Whatever shot Stanford had to make the 2012 BCS title game ended on the goal line at Notre Dame Stadium in mid-October of last fall.
The Irish defensive line stuffed Stanford on four-straight run plays from inside the four-yard line — the last one thanks to a controversial call by the refs — to secure a 20-13 overtime victory. Notre Dame would go on to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the BCS title game against Alabama.
The No. 8 Cardinal (9-2) have a chance to avenge that loss on Saturday when it hosts the No. 25 Irish (8-3) at Stanford Stadium.
This year’s game should look a lot like last year’s: Two physical teams playing smash mouth football and doing just enough in the air to keep the other honest. But this year the overall edge has to go to the Cardinal. Sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan has had a solid season with 2,057 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions and the Stanford run game has been tough to stop thanks to Tyler Gaffney’s 1,304 yards and 16 scores. Stanford doesn’t do anything fancy. It lines up its massive offensive line — sometimes using two or three extra linemen — and runs right at you. The Cardinal defense is among the best in the country, so Notre Dame’s offense is going to be challenged.
For the Irish to win, they’ll need a big game from senior quarterback Tommy Reese, who has 25 touchdown passes and 2,739 passing yards so far this season. The Notre Dame ground game has been inconsistent but Cam McDaniel (607 yards) is coming off a 117-yard effort against BYU. It will be up to the Irish defense to come up with another stout effort. They’ll have to do it without the services of massive nose guard Louis Nix, who is out for the rest of the season after having knee surgery last week.
Notre Dame has already beaten USC and Arizona State this year. It can complete its Pac-12 trifecta with an upset of Stanford. Regardless, the Irish are probably headed to the Pinstripe Bowl.
As for Stanford, it is slated for the Pac-12 title game and losing to the Irish won’t affect that. But that aforementioned revenge factor from last year still exists for a large group of Stanford seniors who will be playing their last regular season game. Plus, the Cardinal can notch its fourth-straight season of 10 wins or more with a victory over Notre Dame.
So there’s still plenty to play for.