Notre Dame 2021 Schedule Countdown: No. 7, Stanford
This is the sixth in our 12-part series where we count down Notre Dame’s 2021 strength of schedule by how we view the overall degree of difficulty, from 12 to one. At No. 7 is the regular season finale at Stanford on Nov. 27.
Head Coach: David Shaw— 90-36 (.714): Entering 11th season at Stanford
Recruiting Rankings: 2017-21
2017 (19th), 2018 (57th), 2019 (24th), 2020 (23rd), 2021 (50th)
2020 Record: 4-2
Alumnus Shaw has had more talented teams and better records his first 10 seasons at The Farm, but the coaching job performed last year might have been his best.
A continuation of the miserable 4-8 campaign in 2019 seemed to be in the offing when Stanford opened the abbreviated season with a 35-14 defeat at then No. 12 Oregon and then lost 35-32 at home to Colorado.
The Cardinal then showed mettle by winning its final four games — all on the road by a total of 10 points, beginning with a one-point win over archrival Cal (24-23) and ending with another one-point decision versus UCLA in a 48-47 shootout. Because of the COVID-19 limitations on campus, Stanford even had to hold practices off campus.
Did You Know …
This January, Stanford became the last non-service academy Football Bowl Subdivision school to admit early enrollees.
Two of the 2021 signees from December — quarterback Ari Patu and defensive back Jaden Slocum — were granted admission for the spring quarter, marking the first time ever the university allowed a student-athlete from any sport to enroll early.
In contrast, Notre Dame first began that practice in 2006 and has had 84 since then, with a record 14 this spring. It has had at least seven early enrollees each of the past four years.
2021 Capsule Summary
Over the past few years, it seems more is talked about what Stanford loses than what it has. In December 2019 a dozen Cardinal players entered the transfer portal, which was interpreted as abandoning ship after a 4-8 season. Yet Stanford responded well with the 4-2 mark last year.
This year, along with perhaps Penn State and fellow Pac-12 rival USC, Stanford’s attrition with players opting to turn pro despite eligibility remaining is among the most pronounced. It has included quarterback Davis Mills, top receiver Simi Fehoko and outstanding offensive linemen in center Drew Dalman and tackle Foster Sarell, plus All-America cornerback Paulson Adebo, who opted out last year.
Spring practice is not scheduled to begin until May, and will feature a quarterback competition between Jack West, who completed 13 of 19 passes for 154 yards in the loss to Oregon, and Tanner McKee, who was the No. 78-ranked player nationally in 2018.
Running back Austin Jones, who rushed for 559 yards in six games last season, and honorable mention All-Pac-12 receiver Michael Wilson, who snared 56 passes two years ago as a sophomore, headline the offense, while second-team All-Pac-12 defensive end Thomas Booker is the linchpin on defense.
Why No. 7 In Countdown
To be honest, we’re not really sure, and we might be vastly underrating the Cardinal. This is worthy of a lot of second-guessing and a selection we might come to regret. Shaw has accomplished outstanding work in his 10 seasons, notably last year when it appeared Stanford was destined for continued slippage.
No, the program is not where it was from 2009-17, when it was a top-10 regular and had Notre Dame’s number with a 7-2 record versus the Irish. The worm began to turn in 2018, with head coach Brian Kelly's troops posting back-to-back three-touchdown victories against Stanford in 2018 (38-17) and 2019 (45-24).
Part of these ratings, though, is not just about who you play, but when and where. Stanford did record five straight wins at home against Notre Dame from 2009-17, but it has never been known as a snake pit environment to play in. Notre Dame has been unbeaten the past three Novembers while playing its best football, and the November slate this year with Navy, at Virginia and Georgia Tech is not that arduous. Stanford faces arch rival Cal the week prior to Notre Dame.
We believe Stanford, a tough-minded and well-coached operation, could be better than some of the Irish opponents we have ahead of them, but the timing of the game might be better for the Irish.
For example, Virginia Tech might not be as good as Stanford overall, but the Irish have to play the Hokies on the road after back-to-back challenging games versus Wisconsin and Cincinnati, and the game also is around mid-term examinations (Oct. 9), if academic schedules return to normal by then.
In any case, unlike with the first five opponents we listed, we don't see Notre Dame as a double-digit favorite here. Depending on how the season shakes out, maybe even less than a touchdown.
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