Week 5 - Oklahoma at Notre Dame
Oklahoma QB Blake Bell
Oklahoma QB Blake Bell
Posted Sep 25, 2013

Week 5 Fearless Predictions - Oklahoma at Notre Dame

Oklahoma (3-0) at Notre Dame (3-1) Sept. 28 3:30, NBC

Why You Should Give A Hoot: From Manti Te'o – good and bad – to the USC game, to the close calls against Stanford and Pitt, to the BCS championship debacle, the defining moment of Notre Dame's 2012 magical season might have been the 30-13 win at Oklahoma. After nailbiter after nailbiter, America didn't believe in the 7-0 Irish, but going into Norman and coming away with the ninth win in the ten game history of the two storied programs took things to a whole other level.

Okay, so Notre Dame was so emboldened by the huge road win that it came out and gagged in a three-overtime win over Pitt, but still the win in Norman was when the idea of playing for the national title really and truly seemed possible. This time around, beating Oklahoma might be vital just to get into a decent bowl.

Notre Dame doesn't have any direct bowl ties, and while some minor post-season game will happily break its contract and find a way to make it happen, that's not exactly the goal coming off a 12-1 season. Like early on last year, the Irish haven't set the world on fire, but this time around, there's a loss to a suddenly-shaky Michigan team that doesn't look so hot. Follow that up with a rough win over a horrible Purdue squad, and a dogfight with a Michigan State team that can't play a lick of offense, and there's reason for concern. With Arizona State up next, USC to follow, Navy, Pitt, BYU and Stanford still a part of the fun, a loss to Oklahoma could be devastating.

Meanwhile, the Sooners could turn the tables and become this year's out-of-the-blue national title contender.

They haven't exactly been tested yet, beating ULM, West Virginia and Tulsa, but the defense has been fantastic, the offense appears to have settled in with Blake Bell at quarterback, and the Big 12 season ahead doesn't look all that bad. Beating Notre Dame for the first time since 1956 wouldn't exactly get the college football world buzzing about a possible BCS championship, but with TCU and Texas up next, this could be a big stepping-stone game for a team trying to move up the rankings.

Why Oklahoma Might Win: Oklahoma isn't a good fit for the Irish offense. Notre Dame doesn't/can't run the ball effectively, and it doesn't utilize a dangerous scrambler of a quarterback who can make things happen on the move. Tommy Rees has been excellent so far, but dropback passers aren't really a problem for this OU secondary that's ninth in the nation in pass efficiency D. The relatively unsung Sooner defensive front gave up 169 rushing yards to West Virginia, and Tulsa got in a couple of scores, but for the most part, nothing is consistently getting through. It's going to have to be Rees, Rees and more Rees, but …

Why Notre Dame Might Win: He should get time. Oklahoma doesn't have a strong, steady pass rush to worry about. Getting into the backfield against ULM wasn't much of a problem, and West Virginia's offense sputtered and coughed, but for the most part, the Sooners don't come flying at the quarterback from all angles and shouldn't do anything to bother Rees. If he could handle Michigan State without throwing a pick, 14-of-34 day aside, he should be able to deal with the Sooner defense. The big key will be for Notre Dame to make this an ugly street fight. West Virginia was able to keep the game close a few weeks ago, even if it couldn't seem to move the ball a lick on a consistent basis against the Sooners. If this is Michigan State-Notre Dame, Part 2, the Irish can handle that.

Who To Watch Out For: Blake Bell had the honor of being the first play to score a rushing touchdown against the Irish last season, but now the focus will be on him to see if he can handle being the main man in a big game. Excellent against Tulsa, he completed 27-of-37 passes for 413 yards and four scores, showing a good command of the attack. Is he still the Belldozer? Not exactly, running for just 55 yards on the year with no scores, but that doesn't mean he can't and won't power away a bit.

- Prince Shembo doesn't have any sacks, and he only has 11 tackles, but Notre Dame insiders are hinting that he might turn out to be the key to the defense - eventually. At some point, the senior linebacker is expected to become more of a disruptive force, but at the moment, the Irish need better play out of the entire corps.
- It's time for Oklahoma running back Damien Williams to come up with a big game. Notre Dame's defense isn't the one to break out against, but after missing the Tulsa game for violating team rules, he should be fresh and ready to roll. Averaging just 4.35 yards per carry, and without any scores, he hasn't yet been the explosive weapon many expected him to be. This might change with Bell under center instead of Trevor Knight.

What Will Happen: The Oklahoma offensive balance won't explode on the solid Notre Dame defense, but it'll do just enough to get by on the road. The Sooner running backs will be better than the Irish linebackers, and Rees won't be able to pick up the slack for the lack of a steady running game.
Prediction: Oklahoma 23 … Notre Dame 17
Line: Oklahoma -3.5 o/u: 48.5
Must See Rating: (5 Rush – 1 Dads) … 4.5
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