Notre Dame’s defeat of LSU in Baton Rouge March 19 remains the biggest upset in the infantile history of the College Premier Division. Saturday, the Irish kick off their second CPD match of season against LSU’s old rival Texas A&M, hoping to prove to anyone paying attention, including themselves, that first win was more than leftover St. Patrick’s Day luck.
“As a new program, are we good on occasion, or are we getting good?” pondered Notre Dame coach Sean O’Leary. “That’s the major question we have, and that will be answered on Saturday, because we need to be consistent.”
Notre Dame and Texas A&M have never played before, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely unfamiliar with each other. Of course, with the CPD’s video sharing system, they’ve seen each other on film. Their players and coaches have mingled in the same select-side circles, as well.
“I was part of the coaching staff with five or six of them with the national team, so I already know without getting any footage or anything else, that they’re not only fine athletes, but I’ve known Johnny and Craig for a long time, and they’re going to be well coached,” said O’Leary.
“Our All-American Nick Civetta has played with Chris Parker and Hunter Leland, and I coached Connor Mills on the U17s, so you know that they’re going to offer a massive challenge for us. I’ve heard people say they play like LSU – we know they’ll be big, they’ll be athletic. Will it be in our favor? I don’t know, but we’ve spent a lot of tim building this team and getting ready for this competition.”
During the Notre Dame’s building process, which consisted of a lot of fitness work, a second helping of fitness and some more fitness, Notre Dame employed the addition by subtraction method. The conditioning regime started in the fall, but was thrust into high gear in January when players returned to campus from winter break a week before the rest of the student body for training camp.
“We had access to the indoor football field for certain hours, but these kids were up at 6 in the morning. I know the routine for Jack and Clark out there, and they’re running the hills and all this stuff, and we said if they got where they are doing all that stuff, we can’t do rugby stuff if we don’t have the indoor facility, but we sure as hell can make sure we’re fit,” said O’Leary.
“Camp was pretty intense. Without going into details, it was as intense a program as we’ve put together and guys dropped out, and gys collapsed, and guys just said no, and they no longer are with us, but the guys that finished it are feeling the benefits now.”
Texas A&M coach Criag Coates says it’s easy to recognize Notre Dame’s commitment to fitness in the second half of the LSU game film. “Notre Dame looked extremely fit and were running away from LSU fitness wise,” he said, “so they’ve obviously put in the hard work in the offseason.”
Though Notre Dame may boast a fitness advantage, it would be hard to argue Texas A&M doesn’t still have more individual talent, with four Aggie All-Americans compared to the Irish’s one. However, one unctrolloable variable that might help Notre Dame bridge the talent gap Saturday is the weather, as kickoff temperature is expected to be in the 40s but feel like the mid 30s. A&M, boasting a mostly native Texas roster, has had it’s problems in cold weather.
“I joke that were reptiles and don’t function under 80 degrees,” said Coates. “It’s just a mental thing we’ve got to get past, because there’s no reason not to play well just because it’s cold, but we’ve struggled in the past, and it’s something we’ve got to get past somehow.”
A&M is coming off back-to-back losses, while Notre Dame is riding high off their win over LSU and a friendly defeat of Ohio State. Could the addition of momentum, weather and fitness equate to another Notre Dame upset? Perhaps. Would a Notre Dame win even be classified as an upset? Perhaps not.