#3 Notre Dame (10-0) v. Wake Forest (5-5)
Notre Dame Stadium - South Bend, IN - 3:30 EST on NBC
First Thing - If I didn't know better, I might think Notre Dame is going to trot out it's seniors this Saturday to roaring applause from the adoring Irish faithful, take pictures with parents and loved ones, give Manti Te'o an extended "We're not worthy!!" exultation and head directly to a plane bound for BCS dreams in sunny Southern California. I can't recall an actual game getting such little attention in the Irish media sphere. Topics 1-5 this week are: BCS Standings, Kansas/Oregon's schedule, Manti's Heisman campaign and USC. The plausibility of a stumble against Wake Forest is not even entering the conversation stratosphere. Not that I am of the belief that the 2012 Demon Deacons can destroy this magnificent season, but the ACC portion of the Irish schedule has been the tail end of a super roller coaster. The part where the ride's occupants have been whipped up, down, all around for 90 seconds before spending 30 inching up for the final, epic drop from the skies. Pitt-BC-Wake, from a Sunday through Friday aspect, has been personified by a fan base wondering what happens when this roller coaster starts heading over the apex opposed to taking in the sights and sounds of the current landscape. Full disclosure is you can count me among those anxious for "other" games this Saturday with 11-0 already chiseled into my Thanksgiving preparations. For the purposes of continuity, let's go ahead and preview this match-up of the undefeated and 3rd ranked Fighting Irish against another mediocre ACC foe - the 5-5 Demon Deacons.
Matt Mulvey mentions in the podcast that the Irish locker rooms and lounge areas are filled with TVs constantly tuned to ESPN. What are they thinking as they ice sore ribs and ankles while pundits shout at each other about each Top 3 team's resume? Did the media claims of the Irish's near zero chances in Norman motivate select members of the squad? Is the assumed victory over Wake Forest and hellahyped showdown with USC next week resulting in the opposite player reaction? How could it not have some effect?
Five Things To Watch
5. "Overlooking" Wake & Extra Off-Field Distractions - Notre Dame is in fact not the first team to host Senior Day as an undefeated National Title contender. Plenty have have passed this test on the road to championships. Combining Senior Day's litany of off-field distractions and an opponent already mentally panned and it's a dangerous recipe for ND. Te'o, Eifert, Riddick, Martin, Watt, Motta and many other key members of the team are juggling Friday family dinner plans, ticket requests, young alumni friends wanting to meet up and classes we assume. Their typical Thursday-Friday schedule is altered to accommodate those in town to support them one last time. Add in the Irish's home woes in 2012 and an already full pre-game plate and you might be looking at a sluggish Irish team out the gates. Might.
4. Wake Forest Has Something To Lose Too - Sporting five wins, the Demon Deacons have two opportunities to upset opponents and clinch a bowl game. They will be heavy underdogs in both games, but taking out a championship contender like Notre Dame would make most of these players entire football careers. Expect a team, not unlike Boston College, to give maximum effort complimented by aggressive play-calling on both sides of the ball. Trick plays, heavy blitzing, new formations, everything - it will all be left on the field Saturday.
3. Manti Te'o - The leis are coming back in support of the game-changing senior from Hawaii. In spite of a Boston College offensive philosophy of avoiding #5 at all costs, he still found himself in position to ice the game and make the Heisman Highlight Reel even more awe-inspiring. His play and leadership has driven the team and program to heights long forgotten and his last game in Notre Dame Stadium already comes too soon. It's been a helluva ride Manti - thanks for sticking around.
2. Everett Golson: The Constant Conundrum - Maybe it's not as big of a question mark as it was against BC, but deciding on how to use Golson remains a divisive topic. Wake Forest sits at 63rd nationally in stopping the run and have only scored more than 14 points once since September. Wake shouldn't threaten to score much, if at all, but can Kelly maximize the growth opportunity for Golson while putting the game away early? The sophomore handled all facets of the position well against BC, including leading the Irish to 10 consecutive 3rd down conversions. Does Kelly continue to build confidence in Golson with an expanded playbook geared toward a full throttle attack against USC or does he keep it simple and instill confidence through easy play calling against Wake. No matter the choice, the repercussions may not show their full results until Notre Dame finds what kind of game they are in during next week's second quarter.
1. The Other Top 3 Teams - I listed this at #1 last week and it produced a favorable result. Exact words from my BC-ND preview were: "Texas A&M's Johnny Football could see his legend in South Bend grow if his Aggies shock the Crimson Tide." If there is a player this week who might become a BCS-busting legend - I'll go with Stanford's Chase Thomas. The man spent an afternoon tossing around 6'7, 270 lb Notre Dame Tight End Troy Niklas like an annoying kid brother. His ability to disrupt the Oregon offense will be the key to seeing another team slotted above the Irish fall to wayside. For Kansas State -, Baylor is no gimme win on the road as they have shown an ability to score in bunches. Reality must give way to a Kansas State team that is rolling and a Baylor team that's lost 5 of 6. The Wildcats would need an epic collapse to avoid a BCS Championship entry game against Texas next weekend.
Predicting The Game & What We'll See
It's Senior Day, so let's win on offense with the seniors. A rushing attack that gobbles up yardage and clock led by Seniors Braxton Cave, Mike Golic Jr., Chris Watt, Zack Martin, Tyler Eifert, Theo Riddick & Cierre Wood should do the trick. Kelly is going to keep the game simple and try to dictate the physical advantages early before loosening up Golson's ability in the second quarter. Senior John Goodman re-enters the starting rotation after DaVaris Daniels injury and snares a few passes. Senior Tyler Eifert starts to look more like the go-to receiver of old as Kelly looks to pad his stats in the second half against a tired Wake Forest defense. The more comfortable Golson gets heaving it #80's way, the more confident I feel about keeping pace with USC.
Defensively, Senior Zeke Motta's experience proves important as he stays home on multiple Wake Forest gadget plays to prevent any long touchdowns. Seniors Kapron Lewis-Moore, Dan Fox & Carlo Calabrese make key plays throughout and shut down Wake Forest's running game. Senior Manti Te'o, in spite of a Demon Deacon plan to avoid and double-team him all afternoon, racks up another bone-crushing sack to send to Sportscenter before the other Heisman front-runners take the field. Irish get it done as a team, no style needed, and roll on to exercise demons in the House of Troy.