No. 16 Stanford hits the road for a showdown with Notre Dame, looking to prove it's for real after a 3-0 start against decidedly soft competition. Notre Dame (1-2) is trying to shake off back-to-back narrow defeats to Michigan and Michigan State and hoping to give Brian Kelly his first signature win.
Tomorrow is the Cardinal's biggest test of the season to date. Let's cram, shall we?
Opening Number: 1
As in the rank of Stanford's much-maligned--at least last season--pass defense. Granted, Wake Forest and UCLA rank 105 and 118, respectively, in passing offense, while Notre Dame ranks eighth. Still, it's a positive sign.
Players to Watch
- Dayne Crist, Notre Dame QB: Crist is helping Fighting Irish fans forget all about Jimmy Clausen, who is preparing to make his first NFL start Sunday. The junior is off to a blistering start, with 7 touchdown passes against only 2 interceptions and a 145.8 passing efficiency rating.
Manti Te'o, Notre Dame LB: The sophomore middle linebacker, who patterns his game after Ray Lewis, has 33 tackles and has been all over the field in the first three games.
- Andrew Luck, Stanford QB: You've probably heard of him. See below.
- Chase Thomas, Stanford LB: While the Stanford Tunnel Workers Union has picked up where it left off last year in creating holes for the Cardinal's running backs and protecting Luck (1 sack allowed), Thomas has been a nightmare for opposing offenses to handle. The junior has 3.5 of the Cardinal's 11 sacks through three games.
- "Heisman Candidate" -- Two of Stanford's first three games started after 10 p.m. EST and one of those was against Sacramento State, so this is Luck's first chance to shine on a national stage. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Crist could at least enter the conversation with an awesome showing against the Cardinal.
"Spread Offense" -- Out with the pro-style, in with the spread. Stanford had no trouble with UCLA's 'Pistol' offense, but the Fighting Irish's dynamic attack should prove to be a good measuring stick for just how much the Cardinal defense has improved.
- "Character and Cruelty" -- Earlier this week, Stanford center Chase Beeler told ESPN's Ted Miller, "One of our mottos is, 'We're going to win with character but we're also going to win with cruelty." If the Cardinal are up big in the third quarter, don't expect Harbaugh to let off the gas.
- "Recruiting War" -- Stanford and Notre Dame have waged quite the battle on the recruiting trail over the past few years. There are a handful of recruits for the class of 2011 who have shown interest in both programs and who will be watching Saturday's game with more than a little interest.
- Rakes of Mallow breaks down tape from the Cardinal's win over UCLA, concludes Luck "is a very good QB but not great at throwing the football."
- The Daily Axe is predicting offensive fireworks and a Stanford win.
- The Stanford Daily likes the Cardinal's chances to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 1986.
Jon Wilner is picking Stanford, as are Stewart Mandel, Ted Miller, John Tamahana, 3 out of 5 CBS Sports experts, and all four Yahoo! experts. Bruce Feldman senses an upset.
Closing Number: 7
As in the number of consecutive games Stanford has lost at Notre Dame Stadium, a streak that dates back to 1992. That was a long time ago, indeed.
Prediction: Stanford 35, Notre Dame 21. Luck throws for 4 touchdowns en route to a comfortable, but hardly cruel, win.
Bonus Prediction: The over/under on the number of Stanford fans who will participate in Saturday's gameday chat is 8. I'll take the over. Please help prove me right by showing up and spreading the word, lest I face the all-in-good-fun wrath of California Golden Blogs followers. They could be in an especially feisty mood if things don't go well in Tucson.