Notre Dame football: Bruising Irish offer Spread Age’s missing element

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — College football has eras just like the Earth itself.

You know this place was once all covered in ice. The Ice Age, they called it. The dinosaurs roamed the globe during the Jurassic Age. The Pleistocene Age came about some 300,000 years ago, when modern humans began to evolve in Africa.

But enough history, let’s get back to college football. It’s why you’re here and it’s why I’m here too. College football once had an era without passing and face guards. We’ll call it the Bloodied Age, because most players never left a game without blood somewhere—gushing from their arm, stained on their pants, matted in their hair. The sport then shifted heavily toward a specific ground-and-pound scheme: the Option Age. And don’t forget the days of the I-formation Age (one of my favorites).

For the last decade or so, college football—and football in general—has found a new system of offense, one that includes five receivers, relentless shotgun snaps, no huddles and bonanzas of points and yards.

The Spread Age has changed the game forever. It has changed defenses, too. And it has recently made the game’s greatest active coach, Nick Saban, a defensive guru himself, acknowledge that a great defense can no longer beat a great offense.

And then there’s Notre Dame. They run the ball, they play great defense and they’re undefeated.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book (12) with the ball in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book hands off the ball at Kenan Memorial Stadium.

Here on Friday night, in the clear and cool skies of North Carolina, the Irish displayed a style of ball that we (well, me at least) long for. Bruising. Bullish. Bashing.

Coach Brian Kelly has himself a club that plays a battering ram style of football—both offensively and defensively—from a bygone era. The result, thus far, has been very good. After a 31-17 win over North Carolina, the No. 2-ranked Irish are 9-0, one win away from playing for the ACC championship and three wins away from advancing to the College Football Playoff.

I know what you’re thinking. Notre Dame. Big game. Blowout.

We’ve seen it before. The Irish, in fact, are 2-18 in their last 20 games against top-5 teams. They advanced to the 2012 national title only to get smashed, 42-14, by Alabama. In 2018, Clemson whipped them 30-3 in a CFP semifinal.

And maybe this Notre Dame team is en route to the same end result. Maybe they don’t even get there. Maybe a Trevor Lawrence-quarterbacked Clemson dominates the Irish in the ACC title game. Maybe.

Or maybe not. Maybe ND’s bruising running game (14th nationally) and salty defense (9th nationally) can, in fact, suffocate the Spread Age offenses of college football’s powerhouses.

North Carolina is no powerhouse, but the Tar Heels are one of the most explosive offenses in the nation.

What the Irish did defensively on Friday was spectacular. They slowed one of the country’s most potent offenses to its lowest yardage and points total of the season.

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Irish Breakdown College Football Top 25: Week 12

It was a wild weekend of college football! We started to see some separation, some resumes were boosted, some questions were raised and we are getting just a bit more clarity about who are the best teams in the country.

With all the games in the rearview mirror it’s time for the latest, updated version of the Irish Breakdown Top 25.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide – 7-0 (1)
2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish – 8-0 (2)
3. Clemson Tigers – 7-1 (3)
4. Ohio State Buckeyes – 4-0 (4)
5. Cincinnati Bearcats – 8-0 (6)
6. Florida Gators – 6-1 (5)
7. Texas A&M Aggies – 5-1 (7)
8. BYU Cougars – 8-0 (8)
9. Miami Hurricanes – 7-1 (9)
10. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers – 8-0 (12)
11. Iowa State Cyclones – 6-2 (15)
12. Oklahoma Sooners – 6-2 (18)
13. Indiana Hoosiers – 4-1 (14)
14. Northwestern Wildcats – 5-0 (19)
15. Georgia Bulldogs – 5-2 (13)
16. Oklahoma State Cowboys – 5-2 (10)
17. North Carolina Tar Heels – 6-2 (16)
18. Liberty Flames – 8-1 (11)
19. Louisiana Rajun Cajuns – 7-1 (17)
20. Texas Longhorns – 5-2 (23)
21. Marshall Thundering Herd – 7-0 (24)
22. Tulsa Golden Hurricanes – 5-1 (NR)
23. Auburn Tigers – 5-2 (25)
24. SMU Mustangs – 7-2 (14)
25. NC State – 6-3 (NR)

Dropped Out: No. 25 Appalachian State

This is about resume, eye test and dominance over current opponents.

I will NOT include the Pac 12 at any point this season since they are only playing six games. I am also excluding Big Ten teams that have at least two canceled games for the same reason. It is unfair to include teams that are playing almost half the games of other teams.

Each ranking will be based on that team’s entire resume up to that point, and won’t be a one-week snapshot that the AP and Coaches Polls tend to be. It is meant to be more like the College Football Playoff selection process, but with my view of where teams should rank.

If you would like to provide your own Top 25 ranking, or ask a question/provide a comment on my ranking, leave a comment below.

To comment below be sure to sign up for a FREE Disqus account, which you can get HERE.

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Irish Breakdown College Football Top 25: Week Eight

The Irish Breakdown Top 25 is updated after week eight action of college football. The weekend included a dominant Notre Dame victory and the return of the Big Ten. (Last week’s ranking in parenthesis)

1. Clemson Tigers – 5-0 (1)
2. Alabama Crimson Tide – 5-0 (2)
3. Ohio State Buckeyes – 1-0 (NR)
4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish – 5-0 (4)
5. Georgia Bulldogs – 3-1 (3)
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys – 4-0 (5)
7. Michigan Wolverines – 1-0 (NR)
8. Florida Gators – 2-1 (6)
9. Cincinnati Bearcats – 4-0 (9)
10. Texas A&M Aggies – 3-1 (10)
11. Wisconsin Badgers – 1-0 (NR)
12. North Carolina Tar Heels – 4-1 (11)
13. Miami Hurricanes – 5-1 (7)
14. Kansas State Wildcats – 4-1 (14)
15. BYU Cougars – 6-0 (13)
16. SMU Mustangs – 5-1 (8)
17. Memphis Tigers – 3-1 (20)
18. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers – 5-0 (18)
19. Liberty Flames – 6-0 (21)
20. Army Black Knights – 6-1 (19)
21. Boston College Eagles – 4-2 (23)
22. Wake Forest Demon Deacons – 3-2 (NR)
23. Louisiana Rajun Cajuns – 4-1 (22)
24. Iowa State Cyclones – 3-2 (15)
25. Oklahoma Sooners – 3-2 (NR)

Dropped Out: No. 12 Virginia Tech, No. 16 NC State, No. 17 West Virginia, No. 24 Marshall, No. 25 UAB

This is about resume, eye test and dominance over current opponents.

This Top 25 includes ONLY teams who have actually played. Yes, I am punishing the Big Ten and Pac 12 teams because they chose not to play. There are now some Big Ten teams in the ranking, but only those who were exceptionally impressive this weekend. The Big Ten list will likely grow if teams keep winning.

I will NOT include the Pac 12 at any point this season since they are only playing six games.

Each ranking will be based on that team’s entire resume up to that point, and won’t be a one-week snapshot that the AP and Coaches Polls tend to be. It is meant to be more like the College Football Playoff selection process, but with my view of where teams should rank.

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Be sure to stay locked into Irish Breakdown all the time!

Join the Irish Breakdown community!
Subscribe to the Irish Breakdown podcast on iTunes.
Follow me on Twitter: @CoachD178
Follow me on Parler: @BryanDriskell
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