For the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, their upcoming game against the Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes has to feel like a coronation of sorts.
Undefeated, ranked ninth in the nation and riding high off two great victories, this seems like the perfect time to revive the school's rivalry with Miami. The Irish defense, led by superstar linebacker Manti Te'o, has been sensational against even the toughest opponents this season and has masked an offense that is questionable at best.
Regardless, this Miami team isn't the pushover that some thought it would be coming into the season. Picked as a mid-tier ACC squad, the Hurricanes are 4-1 and have seemingly found an offensive rhythm at the perfect time.
Though unranked, Miami surely sees Saturday as an opportunity to announce its re-entry to the upper crust of college football.
With that in mind, here's a look at everything you need to know about this primetime contest.
When: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
Stream: NBC Live Stream
Betting Line: Notre Dame (-13), according to Vegas Insider
Miami Injuries (via USA Today)
LB Denzel Perryman, Ankle, Questionable
DL Curtis Porter, Appendix, Questionable
LB Raphael Kirby, Leg, Questionable
WR Malcolm Lewis, Ankle, Out for Season
LS Sean McNally, Knee, Out for Season
LB Ramon Buchanan, Knee, Out for Season
Notre Dame Injuries (via USA Today)
DE Chase Hounshell, Shoulder, Questionable
T Tate Nichols, Shoulder, Questionable
RB Amir Carlisle, Ankle, Questionable
CB Lo Wood, Achilles, Out for Season
TE Alex Welch, Knee, Out for Season
S Austin Collinsworth, Shoulder, Out
BCS/Top 25 Implications
After defeating consecutive ranked opponents, the Irish will be playing their first game as a member of the Top 10 since 2006.
With those wins, the tempered expectations Notre Dame came into the season with have vanished and anything short of a BCS bowl will likely be a disappointment. A statement victory will likely put Brian Kelly's squad even closer to the mountaintop and set up a huge matchup next week against Stanford.
On the other side of the field, Miami is still looking for rankings recognition despite starting with a 4-1 record. Though the Hurricanes' schedule has been nothing to write home about, it is a little shocking to see a team with their name value barely mentioned in the "also receiving votes" section.
Nonetheless, a victory on Saturday will surely propel Miami into the Top 25. While it's unlikely that the team is good enough to make any sort of BCS run, a ranking will help in the long-term rebuilding of the program.
What They're Saying
While Al Golden's team is on a three-game winning streak, the Hurricanes head coach is wholly unhappy with the defensive performance—especially in the secondary. Miami has given up 73 points over its last two games, and the unit struggled mightily against N.C. State against the pass last week.
When speaking with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Michael Casagrande this week, Golden said it's time for someone on the secondary to step up.
Via the South Florida Sun Sentinel:
Personally, I’m tired of answering questions about the secondary. I’d like to see a couple of those guys step up and say, other than [Brandon] McGee ‘You know what, I’m going to practice so well that you’re not going to want to take me out of the game. I’m going to prepare so well that I’m going to make plays.'
Where Miami is flailing defensively, Notre Dame has become one of the nation's top units. In a statistical roundup in preparation for Saturday's contest, CSN Chicago's J.J. Stankevitz gave possibly the biggest reason for the Irish's defensive success: turnovers.
Via CSN Chicago:
Last year, Notre Dame's defense recovered six fumbles and intercepted eight passes in 12 games. Through four games in 2012, the Irish defense has recovered five fumbles and intercepted eight passes, with five of those interceptions coming against Michigan Sept. 22.
Miami Player to Watch: QB Stephen Morris
While the college football world's praise has seemingly been on West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and his scintillating performance last week, Morris deserves some recognition of his own.
The junior signal-caller has been an absolute breakout star over past two weeks after middling performances early in the season. Facing off against a porous N.C. State defense, Morris threw for an ACC-record 566 yards and five touchdowns.
Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, their quarterback won't have such an easy time on Saturday. The Irish have made it their jobs to stop the main strengths of opposing offenses this season, and considering Morris' ascent over the past couple weeks, it's likely that the defense focuses on him.
Though he'll be helped by a strong running game, don't expect another huge performance on Saturday.
Notre Dame Player to Watch: RB Cierre Wood
For the Irish offense to find any semblance of explosion or consistency, it's necessary that the team gets Wood more involved starting this week.
After rushing for 1,102 yards in 2011 and coming in as a deep preseason sleeper for the Heisman, Wood was suspended for the first two games of the season and was nearly nonexistent against Michigan and Michigan State.
Considering the team's failures passing the ball and Theo Riddick's struggles, it stands to reason that Saturday would be Wood's breakout performance. He is, by far, the team's best rusher and has had another week to get reingratiated with the offense.
If Wood is on the sideline against Miami, it could spell doom—not only for the running back's senior season—but for Notre Dame as well.
Key Matchup: Miami Secondary vs. Everett Golson
Despite being the starting quarterback of an undefeated team, the Notre Dame freshman may have the shortest leash in college football.
Golson was pulled against both Purdue (due two-minute drill comfort) and Michigan (due to ineffectiveness), leading some to call for Tommy Rees to permanently take the starting job.
Nevertheless, the embattled Irish quarterback will start on Saturday, though the situation is strangely fluid. Kelly called the quarterback position a "feel thing" to the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus, which essentially means if Golson struggles, he'll be holding a clipboard before you know it.
The Hurricanes' struggles in pass defense should set up well for the young Notre Dame quarterback, seeing as N.C. State's Mike Glennon threw for 440 yards last week.
However, with Golson's confidence unquestionably shaken after the Michigan performance, you have to wonder whether he'll be able to take advantage.
If not, this game could be closer than expected.
While the Hurricanes should not be taken lightly, Notre Dame had an extra week to prepare and has already taken care of two far superior opponents.
Like most Irish contests thus far, don't expect this game to be pretty. Regardless, look for Notre Dame to win with relative ease on Saturday night.
Score Prediction: Notre Dame 23, Miami 13