Well, here we go.
This is, without a doubt, the biggest game of the season upcoming for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. No. 7 Stanford is coming to town Saturday night, and whoever leaves the victor is in the driver’s seat for a potential College Football Playoff berth. For my money, this is the most important game of the college football weekend in regards to the playoff race.
There were many doubters over the legitimacy of Notre Dame being the eighth-ranked team in the country heading into Saturday’s game against Wake Forest, but those doubters were silenced with a resounding 56-27 victory over the Demon Deacons.
Notre Dame looked like a top-10 team with Ian Book in at quarterback. I remember watching him and Brandon Wimbush during fall camp in August and thinking, “Why isn’t Book the starter again?” That’s not to say that Wimbush is a bad player. Book just seemed to be the better quarterback of the two, and he showed the nation that he is this past weekend.
Not only is this a big game against a ranked opponent, but it also may be the Irish’s last marquee game of the season. After Stanford, Notre Dame plays at Virginia Tech, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Navy in San Diego, at Northwestern, vs. Florida State, vs. Syracuse at Yankee Stadium and at USC. What looked like a daunting schedule at the beginning of the season has now become incredibly winnable for the Irish.
Virginia Tech, which was ranked 13th last week, lost to an 0-3 Old Dominion team that didn’t have a football program from 1942-2009. Pittsburgh lost by 45 to Penn State. Navy is 2-2 with no impressive wins. Northwestern’s only win is over a 1-3 Purdue team. Florida State looks like a complete mess against ACC teams. USC is also searching for its identity.
Syracuse is the only team that could pose trouble for the Irish. They’re 4-0 and have been receiving votes in the AP Top 25 polls the past few weeks. The Orange visit No. 3 Clemson this week, meaning they could be 9-1 heading into a showdown with Notre Dame on Nov. 17.
With the way the rest of Notre Dame’s scheduled teams have fared so far, it can’t be stressed enough how important it is for the Irish to take care of Stanford on Saturday. With not many “signature games” left on the table, being able to outlast the Cardinal could clear a path to the playoffs for Notre Dame.
Stanford is no pushover, either. With Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love in the backfield, the Cardinal are off to a 4-0 start. They rallied from a 31-7 deficit last week to beat then-No. 20 Oregon, 38-31, on the road. They’re the seventh-ranked team for a reason.
A non-conference victory over Notre Dame on the road would look great on their playoff resume.
A lot of questions will be answered Saturday night. Can Ian Book play at the same level against a good Stanford defense? If things don’t go as planned, will Brian Kelly put Wimbush in the game?
Will Bryce Love run all over Notre Dame’s front seven? Is the Notre Dame defense as good as we think it is? We’ll find out those answers, and more, in South Bend this weekend.
Austin Hough can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN