have been really close, I think, because we play very, if not the same schemes, we play a very similar style of football. I think that’s why the games are so close,” said Fitzgerald of the match-ups with the Spartans. “I think both teams are very disciplined in what they do and how they do it.”
Illinois: A Detour from the Goal
CHAMPAIGN – During a difficult period of building for the program, success is measured in simple steps. One of those had the chance to be taken last week.
Instead, Illinois stumbled in their hopes for an undefeated non-conference season.
Falling behind by 14 points in the fourth quarter to Eastern Michigan, the Illini rallied late to tie the game only to watch the Eagles drive downfield for the game-winning field goal. The 34-31 loss prevented Lovie Smith’s team from reaching their first goal of his fourth season and dealt a blow to the team’s hopes for a bowl game.
“Disappointment from this last game. There’s no other way to put it,” said Smith of the loss to the Eagles, which prevented the program’s first 3-0 start since 2011. “We thought we were ready to take another step, improve on some things we did the previous week. Had a good week of practice, and didn’t really see that coming.”
Certainly they see the challenge coming at them to start the 2019 Big Ten schedule under the lights at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Nebraska comes to Champaign for a 7 PM tilt which may have had a little more fire had the Illini gotten through the non-conference season unscathed. Instead, Illinois now is looking for a bit of redemption before heading to the bye to end September against a Huskers team that is also 2-1 on the season.
“Hopefully when you don’t play your best football there would be more of a sense of urgency to get everything right and knowing exactly what type of opponent you have, it’s about Big Ten play,” said Smith. “In an ideal world you would want to start BIG 10 play at home, I talked about the audience that will be watching us and what we have going on this weekend.
“There’s a lot of things surrounding this game and we want to be ready to go and as much orange as we see the better off we will be.”
NIU HAS THE BYE WEEK