Notre Dame Prepares For Stretch Run To The College Football Playoff
Currently ranked 11th in the latest Associated Press College Football Poll, Notre Dame heads into an open week with a 6-1 record, its only defeat a 24-22 setback to Clemson, the No. 6 team in the country. With five games remaining on the schedule, head coach Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish look forward to their stretch run to a possible College Football Playoff berth.
It will not be easy for the Irish who will face three ranked teams in their final five games. Up first after the open date is 22nd-ranked Temple followed by a date with traditional rival Pittsburgh, ranked No. 25. The Irish then get a crack at the nation’s No. 1 defense when they welcome Boston College to South Bend and finish the season with their toughest test – a trip to No. 10 Stanford.
If Notre Dame plans on punching a ticket into one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff, it must continue its steady play both on offense and defense. All-America candidate wide receiver Will Fuller is among the nation’s best. He has 32 receptions for 702 yards and eight touchdowns. The biggest surprise on offense for the Irish has been running back C.J. Prosise, a former receiver. The 6-0, 220-pound senior has rushed for 922 yards and 11 scores so far this season. Both Prosise and Fuller have helped take some of the pressure off QB DeShone Kizer, who replaced injured starter Malik Zaire earlier in the season.
Kelly’s offense is a perfect blend of run and pass. The Irish average nearly 500 yards of total offense and score 38 points per game. The offense will need to be at the top of its game as it goes up against some of the nation’s better defenses in the aforementioned Eagles, Temple (13th nationally in total defense) and Pittsburgh (17th).
The defense is playing well also led by junior linebacker and team captain Jaylon Smith. The 240-pounder had a team-high 14 tackles in last week’s 41-31 win over USC. Senior defensive lineman Sheldon Day has proven that returning for his final year in South Bend was well worth it. The 6-2, 291-pound Day has recorded 25 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, and 10 QB hurries.
Notre Dame, like other members of the most recent Top Ten, controls its destiny and will need some help if it is to wind up playing for a shot at a national title. Top-ranked Ohio State still has No. 7 Michigan State and No. 15 Michigan. Second-ranked Baylor will face No. 4 TCU and No. 6 Clemson, which beat the Irish, must play No. 9 Florida State. Kelly and Notre Dame will need to win out, but with a little help could end up in the top four by season’s end.