Analysis: Should Notre Dame football turn back kickoff clock?

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — As Notre Dame awaits its second non-playoff assignment in as many seasons in the emerging College Football Playoff Era, its future postseason destinies can certainly be enhanced by its own hand.

Not completely, mind you.

But the Irish can make a minor tweak in their schedule that could positively affect the cumulative wear and tear the players go through over the long run of the season, something of which ND head coach Brian Kelly assuredly is taking the pulse.

And that's moving the annual Shamrock Series game out of prime time. That is, if ND insists on keeping the off-site home game as an annual staple in 2017 and beyond.

As for this season, CFB No. 8 and AP ninth-ranked Notre Dame (10-2) finds out its bowl assignment and opponent at approximately 3 p.m. (EST) during ESPN's four-hour gabfest/reveal-a-thon. The playoff pairings will be unveiled at 12:30 p.m., during the show that kicks off at noon.

The Irish fell out of the 2015 playoff discussion with a 38-36 defeat at Stanford on Nov. 28, but lost their footing in the CFB rankings the Saturday prior with an underwhelming 19-16 dismissal of Boston College in the sixth-annual Shamrock Series game, this one at Fenway Park in Boston.

That ND had to travel away from campus to play in four out of the final five weeks of the season is likely largely the function of having to fit old contracts and commitments with the relatively new ACC arrangement that calls for an average of five games a season.

In three of those instances, though — Oct. 31 at Temple, Nov. 21 vs. BC and the Stanford game — the Irish played at night, and thus got back to campus in the middle of the night/early morning. Then they had less than a day to recalibrate their body clocks in each instance.

Kids are resilient, but over time does it take a toll?

Had Notre Dame played the BC game at home or say 1 o'clock in the afternoon, would the Irish have been fresher for Stanford? Had they played the Eagles at home rather than four miles from the BC campus, would the margin of victory have been different in that game?

The Irish have no control over the kick time of their true road games, and ABC/ESPN and FOX likes to put those in prime time way more often than not. But the Irish do have control over the Shamrock Series start times, should TV partner NBC acquiesce.

And why shouldn't they? The Shamrock Series TV ratings have been anemic in prime time (7:30 p.m. ET kickoffs).

The most-watched of the six off-site home games was the 2013 Arizona State matchup in Arlington, Texas, with a 2.3 rating. That's still significantly below ND's least-watched, non-NBC game of this season — the Nov. 7 clash at Pitt that pulled in a 2.8 rating on ABC with a noon start.

The Boston College Game last month on NBC Sports Network drew a 1.15 rating, lowest of the Shamrock Series games.

In fact, only one of the 13 prime time games on NBC (or NBCSN), all since 2009, outperformed the numbers in the 2015 Pitt game. That was the 4.0 logged for the home game against Michigan in 2012.

By comparison, the USC game that 2012 season drew a 9.4 on ABC. ND's four road games besides Pitt this season pulled in ratings of 4.5 (Clemson, ABC), 3.6 (Temple, ABC), 4.7 (Stanford, FOX) and 3.7 (Virginia, ABC) all night games except Virginia (3:30 p.m.)

In 2016, ND will finish the regular season with three of its final four games away from campus. And in consecutive weekends in November, ND will have to travel to Jacksonville, Fla., to face Navy in a Mids' home game, then to San Antonio, Texas, to face Army, presumably with a 7:30 ET kickoff.

It's a perfect time to break with tradition and plop an afternoon kickoff on that game.

The right call for MVP

Notre Dame makes its season MVP official, as well as a plethora of other award winners, Friday night at what used to be the annual banquet and is now called “Echoes 15.”

The cuisine (no rubber chicken), venue (DeBartolo Performing Arts Center) and production are all slicker (more videos, less droning by humans) than in the banquet days. And the MVP consideration this year warrants that kind of upgrade.

In the most recent ND Insider football live chat, on Wednesday, quarterback DeShone Kizer was the runaway winner in an unscientific poll among the chatters, garnering 62 percent of the vote.

Linebacker Jaylon Smith was next at 21 percent, with defensive tackle Sheldon Day and wide receiver Will Fuller tying for third at 7 percent.

My vote would be a five-way tie among Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson, Nick Martin, Steve Elmer and Mike McGlinchey. In other words, Notre Dame's offensive line.

They weren't perfect, but quantifiably they came pretty close over the course of the season. According to the CFBFilmroom.com website, ND's pass-block rate among its five starters ranged from 97.3 percent (Stanley) to 98.7 (McGlinchey) with sub Alex Bars also grading at 98.7 before his season-ending injury.

For comparison's sake, that 97.3 by Stanley is better than four of the five starters for defending national champion Ohio State's vaunted line.

In the run game, the line helped ND to the highest yards-per-carry average (5.8) in Notre Dame's modern era (post-World War II) and close to the overall school record (6.1) set by Knute Rockne's 1921 team.

And the ND running backs — C.J. Prosise, Josh Adams, Dexter Williams and Tarean Folston — combined to average 6.7 yards per carry.

From a national perspective, Notre Dame's offensive line is one of six finalists for the inaugural Joe Moore Award, with the winner of the nation's best O-Line being revealed Friday. Arkansas, Alabama, Iowa, Michigan State and Stanford are the other finalists.

Not numerically quantifiable but apparent when you follow the Irish all season is that the line made everyone around them better.

They allowed Kizer room to grow into a starter, and then a star. They helped freshman Adams put up historic rushing numbers. They allowed the long routes by wide receiver Will Fuller to develop. Their dominance in allowing the Irish to hang onto the ball and burn clock even mitigated some of the defense's shortcomings.

Incidentally, tickets for Echoes 15 are available to the public at http://ow.ly/VvV5X.

Revisionist history

The most maddening part of the whole “Is North Carolina playoff-worthy?” argument before the CFP No. 10 Tar Heels actually played No. 1 Clemson on Saturday night was the mythology perpetuated by quite a few media members regarding Ohio State's climb into the playoff field last season.

The Buckeyes moved up one spot, from No. 5 to No. 4, following their 59-0 waxing of then No. 13 Wisconsin. One spot.

The Badgers were the biggest mover from the penultimate standings to the final ones, moving down five spots to 18. Four other teams moved three spots — TCU and Arizona three down, and Mississippi State and Ole Miss three up. No other team moved up or down more than two spots.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick pats QB DeShone Kizer (14) on the back as the comes off the field during the second half of ND's 19-16 survival of Boston College last Saturday. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

How the Shamrock Series TV ratings in prime time stack up against ND’s lowest-rated, non-NBC/NBCSN game of the 2015 season, the 2.8 it drew for a noon matchup vs. Pittsburgh (ABC) on Nov. 7:

Year     Opponent     Rtg

2009     Washington State     1.4

2010     Army     2.2

2011     Maryland     1.4

2012     Miami (Fla.)     2.2

2013     Arizona State     2.3

2014     Purdue     1.9

2015     Boston College     1.15*

*Televised on NBC Sports Network.