Notre Dame Football: Forget the Rankings, Just Beat Wake Forest
The circus has officially come to South Bend.
Not that the football program at Notre Dame doesn't generally pull a great deal of media attention, but now that the Irish are in the midst of an undefeated season and possible championship run, the volume has been turned up some.
Maybe a lot.
It is hard to turn on sports television or radio and not hear about Notre Dame and the BCS.
It is also shocking if you hear anything favorable about the Irish.
Somehow the 10-0 Notre Dame team, ranked first in the nation in scoring defense and having beaten four top 25 opponents is being called "overrated" at No. 3 in the BCS standings.
Many are saying that the Irish are not deserving of leap-frogging No. 2 Oregon or No. 1 Kansas State despite the weaker schedules of the top two.
There is even a loud growing contingent of pundits who believe that a one-loss Alabama team should be elevated into a title game ahead of an undefeated Notre Dame team.
There are also, of course the many who counter saying that the computer poll average has the Irish at No.1, and that Brian Kelly's team has played a full schedule of FBS opponents, all but one from automatic qualifier conferences and has beaten them all.
The chatter is quickly growing to intolerable levels.
And none of it matters.
No one has punched their ticket into the championship game just yet. Oregon has yet to play the two toughest teams on its schedule in No. 13 Stanford and No. 16 Oregon State as well as the Pac-12 championship game. Kansas State is yet to face No. 15 Texas.
There is a lot of football yet to be played, and all of the talk about who deserves what truly is premature.
Notre Dame can only control its play on the field, and has to leave the worries of rankings outside the meeting rooms and off the field.
For any of the ranking fodder to matter, the Irish must win.
At this point of a 10-0 season, every game is a trap game. Every team will be a test. Each contest will be a struggle.
That fact is evident over the last two weeks as a Pittsburgh team who lost 31-17 to FCS Youngstown State took the Irish into triple overtime and could have put the game (and Notre Dame's dream season) away before succumbing to the Irish.
Last week, a rather poor Boston College team managed to hang around with Notre Dame despite being dominated early. The Irish went to sleep, and the Eagles held Notre Dame scoreless over the last two and a half quarters keeping the game in doubt much later than expected.
This week the "upset alert" ball keeps rolling as the Irish welcome the 5-5 Demon Deacons of Wake Forest to Notre Dame Stadium.
The Deacons are a model of inconsistency. They have beaten North Carolina and Virginia, but were beaten by Duke and Maryland, and crushed by North Carolina State.
Quarterback Tanner Price is talented enough to keep the chains moving, on the season he has hit 55.4 percent of his throws for 1,965 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He is a mobile quarterback who can escape pressure but is not a legitimate run threat.
Overall Wake's passing game is very similar to Notre Dame's air attack. They can beat you, but are wildly inconsistent and are equally apt to beating themselves.
On the ground Wake is less potent, ranked 114th in rushing production averaging only 102 yards per game.
The Irish on paper should be able to stop the run without secondary support and could rather easily make the Deacons one-dimensional on offense.
Defensively Wake has been somewhat porous, surrendering an average of 417.8 yards per game and carrying a 72nd rank in scoring defense.
Wake seems most suspect in defending the pass, as every opponent save for Army and Maryland (who barely attempt to play quarterback this year) amassed more than 250 yards through the air.
They have also given up 157 yards per game on the ground, but have been amazingly inconsistent in run defense overall. Army and Florida State gashed the Deacon defense all day for 429 and 385 yards respectively, but Maryland, Virginia and Boston College were all held under 60 yards on the ground (53, 48, 12).
Wake surrenders 29 points per game, compared to 11 for Notre Dame making the advantage clear.
On paper, conventional wisdom dictates that Notre Dame should win rather easily and convincingly.
But the games are not played on paper, and this year no wisdom has been conventional.
Wake Forest will be coming to save its season. Their bowl eligibility hangs in the balance, as does an opportunity to beat a top 5 ranked team in their house.
Add to the mix that it is Notre Dame, at Notre Dame Stadium, and be sure that Wake Forest will give maximum effort and will not be an easy out.
Next for Notre Dame looms a road contest at USC. The media at large already has the Irish heading to Los Angeles 11-0.
Should that mindset invade the Guglielmino Athletics Complex this week it will not happen. Wake is better than Pittsburgh or Boston College and if overlooked can beat the Irish.
If Notre Dame arrives on senior day with intensity and determination and gives the seniors including Tyler Eifert and Manti Te'o the kind of send off they deserve, all will be fine.
Pressure Wake's Price, make him throw to beat you against that pressure. Run the ball, control the clock and play clean football.
Then let's talk USC.
Everything else will take care of itself.
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