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How Charitable Will "Notre Dame's" Bowl Opponent Be; "Notre Dame" Has Not Been Competitive in a Major Bowl In More Than A Quarter-Century

"Notre Dame" has not won a major bowl since 1993, nearly three decades ago.

Yet when "Notre Dame" faces Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day 2022, they do so mindful that they have not really even been competitive in a major bowl since a five-point loss to Florida State in the 1995 Orange Bowl, more than a quarter-century ago.

Now, some might argue that a two-touchdown loss to Ohio State 17 years ago, in Charlie Weis's first season, might have been borderline "competitive," yet "Notre Dame" arguably never really seemed to be capable of pulling out a win in that one.

They still lost by multiple scores, and in all other major bowls across the past-quarter century the question has always ended up being whether they would be embarrassed or humiliated, and how quickly the opponent might "call off the dogs."

This year "Notre Dame" has been in a rebuilding phase for their roster, masked by backing their way into a padded schedule with only one regular season opponent currently ranked. With an old war horse of a head coach, in terms of veteran savvy, and a traditionally incestuous relationship with the media and the bowls, what likely could have been a moderately respectable 6-6 kind of team ended up with an inflated record, an inflated ranking and a major bowl bid.

Now they play an Oklahoma State team leading the country in sacks, in a season when a big question was whether "Notre Dame's" crazy quilt of an offensive line was the worst offensive line in major college football. For much of the year, "Notre Dame" was near the bottom in Div. I-A/FBS for pass protection and rushing. Later in the year, against weaker opponents, they started gaining a moderate footing for rushing. Yet they still are near the bottom in sacks, even given up sacks against weak opponents. And their leading rusher defected before the bowl game.

Given the poor pass protection, one question has been whether opponents should simply blitz more frequently. Yet blitzing also is a gamble, especially for weaker opponents, if it leaves thinner numbers of defenders back in pass coverage. There also is the question of whether "Notre Dame" coaches can come up with plays and schemes to exploit a blitz.

An elite opponent in a major bowl, however, might be more likely to have the kind of athletes, with elite speed and skill, that can handle a situation with fewer defenders back in pass coverage.

And, with play calling, now "Notre Dame" no longer has a veteran head coach. Indeed, the new head coach, Marcus Freeman, in addition to being inexperienced, only has defensive background. "Notre Dame" seems to have thrown away the conventional wisdom learned painfully across the past few decades, that "Notre Dame" is not the place for on-the-job training in head coaching.

Marcus Freeman's hire has eerie parallels to the Bob Davie mistake, except that Bob Davie had stronger experience as an assistant coach and also was more articulate, even though both exhibit lackluster personalities. To be fair, unlike Bob Davie, Marcus Freeman apparently did not have an indictment in his background when the institution promoted him to head coach.

The nominal offensive coordinator, Tommie Rees, presumably would never have been hired for that role in any other major program. He likely seems more of a "right arm" to Brian Kelly, to run Brian Kelly's offense the way Brian Kelly wanted. At best, he might have been an understudy or protege for Brian Kelly, yet the situation makes it more likely Rees was a bit less than that, at this stage, more like a "right arm."

One big question will be whether "Notre Dame" sets a record for giving up sacks in a major bowl game, and whether their offensive scoring will collapse.

If Oklahoma State does "call off the dogs" after running up a big lead, another key question will be how much they score by halftime. If this year's "Notre Dame" team were playing Alabama, they might have gotten 50 points "hung on them" by halftime. Yet Oklahoma State's own scoring production has not necessarily been electrifying at times.

So, unless "Notre Dame" also commits enough turnovers, or scores off turnovers, such as strip-sacks run back, the question will be how good the field position is for Oklahoma State after "Notre Dame" gets drives snuffed out and punts. The Cowboys do not seem to necessarily have great punt returns, although yards lost by "Notre Dame" off sacks should weaken where "Notre Dame" punts from.

Even if Oklahoma State manages to take advantage of possessions to score, they might not "light up" the scoreboard enough by halftime to absolutely humiliate "Notre Dame" with something like 50 or 60 points before clearing the bench.

On the other hand, "Notre Dame's" best defensive player, a defensive back no less, also has "jumped ship" before the bowl game.

An added note of danger for "Notre Dame" is that Oklahoma State's pass rush reputedly is strong enough just with their defensive line. Yet what if they get greedy and augment the ferocious pass rush from their line, against "Notre Dame's" troubled blocking, with the added pressure of blitzing, relying on major-program-quality athletes to still provide decent pass coverage? Perhaps a "Notre Dame" meltdown could still result in an unusally embarrasing score, even worse than usual in a major bowl for them, exposing the hyperinflated nature of their media boost and rankings boost.

One added question might be whether there would be any hangover into later seasons, further undermining their already dubious reputation.

Yet that might be a moot point, given that, from a purely football perspective, that the Marcus Freeman hire is probably their worst head coaching hire, and biggest case of administrative incompetence, since the similar Bob Davie hire. There actually is an argument that it is the worst head coaching hire in the history of the institution.

So if "Notre Dame" goes 2-10 next season, not at all unlikely taking all factors into account, the fact that they got embarrassed even worse than usual in yet another major bowl game might get lost in the traumitizing shock and awe of the program's collapse.

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