Notre Dame is undefeated and ranked eighth in the country. Allow me to slip into my best sports-talk radio voice here: are we sure the Irish are any good? The answer is unclear.
A season opener dazzled. A thorough whipping of Michigan in South Bend buoyed expectations. A fierce defense made mincemeat of supposed savior Shea Patterson. Brandon Wimbush and Chris Finke teamed up for a deep ball that suggested a competent aerial attack was in tow. Notre Dame out-toughed the notoriously tough Wolverines.
Since then, though, it’s been an underwhelming and white-knuckled ride for Brian Kelly’s bunch. One-score home victories over Ball State and Vanderbilt count toward the final total, but do little to instill confidence. The Commodores were driving late with a chance to take the lead. They out-gained and arguably outplayed Notre Dame. Three turnovers, including two near the goal line, allowed the home team to escape unscathed with national title hopes intact.
One ailment through three games is a limp offense. The Irish have posted 24, 24, and 22 point totals. Wimbush has been erratic, completing 55 percent of his throws. He has one touchdown compared to four interceptions. The ground game has been better, yet still pedestrian at 3.6 yards/carry. Nothing seems to come easy.
Of course, the defense has been stellar. The unit has allowed only four touchdowns and showed an uncanny ability to bend when breaking would be detrimental. Forcing key turnovers with one’s back against the wall is the hallmark of a very good team.
So maybe that’s where we’re at. Maybe Notre Dame is a solid title contender that will rely on its defense and win close games. It’s a Big Ten way to win. Tressel Ball. Michigan State’s rabbit-out-of-the-hat thing. Been done before.
Or maybe Notre Dame’s inability to throttle inferior talent is a harbinger of doom. Ball State and Vanderbilt may not be .500 clubs. The jury is still out on Michigan.
The jury is also still out on the Irish. However, we will find out what the team is made of over the next three weeks. Road games at Wake Forest and Virginia Tech — with a home date against Stanford sandwiched in between — will test mettle. Three wins, three losses and everything in the middle seems possible.