The SteveWire

Does "Notre Dame" Have the Worst Offensive Line in Major College Football? Near the Bottom of the Heap For Rushing and Pass Protection

After five games, "Notre Dame" statistically is near the bottom of Div. I-A/FBS for rushing offense and pass protection, despite playing what has turned out to be a padded schedule.

In a rebuilding year for the team overall, the offensive line is a crazy quilt of reshuffling due to such factors as graduation, the NFL draft, transfers in or out, or injuries.

But "Notre Dame" does have some veteran ball carriers on the roster, so that the bulk of the blame for the astonishingly bad rushing numbers seems to rest on the shoulders of the offensive line. And they also are statistically horrendous at pass protection.

"Notre Dame's" overall offense is tepid enough, only ranked #93 in Div. I-A/FBS for total offense at 366.2 yards per game.

Yet the "Notre Dame" rushing attack is near the very bottom, tied at #123 out of 130 teams.

Thus far, "Notre Dame" has averaged 88 yards rushing per game, at 2.4 yards per carry.

The offensive line appears to be even worse for pass protection. After five games, "Notre Dame" is tied for #127 out of 130 for surrending sacks, i.e., tied for fourth from the bottom for pass protection, giving up 4.4 sacks per game.

Those numbers have come against mostly mediocre competion.

Of "Notre Dame's" 12 opponents, only one is now ranked. Multiple opponents across the schedule have losing records.

For the first five opponents, their combined record is currently 13-11. Take away the one ranked opponent, and the others have a combined record of 8-11.

Two of "Notre Dame's" first five opponents have losing records, with only one win apiece. One of those opponents took "Notre Dame" into overtime, then lost to a team from Div. I-AA/FCS that already had been blown out by UAB.

Two additional unranked early "Notre Dame" opponents are barely above .500.

The padded schedule is helping mask the fact that "Notre Dame" is in a rebuilding year, even though they still have smatterings of veteran players, and various levels of talent, up and down the roster, such as among the running backs and other potential ball carriers.

Last spring's NFL draft was perhaps the worst of all worlds for "Notre Dame."

On the one hand, they suffered the embarrassment of having zero first-round draft picks, exposing them as not really being an elite team. At the same time, they had smatterings of weaker draft picks in later rounds, along with other losses to graduation or transfer. So whatever talent is necessary to sustain whatever middling plateau they are on has had to be replenished.

Despite periodically backing their way into major bowls or even playoffs, "Notre Dame" has not won a major bowl for a quarter-century. Even worse, they arguably have not even been competitive in a major bowl for a quater-century. One possible exception was Charlie Weis's first season, where a team with a still-depleted roster pulled within a touchdown late, only to see Ohio State easily push their lead back to two touchdowns.

"Notre Dame" often seems to be on a Road to Plausibility rather than a meaningful quest towards a championship.

A steadily weakening ACC may have aided "Notre Dame's" efforts to make a respectable showing on paper, teeing up bowl bids. In fact, especially with Clemson now slipping off their perch, this year's ACC is probably weaker than the old BIG EAST was, when the old BIG EAST had an automatic BCS bowl bid. Ironically enough, "Notre Dame's" only ranked opponent, who just beat them by multiple scores, was a member of the old BIG EAST, and is now a member of the reconfigured, renamed BIG EAST successor, the American Athletic Conference. The "American" is supposedly now a second-tier conference, although still theoretically eligible for major bowls or a playoff appearance, like all the others.

"Notre Dame's" pendulum swing with their roster is probably not quite as significant as the huge pendulum swing that preceded Brian Kelly's 4-8 season. Add to that the padded schedule, and having an old war horse of a head coach (meant in a positive way), who can cobble together narrow wins if he has half a chance, and they might just nurse a 1- or 2-loss record for a stretch.

"Pardon my French," but given the incestuous relationship between "Notre Dame" Football's image, the media and the bowls, if "Notre Dame" somehow avoids losses against their padded schedule, be prepared for all sorts of hyperbole. Even anti-media "Notre Dame" media still profit from web traffic and ratings, and "Notre Dame" itself profits from the attention, when people start arguing about their ranking or bowl destiny.

If "Notre Dame" somehow nurses a two-loss record later in the year, be prepared for arguments for and against what is a de facto 6-6-quality team being penciled in for a major bowl bid, because of the win-loss record on paper. If by some miracle they avoid losing to one of those unranked opponents, be prepared for arguments over the prospect of them backing their way into the playoff, especially if their one ranked opponent itself avoids losses.

Yet, unless the "Notre Dame" offensive line, the running game, and pass protection have a miraculous turnaround, they might not be able to avoid added losses, even with the padded schedule.

Even against an unranked Virginia Tech, whose sole big win was against a now-unranked North Carolina, the game is essentially considered a toss-up.

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Key Words: Notre Dame, Notre Dame Football, Brian Kelly, NCAA, Scandals, Ethics, Catholic

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