Week 14 College Football Preview: Notre Dame Sealing CFP Spot

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

9-0 OVERALL | 8-0 ACC (1st)

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Texas A&M’s road to the College Football Playoff is all about Notre Dame and white flags

DALLAS — There are two potential paths for Texas A&M to climb into the College Football Playoff, and ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit presented both of them Tuesday, even if he never stated it that way and was forced to apologize for one possibility after the show.



Jimbo Fisher wearing a uniform: Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher disputes a call during a game against Alabama on October 12, 2019, at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.


© Ashley Landis/Dallas Morning News/TNS
Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher disputes a call during a game against Alabama on October 12, 2019, at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

This, of course, is assuming the Aggies’ offense gets back up to speed after a 2-for-16 third-down conversion performance in an uninspired 20-7 win over one-time nemesis LSU on Saturday. Playing better against Auburn, Tennessee and Ole Miss is presumably coach Jimbo Fisher’s first order of business.

But the Aggies were ranked fifth by the committee a week ago, and they were fifth again Tuesday, and it seems entirely possible they will still be sitting in the No. 5 spot on Dec. 20 when it all counts. There’s no real shame in being fifth and the last one out unless you’re Pete Best.

Do I have to explain that? No.

An appearance in the Orange Bowl would certainly feel like an upgrade for Fisher’s Aggies, but when you’re this close thanks to a 6-1 record with a win over No. 6 Florida, you want to slide right into the big show.

Before Herbstreit made comments that lit a fire under host Rece Davis and led to an apology, he made a simpler statement regarding Notre Dame. “To me, I think maybe they’ve already secured a spot in the playoffs,” he said.

And he’s right.

The Fighting Irish sport a 9-0 record with a win over Clemson. If they lose the ACC Championship rematch with Clemson (Trevor Lawrence missed the game in South Bend due to COVID-19), they would still have one of the four best resumes in the country. That’s as long as they don’t lose the rematch by 30 points and force everyone to think that the game of the year — a 47-40 double overtime win at Notre Dame — was solely a product of Lawrence not being available.

So that’s the first challenge for Aggies fans. Learn the Irish fight song. Be ready to cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame on Dec. 19, and if Clemson falls again, then there’s a definite opening in the top four.

That’s not an entirely likely development, but it’s not out of the question. After watching Notre Dame dismantle 19th-ranked North Carolina on the road Saturday, this team at least looks more equipped to handle big games than recent Irish disappointments.

The second way in for the Aggies relates to the suggestion that led to the fireworks and the apology. Out of the blue, Herbstreit said, “I still think Michigan waves the white flag and potentially avoids playing Ohio State next week.” He then went on to state that it’s just not fair that teams can cancel games and leave their opponent hanging. In this case,

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Texas A&M’s road to the College Football Playoff is all about Notre Dame and white flags

There are two potential paths for Texas A&M to climb into the College Football Playoff, and ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit presented both of them Tuesday, even if he never stated it that way and was forced to apologize for one possibility after the show.

This, of course, is assuming the Aggies’ offense gets back up to speed after a 2-for-16 third down conversion performance in an uninspired 20-7 win over one-time nemesis LSU on Saturday. Playing better against Auburn, Tennessee and Ole Miss is presumably coach Jimbo Fisher’s first order of business.

But the Aggies were ranked fifth by the committee a week ago, and they were fifth again Tuesday, and it seems entirely possible they will still be sitting in the No. 5 spot on Dec. 20 when it all counts. There’s no real shame in being fifth and the last one out unless you’re Pete Best.

Do I have to explain that? No.

An appearance in the Orange Bowl would certainly feel like an upgrade for Fisher’s Aggies, but when you’re this close thanks to a 6-1 record with a win over No. 6 Florida, you want to slide right into the big show.

Before Herbstreit made comments that lit a fire under host Rece Davis and led to an apology, he made a simpler statement regarding Notre Dame. “To me, I think maybe they’ve already secured a spot in the playoffs,” he said.

And he’s right.

The Fighting Irish sport a 9-0 record with a win over Clemson. If they lose the ACC Championship rematch with Clemson (Trevor Lawrence missed the game in South Bend due to COVID-19), they would still have one of the four best resumes in the country. That’s as long as they don’t lose the rematch by 30 points and force everyone to think that the game of the year — a 47-40 double overtime win at Notre Dame — was solely a product of Lawrence not being available.

Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond (11) is chased out of the pocket by LSU defensive lineman Ali Gaye (11) during the first quarter of a game on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. in College Station. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond (11) is chased out of the pocket by LSU defensive lineman Ali Gaye (11) during the first quarter of a game on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. in College Station. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)(Sam Craft)

So that’s the first challenge for Aggies fans. Learn the Irish fight song. Be ready to cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame on Dec. 19, and if Clemson falls again, then there’s a definite opening in the top four.

That’s not an entirely likely development, but it’s not out of the question. After watching Notre Dame dismantle 19th-ranked North Carolina on the road Saturday, this team at least looks more equipped to handle big games than recent Irish disappointments.

The second way in for the Aggies relates to the suggestion that led to the fireworks and the apology. Out of the blue, Herbstreit said, “I still think Michigan waves the white flag and potentially avoids playing Ohio State next week.” He then went on to state that it’s just not fair that teams can

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Notre Dame Remains No. 2 In Latest College Football Playoff Rankings

Notre Dame remained No. 2 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings in the second release from the committee.

Notre Dame is coming off a 31-17 road victory over North Carolina, who ranked 19th in last week’s ranking. The Tar Heels actually moved up two spots to 17th after its loss to Notre Dame. That certainly helps Notre Dame’s resume should the Tar Heels continue to win.

Notre Dame has clinched a spot in the ACC Championship game, and if No. 3 Clemson beats Virginia Tech this weekend the Tigers will clinch their rematch against the Irish.

Here is the full Top 25:

25. Louisiana Rajin Cajuns (8-1)
24. Tulsa Golden Hurricanes (5-1)
23. Oregon Ducks (3-1)
22. Washington Huskies (3-0)
21. Marshall Thundering Herd (7-0)
20. USC Trojans (3-0)
19. Iowa Hawkeyes (4-2)
18. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (9-0)
17. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-3)
16. Wisconsin Badgers (2-1)
15. Oklahoma State Cowboys (6-2)
14. Northwestern Wildcats (5-1) 
13. BYU Cougars (9-0)
12. Indiana Hoosiers (5-1)
11. Oklahoma Sooners (6-2)
10. Miami Hurricanes (7-1)
9. Iowa State Cyclones (7-2)
8. Georgia Bulldogs (6-2)
7. Cincinnati Bearcast (8-0)
6. Florida Gators (7-1)
5. Texas A&M Aggies (6-1)
4. Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0)
3. Clemson Tigers (8-1)
2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-0)
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0)

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Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly has stadium at Assumption University in Worcester named after him

Assumption University announced Monday that its multi-sport stadium has been named after alumnus Brian Kelly, who currently serves as the head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team.

The stadium will now be known as the “Brian Kelly ‘83 Stadium” in recognition of Kelly’s contributions to build the school’s football program and his overall support of the university, which recently includes a challenge grant extended to alumni and friends of the institution.

Funds raised through that challenge grant will be used to enhance the university’s baseball and softball fields, most notably replacing the current grass fields with turf, a news release states.

While at Assumption, Kelly was a four-year letter winner as a linebacker on the school’s football team and set a record for most tackles (314 with 214 assists.) He graduated in 1983 with a degree in political science. After graduating, Kelly stayed at Assumption and served as a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator for the football team, as well as head coach of the softball team from 1983 to 1986.

“My years at Assumption are some of the most memorable of my life,” said Kelly. “I was taught and mentored to become the man I am today, of which I am most grateful. I received a great education both in the classroom and on the playing field, but what I cherish most about my time at Assumption are the relationships I built along the way. I am humbled to receive this recognition. I always have been, and always will be, proud to be a Greyhound.”

Serving as a commencement speaker for the university in 2012, Kelly announced the establishment of a $250,000 endowed scholarship for student-athletes in the football program. This scholarship is matched by the university for female student-athletes, the release says.

Kelly also made a generous donation to the university’s “Light the Way” campaign, which was recognized with the naming of the Brian and Paqui Kelly Atrium in the Tsotsis Family Academy Center.

“The University community, and in particular our students who participate in club, intramural and varsity sports, are grateful to Brian and Paqui Kelly for the example they have demonstrated through their generosity and support of Assumption University,” said Assumption President Francesco C. Cesareo. “The Kellys’ donation and challenge grant will enable the University to make significant, and much-needed enhancements to the baseball and softball fields while establishing for the Kelly family a lasting legacy through the naming of the Brian Kelly ’83 Stadium. This gift is but one of many that Brian and Paqui have made to invest in the future of the university as it continues to provide students with opportunities to discover their vocation and explore timeless questions. The university community is grateful for this continued support.”

In 2006, Kelly was inducted into the Assumption Athletics Hall of Fame in honor of his contributions to the university’s football and softball programs.

