You guys are never going to believe this, but our beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team has yet ANOTHER game in a couple days, hoping to keep building on the momentum they added to their season by handling #16 BYU in Las Vegas last weekend to improve to 3-2 on the year.
The Irish will be back home in Notre Dame Stadium after 4 weeks away, hosting the 1-4 Stanford Cardinal. The Irish have defeated the Cardinal the last three times these two teams have played, with Stanford not having won vs. ND since the 2017 season finale. That was back when head coach David Shaw’s program was still considered one of the best teams in the Pac-12, but it’s been a downhill slide for Stanford over the last 3+ seasons.
So, with all that said, what should Irish fans know about Stanford heading into this match-up? Will the Irish walk all over them en route to a 4-2 record, or could there be any chance for a trap game or potential upset in the making?
To figure all that out, we reached out to our good friends at Channel Tree Sports, the best spot on the web for coverage of Stanford athletics. Co-founder of the site Sam Weyen was generous enough to provide us some fantastic responses to a WIDE variety of questions, waxing poetic on everything from David Shaw’s future as head coach to what kind of tree he would be (with a fun twist/reveal in that answer, for sure).
So, let’s not waste any more time — time to learn everything we need to know about this Stanford football team!!!
1. David Shaw had a fantastic start to his Stanford tenure, but it’s been pretty rough to watch the Cardinal over the last few years. What’s changed/gone wrong for his program recently, and do you think he’ll right the ship or does Stanford need to think about moving on?
Channel Tree Sports: Boy, tell me about it. Shaw remains the winningest coach in Stanford history. He has 3 Pac-12 Football Championships to his name and two Rose Bowl wins to boot. And somehow we’ve lost our last eleven P5 games straight (but hey, at least we got that win against Colgate). What happened?
For one, the game has been evolving. Shaw has not. In fact, coach Shaw has famously remarked on multiple occasions that he “doesn’t believe in analytics” over years, and it couldn’t be more apparent. As classic Big-Ten-style-trench-warfare-running-game-time-of-possession-centric offenses fell out of vogue in favor of spread offenses and air raid schemes, Shaw remained stalwart. He’s refused to innovate, and Stanford is worse for it.
It doesn’t help that he clings to seniority over talent when making roster decisions. For years now, Stanford fans have seen the mediocre senior QB get the nod over the young talent because it “wasn’t their turn.” You don’t even have to look too far back to see the pattern: Jack West got starts over Tanner McKee last year despite some embarrassing auditions in prime time.
To give Shaw some credit, recent transfer portal bonanza has wounded Stanford in a way no coach can mend. Whereas U$C is benefitting from 29 transfers, including their QB1, WR1, RB1, and Stanford’s former RB1… Stanford admissions allowed just one transfer this year. Stanford’s academic bar for transfers is simply too high to benefit from the transfer portal revolution, and we could very well never see the same heights as a program because of it. While less extreme, Stanford’s NIL game is also severely disadvantaged compared to the field thanks to its small class size and its largely sports-apathetic alumni base.
2. Despite the 1-4 beginning to the season, Stanford QB Tanner McKee has had a nice start to his year and appears to have a promising future in pro football. What does he bring to the table and do well as the starter, and what are his weaknesses that the Irish defense can potentially exploit?
Channel Tree Sports: It’s tough to assess McKee’s potential on a team that may not win another game this year. He throws a great ball, has good pocket presence, is poised, has the right stature, and he does have some solid weapons to throw to in Brycen Tremayne, Michael Wilson, and Benjamin Yurosek…
For all these reasons, he’s getting national attention. PFF College had him as a top 10 draft pick in a recent mock, for example:
But, at the end of the day, the defense robs him of close games where he can shine and his O-Line doesn’t give him much time to throw. He may continue to be an unproven product until his NFL debut, much in the same way Davis Mills was.
The best way to exploit our mysterious ace is to pressure the offensive front, which hasn’t been too hard to do this year.
3. Stanford’s reputation for much of the Harbaugh and Shaw eras has been super physical and talented lines on both sides of the ball. How do the offensive and defensive lines look this year for the Cardinal, and how do you expect them to hold up against the Irish?
Channel Tree Sports: I’m not sure we can really call our defensive front a “line.” The word “turnstile” comes to mind. Last season’s run defense was anemic and they put up a paltry sack total. But that was with NFL rookie Thomas Booker, and they have somehow gotten worse. Freshman Edge David Bailey has potential, but he’s often a lone bright spot.
The recruiting rankings for the offensive line were excellent, but that hasn’t manifested itself in actual quality play. With five returning starters, hopes were high that this would be the year that they put it all together. They didn’t. Now they are down a guard who retired and a tackle who is injured.
4. Give me 2-3 key names to know on Stanford’s Offense and Defense (and Special Teams if you’d like). Who are the best/most important individual players for the Cardinal, and if you had to pick one as the overall X-factor for this game, who ya got?
Channel Tree Sports: Wide Receiver Brycen Tremayne showed out in a big way against Oregon State, right where he left off last year before his horrific leg injury. He’s a former walk-on who turned himself into one of the better targets in the conference, and he can win the 50-50 balls.
