After Notre Dame’s destruction of Stanford, we’re thinking — yep — playoff

SHARE After Notre Dame’s destruction of Stanford, we’re thinking — yep — playoff
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The Irish are locked in — for the long haul? (AP/Carlos Osorio)

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly drank red Gatorade from a crystal bowl — the Legends Trophy — after the Irish blasted Stanford 38-17 on Saturday night in South Bend, Indiana.

It was a nice moment, a fitting celebration after a resounding, if all-too-rare, victory against a formidable rival. But it might have been only the beginning.

Are you ready for a wild prediction out of the gate? Here goes: Notre Dame (5-0) will be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff at the end of the season.

This is no ordinary Irish team. Quarterback Ian Book threw four touchdown passes without an interception and made one clever play after another with his legs against the Cardinal. Miles Boykin, with 11 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown, was unstoppable. Dexter Williams, back after missing four games for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, rushed for 161 yards. Jerry Tillery had four sacks, and the defense had nine tackles for loss in all. The Irish had 29 first downs to the Cardinal’s 10 and outgained them by more than 300 yards.

It was a complete and massive breakthrough.

I think so, anyway. The next game — Saturday at Virginia Tech — will be a daunting test. But the Irish are favored against the Hokies and should be the favorites in each game from here on out.

So, you know, just don’t blow it.

On to the rest of the ‘‘Big 10’’ (where 10 actually means 10):

2.What a win: Ohio State topped Penn State 27-26 despite (a) being dominated in the first half, (b) facing the largest, possibly craziest Beaver Stadium crowd ever, (c) allowing Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley to go off for a school-record 461 total yards and

(d) needing to drive 96 yards itself for the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

In short, it looks for now as though (e) everybody else in the Big Ten is playing for second place.

3.Word play: Penn State coach James Franklin called his program ‘‘great’’ but Ohio State’s ‘‘elite.’’ The latter is better, apparently, than the former.

I’ll offer a word to describe the Lions’ final offensive play, a read-option handoff on fourth-and-five that got snuffed out instantly, effectively ending the game: ‘‘the worst freaking play-call I’ve ever seen.’’

What, is that more than one word?

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4.No offense: Ugh, Northwestern. The Wildcats led Michigan 17-0 but lost 20-17 after allowing six sacks and gaining a paltry 97 yards in the last three quarters. It’s going to be a long season in Evanston.

5.Clemson does it again: Who’s more clutch, year after year, than the Tigers? They needed a 94-yard touchdown drive to beat Syracuse, and they got it from a quarterback, Chase Brice, who was buried on the depth chart entering the season. But original starter Kelly Bryant announced he was transferring after being replaced by blue-chip freshman Trevor Lawrence, then Lawrence was knocked out of the game against the Orange. In stepped Brice, who made history.

Remember that when Clemson is in the playoff, too.

6.Sneaky big: If you’d asked me 10 or 15 years ago to name my favorite annual rivalry game, I’d have said Oklahoma-Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The rendition Saturday between the Sooners and Longhorns, both 2-0 in Big 12 play, won’t have the full national spotlight, but it’s huge. Texas’ four-game winning streak has sold me: The ’Horns are storming back to prominence. That’s all the Red River rivalry has needed.

7.Mr. Frosty: Nebraska is terrible, but first-year coach Scott Frost sounds a little unhinged. His latest public rip of his team came after a 42-28 loss to Purdue: ‘‘They look like they love losing.’’ And Bo Pelini was considered ornery?

8.Big Blue Nation: Wait a minute, Kentucky plays football? Get a load of the Wildcats at 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the SEC. Guess ‘‘#BBN’’ isn’t a hoops-only hashtag after all.

9.Tip of the helmet: Here’s to Northern Illinois, which has played Iowa, Utah and Florida State — and lost to them all — yet is the Mid-American Conference’s only 2-0 team after a triple-overtime victory at Eastern Michigan.

10.Wake up, Illini: Illinois should be good and rested after a bye week. Next up: Rutgers on the road. It might sound ridiculous to call it a must-win for Lovie Smith, but that’s what I’m calling it. The Scarlet Knights are horrendous. If Smith can’t beat them in Year 3, no excuse under the sun will cut it.

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