“When I arrived at Assumption in 1979, the football program was relatively new,” said Kelly, adding that under

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College Football Playoff after Week 13 has Alabama, Notre Dame on top

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USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down the latest Amway Coaches Poll.

USA TODAY

Alabama has done nothing to loosen its grasp on No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Crimson Tide’s 42-13 win in the Iron Bowl against Auburn was in the bag well before halftime, continuing a run of dominance that began in the second half of a 41-24 win against Georgia on Oct. 17.

Only Notre Dame’s high level of play during the same span has created a sliver of doubt when it comes to projecting how the playoff selection committee will address the very top of this week’s rankings, set to be released Tuesday evening.

Both teams will have two wins against teams in the playoff rankings. Alabama will own wins against Texas A&M and Georgia. (No. 22 in the debut rankings, Auburn should fall out after dropping to 5-3.) The Irish have topped Clemson and North Carolina, with that victory against Clemson the best win of any team in the Bowl Subdivision.

Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams (23) reacts after scoring a touchdown against North Carolina at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Photo: Robert Willett, Pool)

The way Alabama has decimated its past four opponents — beating Tennessee, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Auburn by a combined score of 174-33 — is mirrored by Notre Dame’s own gains since late October. Behind an seemingly impenetrable run defense and the improved play of quarterback Ian Book, the Irish have overcome an uneven start to the regular season to mold an argument for No. 1.

That’s not the only decision on the committee’s plate heading out of Week 13.

RE-RANK: Alabama, Notre Dame the clear top two in NCAA 1-127 ranking

MISERY INDEX: Texas hasn’t come close to reaching potential under Herman

HIGHS AND LOWS: College football winners and losers from Week 13

There’s also the debate between Texas A&M and Florida, which may again be settled by the Aggies’ head-to-head win in October but might require more deliberation after a scuffling, ugly victory against LSU.

That 20-7 win was a reversal of last year’s 50-7 loss, illustrating the program’s growth since the end of last season. (And the Tigers’ plummeting fall from grace.) But it also saw A&M fail to move the ball effectively on offense and included by far the worst game of quarterback Kellen Mond’s otherwise successful senior year.

Meanwhile, Florida continued to pour it on against SEC competition with a 34-10 win against Kentucky, the Gators’ fifth win in a row by 16 or more points. 

In the end, look for the Aggies to remain ahead in the rankings and stay in strong position to claim a second playoff berth for the SEC should there be room in the top four.

Here’s how the top four would look today, followed by the four teams just on the outside:

1. Alabama: The 53 offensive plays run against Auburn were the Tide’s fewest in a game against a Bowl Subdivision opponent since running

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College football bowl projections: Notre Dame moves into playoff as New Year’s Six shuffles

The hits keep on coming in 2020. No. 4 Ohio State became the latest team forced to put things on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Buckeyes’ game at Illinois was canceled late Friday night, and they are now one more cancellation away from not being eligible for the Big Ten Championship Game.

It was a rough week for the Pac-12 also, but why should this week be any different? After the initial College Football Playoff Rankings came out with Oregon as the highest-rated team in the conference at No. 15, the Ducks went out at lost 41-38 at Oregon State in the fog. On top of that, No. 18 USC had its game at Utah canceled, limiting the Trojans’ schedule to five regular-season games, plus a potential Pac-12 Championship Game.

I am still projecting Oregon to win the league, but obviously, their long-shot playoff chances are dead. In fact, it is looking more likely that the Pac-12 will produce a champion that does not crack the top 10 of the final CFP Rankings. That has not happened to a major conference champion in the CFP era.

No. 2 Notre Dame takes Oregon’s spot in the projected CFP as the four seed. The Fighting Irish beat North Carolina 31-17 on Friday night.

No. 3 Clemson finally took the field for the first time after the loss to Notre Dame back on Nov. 7. The Tigers mauled Pittsburgh 52-17 in quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s return to action. Clemson remains the projected three seed in the College Football Playoff.

College Football Playoff

Jan. 11

National Championship
Miami

Title game Semifinal winners

Jan. 1

Rose Bowl
Pasadena, Calif.

Semifinal

(2) Ohio State vs. (3) Clemson

Jan. 1

Sugar Bowl
New Orleans

Semifinal

(1) Alabama vs. (4) Notre Dame

As such, I now have Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl facing Northwestern. The No. 8 Wildcats took their first loss of the season at Michigan State, 29-20. Northwestern will drop out of contention for a New Year’s Six game entirely if it loses to anyone else but Ohio State the rest of the way.