It is hard to pinpoint a player on the defense, but the leader is fifth year safety Kendall Williamson. He has a high football IQ and is a steadying influence for a defense that has more than its share of issues.
Kicker Joshua Karty is a serious weapon who can hit from 60+ on a good night.
5. Which players/position groups on the Notre Dame side scare you in this match-up? Do you think Stanford matches up well with the Irish in any areas?
Channel Tree Sports: I think Stanford most needs to worry about Notre Dame’s pass rush. Tanner McKee is a good quarterback when kept upright, but I expect the Irish to make that difficult.
If he can get the time, though, I think the Cardinal wideouts match up favorably with the Notre Dame secondary. They have a deep corps with plenty of experience, and would really be flourishing under different circumstances.
6. FAN QUESTION:
Does Stanford see a future spot in the Big10 or Mountain West after the Pac12 goes away?— Jeff Devlin (@MrJeffDevlin) October 9, 2022
Channel Tree Sports: I don’t see the Pac-12 going away in the medium term. Too many media deals need to come and go before the Pac-12 (or Big 12 or ACC) has a chance to fully dissolve. I see the Pac adding SDSU and maybe another school in the next 3 years and holding tight for another 5.
Notre Dame’s conference decision could rapidly change the landscape, but many say that ND would only join the Big Ten if Stanford does too? A sign of academic unity maybe? Stanford’s academic reputation and its dominance in nearly all non-revenue NCAA sports makes us an attractive partner for a conference even if we don’t get Oregon’s ratings. We’ll be fine.
Regardless of what I think will happen, I want Fox and ESPN to shove it and let college football be regional again. Rutgers v. UCLA as a conference game is disgusting. It violates the purity of the game and it will cast smaller programs like Kal and Wazzu into obscurity, sacrificing decades of tradition.
7. FAN QUESTION:
How can a color be a mascot?— The Biscuit (@HLS_Biscuit) October 9, 2022
Channel Tree Sports: Idk, how can a participle + a nationality be a mascot?
8. FAN QUESTION:
If you were the tree, what would your tree be?— Pat C (@iamthetweeter) October 9, 2022
Channel Tree Sports: You asked the right writer! I (Sam Weyen, cofounder of Channel Tree Sports) actually was the Tree back in 2016-17.
My friend built the aluminum frame, I did the rest. His name is Hue, an homage to the colorful leaves and a reference to David Hewes, who conceived the famous golden spike that completed the transcontinental railroad, pounded into the ground by none other than school founder Leland Stanford. The gilded age look + monocle play up this angle too.
Hue is also loosely a Southern Magnolia tree, since I had one in my yard in Georgia growing up. Fun fact: I sewed a Sudowoodo Pokemon card into the inside for inspiration on game days.
9. TIME FOR THE FAN QUESTIONS TO ATTACK DAVID SHAW:
Is David Shaw still hearing whistles or has his tinnitus been diagnosed and addressed? https://t.co/LNuhwkp521— stick (@StickaMANIA) October 9, 2022
Channel Tree Sports: Shaw doesn’t believe in analytics, not sure he’s ever stepped foot in a doctor’s office.
FAN QUESTION: Why is David Shaw still employed?
Channel Tree Sports: He’s an alum, reportedly a good person (read: doesn’t recruit dirty), is fighting an uphill battle against the transfer portal / NIL, and has won too much to be dispatched without overwhelming evidence.
That being said, it’s time for a change.
Why is David Shaw?— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) October 9, 2022
Channel Tree Sports: This speaks to me. I need this embroidered on a pillow.
10. FAN QUESTION (well, not actually a question – more of a prompt):
Eat bark Cardinal!— Michael Moniz (@fosheezymonizee) October 9, 2022
Channel Tree Sports: Tree bark provides about 500-600 calories a pound which is quite nutritionally dense for a plant that you can forage relatively simply.
Cambium, the edible part of tree bark, contains digestible starches, sugar, vitamins, and minerals alongside a rather impressive amount of fiber to keep things moving (this, from Google, which was invented at Stanford).*
*Pat Rick Note: I think this might be one of my favorite answers of all-time in these Q&As
11. Alright, time to get down to it: what’s your prediction for this game? Who wins, what’s the final score, and give your reasoning why.
Channel Tree Sports: We’re both not great this year, but you’re trending up and up while we’re on a headfirst slide into Cooperstown on a bad bet. I have less faith in Stanford than Brian Kelly has in the Catholic Church.
Irish take it 28-17, and as icing on the cake Stanford loses the turnover battle.
Alrighty folks, I want to give another massive shout-out to Sam for providing us with some truly next-level responses and fantastic insight into Stanford football, its future, its fan base, and much, much more.
I implore you all to head over to Channel Tree Sports to check out all their awesome content heading into Saturday evening — anything you need to know about David Shaw and his non-analytics-believing team can be found there, as well as a Q&A I answered for them, wherein I bash Brian Kelly, talk conference realignment and the transfer portal, analyze the latest Stanford Tree costume, and more.