How ND, Oklahoma can get back into playoff contention
First impressions are hard to break.
The nature of college football is such that Week 1 can almost become season-defining for teams, especially if they lose. If it occurs on the national stage, all the more reason to write off a team because the entire nation was there to see it. Look no further than last season when Stanford came out with a dud in Week 1 against Northwestern and North Carolina lost to South Carolina and both teams eventually challenged for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
They managed to overcome the poor first impression the laid upon the nation, and there are a few teams in a similar boat this year. Oklahoma and Notre Dame both lost in Week 1 while Tennessee actually won their game against Appalachian State but going to overtime against a Sun Belt opponent will often feel like a loss nationally.
All three teams bounced back in Week 2 with decisive wins, and all is not lost on their respective seasons. Here’s a look at their road map back into CFB Playoff contention.
The Big 12’s already dwindling reputation has taken a hit early in 2016 so Oklahoma faces an uphill battle to regain the respect that made them a top-five team in the preseason. They’re still armed with quarterback Baker Mayfield who proved capable of carrying the Sooners last year, but he shouldn’t have to with the backfield tandem of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. They need to ride the running game more than they did against Houston as Perine and Mixon combined for only 11 carries though they were used extensively in the passing game. Regardless, tapping into their skillsets will be vital as Oklahoma makes their push in the coming weeks and Saturday was a good start as Perine and Mixon combined for 175 yards on 25 carries against UL Monroe.
There are enough playmakers to keep up with the rest of the teams on the schedule, but it may take finding a pass rush to live up to their potential. Oklahoma has to replace last year’s top top-graded pass rushers in edge rusher Eric Striker and defensive tackle Charles Tapper. They combined for 40 percent of Oklahoma’s pressures last season and their absence was evident against Houston. If they’re going to live up to their potential, multiple players must step up as pass rushers. DT Charles Walker and OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo are the two players to watch going forward and while they’ve both had reasonable success through two games, taking their respective games to the next level may help determine Oklahoma’s fate.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
As I wrote on Friday, QB DeShone Kizer is a couple of plays away from being touted as a Heisman contender and a completely shifted view of the Irish as a team. Unfortunately, poor tackling let Notre Dame down against Texas. Kizer peppered the field with NFL throws against Texas, and while he had a few plays he’d like to have back against Nevada, his big-play ability gives Notre Dame a chance to win every week. The offensive line features two preseason PFF College Top 101 players in LT Mike McGlinchey and LG Quenton Nelson and the rest of the unit is off to a good start as Kizer has been pressured on only 22.9 percent of his dropbacks, well below the NCAA average. Kizer’s big arm and protection has eased the burden on a receiving corps that had little to no experience coming into the season, but as they continue to develop throughout the year, look for Notre Dame’s passing attack to put up big numbers.
On the defensive side of the ball, it was a much-improved effort against Nevada this past weekend, but there’s still a bitter taste from the opener against Texas. They missed 24 tackles in the game, most in our three years of data. For the Irish to make any kind of playoff push, they must tackle better against top competition. The other area of concern coming into the season was the pass rush and they’ve yet to record a sack through two games. There have been signs of life as DT Jarron Jones has had a few plays that saw him quickly shed blocks on the way to the quarterback and OLB James Onwualu has picked up four hurries in two games, but if the Irish don’t find a better pass rush, they’ll have a difficult time running the table and making a playoff run.
Kizer’s emergence makes Notre Dame a contender, but the defense has work to do to hold up their end of the bargain.