No. 16 Wisconsin also had a game canceled, but this time it was due to a COVID-19 outbreak for Minnesota, the Badgers’ opponent. That is the third game canceled for Wisconsin and makes it ineligible for the Big Ten Championship Game. That would have mattered more if Wisconsin had defeated Northwestern last week. The Badgers are still projected into the Cotton Bowl to face expected Big 12 champion Oklahoma.

It is likely that the No. 11 Sooners will face No. 13 Iowa State for the Big 12 championship. The Cyclones clinched a share of the league title with a 23-20 win at Texas.

With Notre Dame moving up to the playoff, there was more shifting around with the other New Year’s Six games. Miami-Florida is now the matchup in the Orange Bowl, while Cincinnati is now projected to face Georgia in the Peach Bowl.

New Year’s Six bowl games

I still

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College football bowl projections after Week 13: Notre Dame, Clemson are Playoff-bound

Clemson and Notre Dame are both in the College Football Playoff — at least for now.

Sporting News’ bowl projections after Week 13 have both the Tigers and Fighting Irish in the four-team Playoff as they move toward a possible rematch in the ACC championship game.

Notre Dame (9-0) and Clemson (8-1) make up half the field. Alabama (8-0) and Ohio State (4-0) are as well, despite the latter’s uncertainty regarding its eligibility to make the Big Ten championship.

As long as those teams win, they’re in.

MORE: College Football Playoff Picture

This season’s semifinals are scheduled for Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl Game and the Sugar Bowl. The Playoff championship game will be Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

With that in mind, here are Sporting News’ picks for the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Day 6 heading into Week 14:

College football bowl projections

Date Bowl Teams
Dec. 19 Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl UTSA vs. Nevada
Dec. 21 Myrtle Beach Bowl Memphis vs. Appalachian State
Dec. 22 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Buffalo vs. Boise State
Dec. 22 Boca Raton Bowl UCF vs. FAU
Dec. 23 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Marshall vs. Coastal Carolina
Dec. 23 Montgomery Bowl* Ball State vs. Fresno State
Dec. 24 New Mexico Bowl Houston vs. Wyoming
Dec. 25 Camellia Bowl Central Michigan vs. Georgia State
Dec. 26 Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl Utah vs. Boston College
Dec. 26 Cure Bowl Louisiana vs. Western Michigan
Dec. 26 SERVPRO First Responder Bowl TCU vs. Liberty
Dec. 26 LendingTree Bowl UAB vs. Georgia Southern
Dec. 26 Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl Army vs. Oregon State
Dec. 26 Guaranteed Rate Bowl West Virginia vs. Maryland
Dec. 28 Military Bowl Presented by Perspecta SMU vs. Virginia
Dec. 29 Cheez-It Bowl Kansas State vs. Pitt
Dec. 29 Valero Alamo Bowl Iowa State vs. Oregon
Dec. 30 Duke’s Mayo Bowl Purdue vs. Wake Forest
Dec. 30 TransPerfect Music City Bowl Kentucky vs. Iowa
Dec. 30 LA Bowl Colorado vs. San Jose State
Dec. 31 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Tulane vs. Louisiana Tech
Dec. 31 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl Washington vs. N.C. State
Dec. 31 AutoZone Liberty Bowl Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss
Dec. 31 Arizona Bowl Kent State vs. San Diego State
Dec. 31 Texas Bowl Texas vs. LSU
Jan. 1 TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl Tulsa vs. North Texas
Jan. 1 Vrbo Citrus Bowl Auburn vs. Indiana
Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Missouri vs. North Carolina
Jan. 2 Outback Bowl Georgia vs. Wisconsin

New Year’s Day 6 projections

DATE BOWL TEAMS
Dec. 30 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M
Jan. 1 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Cincinnati vs. Northwestern
Jan. 2 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl USC vs. BYU
Jan. 2 Capital One Orange Bowl Florida vs. Miami

College Football Playoff projections

DATE BOWL TEAMS
Jan. 1 Rose Bowl Game (CFP semifinal) Ohio State vs. Notre Dame
Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl (CFP semifinal) Alabama vs. Clemson
Jan. 11 CFP National Championship Game Ohio State vs.
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College football winners and losers Week 13 cover Michigan, Notre Dame

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SportsPulse: Dan Wolken details what the College Football Playoff committee got right and wrong in the first ranking of the season.

USA TODAY

Penn State beat Michigan 27-17 for its first win of the season, snapping the worst start in program history and dropping the hapless Wolverines to 2-4 amid questions over coach Jim Harbaugh’s immediate future.

Those questions may not have any basis in reality: Harbaugh’s contract does not expire after next season, leaving plenty of time for both parties to reconvene and recommit to a longer partnership.

