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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, November 26, 2011 at 9:03 AM

A few weeks ago, Saturday Night's Notre Dame-Stanford prime time matchup on ABC looked like it had the potential to be a HUGE game on the national landscape. The Irish had righted their ship after a shaky start to the season. Stanford was undefeated, and would be favored to win out and rank very highly in the national championship picture.

In fact, if they HAD won out, they might very well be sitting at #2 in the BCS rankings right now.

Developments of the past few weeks hasn't diminished the pure entertainment potential of the talent matchups...but both of the programs have lost some luster because of recent results.

  • You probably watched Stanford barely get by Southern Cal in overtime a few weeks ago. You probably watched Stanford get outclassed pretty badly by Oregon (a team that would subsequently lose at home to USC!). And, even last week's nailbiter win over California wasn't particularly impressive. Stanford may be a top ten caliber team because there's so much parity amongst major conference contenders this year once you get out of the SEC. But, nobody's thinking of the Cardinal as a championship caliber team at the moment. And, they may not actually be a top ten team in reality even though their won-lost record has them there at the moment.

  • Notre Dame can still run the score up on a soft defense. But, they were outclassed badly at home by USC...they didn't impress on the road at Wake Forest...and last week's nailbiter win over Boston College was pretty embarrassing given the high Vegas pointspread and the low quality of B.C. Heading into the Notre Dame/Southern Cal game, there were respected computer power rating models that had the Irish as a top eight team even with those early losses. The "oddsmakers poll" that circulates online also had them in the top 10. Real top 10 teams don't play home nailbiters with Boston College though.

Let's accept for now that this game DOESN'T feature a pair of superpowers. Early inclinations were wrong whether those inclinations came from humans or computers. We still have a matchup that would represent a fantastic bowl game.

  • Two versatile offenses who can put on a show

  • Two decent defenses who aren't as good as their yardage rankings when they play elites, but who can make enough plays to influence a big game.

  • Two interesting styles, with Stanford offering a brainy attack that keeps opponents guessing...while Notre Dame comes at you out of their spread and dares you to stop them or force a turnover.

  • Two teams who you'll be seeing again in high quality bowl games in about a month, so you might as well study them hard now so you can pick winners then!

Let's run through our standard indicator stats to see what they say about this one. You're going to watch because it's the best of the night TV games...and it's always fun to see the Irish play when they're facing somebody GOOD!

Notre Dame: 36th
Stanford: 48th

As always, we use Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings at USA Today because they seem to be the most accurate of the options over the long haul. And, that's been true for years. Here, we tend to think the rankings are overstating the case. Each team has had some softies. Probably the best way to make the point is that neither team is as good as their stats would suggest because each knows how to run up the numbers on soft opposition. Usually looking at strength of schedule helps us make that point. That's not really true here because Sagarin is showing them facing well above average schedules. In big games, they don't play like teams who are battle tested.

Notre Dame: 33rd
Stanford: 10th

Stanford has a great running game and the likely #1 pick in the next NFL draft at quarterback. No surprise at all that they rank in the top 10 nationally. Just remember that they became mistake-prone under pressure vs. USC (almost losing on a late pick six), Oregon (failing to keep up because of miscues), and California (barely surviving their rival). They may not play as well as that ranking would suggest vs. tonight's opponent.

Notre Dame is in the same boat though! If you watched their games with Maryland or Air Force, you might think of them as a juggernaut that can't be stopped. Last week they couldn't get much on the board against Boston College. Turnovers are going to loom large Saturday Night, because both of these teams have the disturbing knack of stopping themselves in big games.

Notre Dame: 28th
Stanford: 24th

Neither team is playing to those rankings in big games. But, we'd have to say that neither defense is a pushover by any means either. Tonight's game might turn into a shootout. There are some playmakers on the Irish, and some brainy schematics for Stanford that can disrupt opposing offenses. Let's also mention here that the TURF on this Stanford field was abysmal during the Oregon game, and not particularly trustworthy in the Cal game. We're now looking at three games in three weeks on questionable turf...which is likely to help the defense because ballhandlers can't cut with confidence.

We mentioned above that both teams have fairly recent games against Southern Cal. Let's take a closer look at what happened in those games to see if the numbers offer any additional guidance.

Total Yardage: USC 443, Notre Dame 267
Rushing Yardage: USC 219, Notre Dame 41
Passing Stats: USC 24-35-0-224, Notre Dame 27-43-1-226
Turnovers: USC 0, Notre Dame 3
Yards-Per-Play: USC 5.6, Notre Dame 4.7
Third Downs: USC 47%, Notre Dame 38%

This was when the Trojans really announced themselves at the national level. Notre Dame had no idea what was coming, and was exposed fairly clearly as a Power Ratings contender with this result. You regulars know how much weight we put on rushing yardage. USC just squashed  the Irish like a bug with a 219-41 edge on the ground. They also had the more productive passing game because yardage was almost even but Notre Dame threw 8 extra passes and had a pick. If you run your finger down the stat lines, the dominance seems much bigger than the final score would have suggested...and the final score was a three-touchdown cover! Many of you may be thinking of taking Notre Dame Saturday at Stanford. Spend some extra time thinking about the rushing category before pulling the trigger. The Irish may have big trouble stopping the run Saturday...particularly if their defenders aren't comfortable with their footing.

STANFORD 56, USC 48 (in triple overtime)
Regulation Score: Stanford 34, USC 34
Total Yardage: Stanford 516, USC 432
Rushing Yardage: Stanford 186, USC 148
Passing Stats: Stanford 29-40-1-330, USC 28-45-1-284
Turnovers: Stanford 1, USC 2
Yards-Per-Play: Stanford 5.9, USC 6.4
Third Downs: Stanford 40%, USC 33%

Stanford had to rally late to tie after Luck threw a pick six. And, overtime was a pure coin flip because both defenses were exhausted by that time. So, give Stanford credit for winning on the road. Just remember they were laying a touchdown in regulation and barely got the tie. Note that Stanford was +38 in rushing yardage over USC, while USC was +178 in rushing yardage over Notre Dame. Let's also mention that Luck's pick six was the only Stanford turnover of the game.

You can see why Stanford is favored by 7 points over Notre Dame Saturday Night. They are the better team, and they would seem to have an exploitable edge on the ground...which gives them a chance to win the risk/reward elements because turnovers are less likely if you can run. Also, familiarity with the sloppy turf could prove vital too. That being said, the Cardinal team that we've all watched with great interest the past few weeks sure doesn't seem like an automatic to win by more than a TD over anyone who knows what they're doing. Notre Dame is kind of a tweener in that regard. The Irish REALLY know what they're doing vs. bad team, but become mistake-prone when they step up in class.

JIM HURLEY may or may not have this game as part of his Saturday package. It's not a rivalry game, so it's not part of his RIVALRY PARLAY OF THE YEAR. But, it could be in the mix of the weekly TV Triple Crown (which is on an 11-1 run!) or show up in one of the service clubs. The best way to get the best games on the board is to sign up online or in the office at 1-800-323-4453. The annual TURKEY SHOOT is far from over...stick with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK all weekend long for BIG JUICY WINNERS!

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