The better question asks whether Michigan and Harbaugh believe there is reason to maintain the relationship long into the future given this year’s slide into irrelevancy.

Losing to previously winless Penn State feels like the lowest point of this already lost season, which had already surfed through a series of low moments — losing to Michigan State, getting blown out by Wisconsin, even needing overtime to rally back and beat Rutgers a week ago.

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara talks to coach Jim Harbaugh during the first half against Penn State at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. (Photo: Junfu Han, Imagn Content Services, LLC)

Barring a miraculous upset win against Ohio State next month, should that game be played as scheduled, Michigan will finish with a losing record for the first time since 2009 and just the fourth time since 1968. 

As a program, Michigan has ceded enormous ground to the Buckeyes, which have lapped the field, and fallen behind several others in the Big Ten. Is there one missing ingredient that would vault the Wolverines back into the College Football Playoff in 2021? Is the strangeness of this offseason and regular season to blame for the Wolverines’ plummet? 

FINALLY: Penn State gets its first win of season with defeat of Michigan

HISTORY MADE: Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller is first female player in Power Five

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 13, including the games played Friday:

Winners

Buffalo

The Bulls are the class of the MAC and a contender for the Top 25 after beating Kent State 70-41 in a battle of the league’s two best offenses. The win moves Buffalo to 22-9 since the start of the 2018 season under coach Lance Leipold, who will be in the running for Power Five job openings. The biggest star of the day: Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson tied the Bowl Subdivision single-game record with eight rushing touchdowns and ran for 409 yards, 18 shy of the FBS record. Patterson scored more touchdowns Saturday alone than 10 teams have scored this entire season.

Notre Dame

After a fast-paced first quarter, Notre Dame slowed the tempo into its comfort zone against North Carolina and pulled away in the second half to beat the North Carolina 31-17 and remain on track for the College Football Playoff. Another very solid performance on defense — the Irish held UNC to under 300 yards of total offense and held

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Notre Dame football: Bruising Irish offer Spread Age’s missing element

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — College football has eras just like the Earth itself.

You know this place was once all covered in ice. The Ice Age, they called it. The dinosaurs roamed the globe during the Jurassic Age. The Pleistocene Age came about some 300,000 years ago, when modern humans began to evolve in Africa.

But enough history, let’s get back to college football. It’s why you’re here and it’s why I’m here too. College football once had an era without passing and face guards. We’ll call it the Bloodied Age, because most players never left a game without blood somewhere—gushing from their arm, stained on their pants, matted in their hair. The sport then shifted heavily toward a specific ground-and-pound scheme: the Option Age. And don’t forget the days of the I-formation Age (one of my favorites).

For the last decade or so, college football—and football in general—has found a new system of offense, one that includes five receivers, relentless shotgun snaps, no huddles and bonanzas of points and yards.

The Spread Age has changed the game forever. It has changed defenses, too. And it has recently made the game’s greatest active coach, Nick Saban, a defensive guru himself, acknowledge that a great defense can no longer beat a great offense.

And then there’s Notre Dame. They run the ball, they play great defense and they’re undefeated.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book (12) with the ball in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book hands off the ball at Kenan Memorial Stadium.

Here on Friday night, in the clear and cool skies of North Carolina, the Irish displayed a style of ball that we (well, me at least) long for. Bruising. Bullish. Bashing.

Coach Brian Kelly has himself a club that plays a battering ram style of football—both offensively and defensively—from a bygone era. The result, thus far, has been very good. After a 31-17 win over North Carolina, the No. 2-ranked Irish are 9-0, one win away from playing for the ACC championship and three wins away from advancing to the College Football Playoff.

I know what you’re thinking. Notre Dame. Big game. Blowout.

We’ve seen it before. The Irish, in fact, are 2-18 in their last 20 games against top-5 teams. They advanced to the 2012 national title only to get smashed, 42-14, by Alabama. In 2018, Clemson whipped them 30-3 in a CFP semifinal.

And maybe this Notre Dame team is en route to the same end result. Maybe they don’t even get there. Maybe a Trevor Lawrence-quarterbacked Clemson dominates the Irish in the ACC title game. Maybe.

Or maybe not. Maybe ND’s bruising running game (14th nationally) and salty defense (9th nationally) can, in fact, suffocate the Spread Age offenses of college football’s powerhouses.

North Carolina is no powerhouse, but the Tar Heels are one of the most explosive offenses in the nation.

What the Irish did defensively on Friday was spectacular. They slowed one of the country’s most potent offenses to its lowest yardage and points total of the season.

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