Friday at 4: This isn’t ‘Catholics vs. Convicts.’ It hardly ever was. But it already matters again.

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Notre Dame at Miami was not supposed to matter this year. It was merely going to be a chance to once again — for the fourth time in eight years — reminisce about the good ol’ days of the ‘80s. Perhaps the Irish or the Hurricanes could bolster their Camping World Bowl résumés, if not even catch the Citrus Bowl’s eyes. That would be an exceeding of expectations.

Miami finished 2016 with a victory over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl — formerly known as the Champ Sports Bowl and now the aforementioned Camping World Bowl. Mark Richt’s first season quieted the few doubters of his hiring, but it did not quite prove right those who believed from the outset in his return to his alma mater.

Notre Dame’s players spent December individually meeting with head coach Brian Kelly to discuss how to recover from a dismal 4-8 season. Many fans wanted to know only how Kelly still had a job.

This game was not supposed to matter. Publications were going to save on travel and cover it remotely. The few beat writers who made the trip southward could spend more time on the beach than preparing for the game. The talk of “Catholics vs. Convicts” would be soon followed by talk of how far away those years seemed from a football perspective.

Clearly, that is not the case. This is, quite literally, the greatest hurdle remaining for the Irish in the chase for a bid to the College Football Playoff. A loss would similarly dispatch the Hurricanes from those conversations.

Such a reversal is not usually this quick. Even if fans exercised the patience Kelly suggested they could have just earlier this week, that patience would have been considered short-tempered if it lasted through only this season.

Richt took over a program that had gone an even 16-16 in ACC play over the last four years. Contending for a conference crown, let alone a national title, in his second year seemed an outlandish proposition.

Take a look at Nebraska. Mike Riley would jump at these turnarounds. He hired Bob Diaco — yes, former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco — to take over his defense with hopes similar to Kelly’s ideal scenarios with newly-hired Mike Elko. Elko is now a finalist for the Broyles Award, given to the best assistant coach in college football. Diaco is belittling the tackling techniques taught by his predecessor.

This game was not supposed to hold any of the importance of those late ‘80s matchups. It was not supposed to further the spread of that lore. Yet, this matters as much as those “Catholics vs. Convicts” tilts did.

But this is not Catholics vs. Convicts. This is not a rivalry rekindled. This is not a return to a few raucous evenings three decades ago.

Notre Dame and Miami met every year from 1971 to 1990 except for 1986. The Irish went 13-6 in that stretch, though only 3-6 from 1981 to 1990. By the time that legendary 1988 game rolled around, the two teams could not stand each other. Familiarity really did breed contempt. Their successes came to be defined by each other.

“Who are you without your fierce rivals?” Patrick Creadon will ask rhetorically. Creadon is the director behind the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary, “Catholics vs. Convicts,” released about a year ago. “You’re boring. You’re just some small program that doesn’t matter. Your heated rivals really are what define you as a program.”

Both independents, it made sense for Notre Dame and Miami to see each other every year. There was a rivalry, but it derived solely from the frequency of engagement, not actually from a perceived difference in cultures. The “Catholics vs. Convicts” angle was a catchy t-shirt phrase that caught attention because some considered it edgy.

“The thing about the film I’m really proud of, frankly, is I thought the t-shirt was awful,” Creadon said. “I really didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now. I think it smacks of bad sportsmanship and it’s very judgmental and it’s kind of hypocritical. All these awful things are kind of emblazoned across that shirt.”

Courtesy of Patrick Creadon.

There is an understandable irony to the director of the film criticizing the very catchphrase his documentary uses as its title. What was he supposed to call it? What if I told you Notre Dame and Miami played a football game in 1988 … just doesn’t set your DVR for you, does it?

Then the Hurricanes joined the Big East in 1991. They no longer needed the Irish to both bolster and fill up their schedule. That’s when the rivalry died. It didn’t die in a scuffle in a tunnel. It didn’t go over the edge when a special teams unit of only 10 men managed to block a punt. It died as everything dies in college football, with conference realignment.

It did not come back to life in the 2010 Sun Bowl. Held in El Paso, Texas, that event is absurdly, even bothersomely, close to both Juarez, Mexico, and New Year’s Eve. With snow outdoing the game’s namesake and Miami lacking a head coach, the Hurricanes looked so lackadaisical a spectator could have been forgiven for wondering how much the Dos Equis must have cost across the border the night before. (It was 75 cents a bottle, and the ‘Canes were nowhere in sight.)

Catholics vs. Convicts did not materialize in Solider Field in 2012 amidst a 41-3 Irish victory.

Aside from the premiere of Creadon’s work, the ethos of the late ‘80s was nowhere to be seen last year when Notre Dame bumbled its way to a 30-27 triumph, Miami’s last defeat to date.

This rivalry will not be renewed this weekend, not when the two teams are not scheduled to face off again for another seven years.

This is not Catholics vs. Convicts. It hardly ever was.

Thirty years ago, this was an annual game with many national implications. Somehow, that is what it is already again.

Things To Learn: On Notre Dame injuries, crowd noise and close games

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No. 3 Notre Dame will have its star pair of juniors in the backfield Saturday night at No. 7 Miami, and both are apparently healthy. Irish coach Brian Kelly expressed little concern for quarterback Brandon Wimbush or running back Josh Adams on Thursday.

Wimbush showed “no ill effects” from the massive hit his left hand took just before halftime in last week’s 48-37 victory over Wake Forest. Kelly said the swelling is down and Wimbush may wear a padded glove on his non-throwing hand to protect it.

That is all well and good, but if Wimbush’s hand is at all a hindrance, ball security could become an issue, especially going against a Hurricanes defense that has forced 12 fumbles in eight games, recovering seven of them. Obviously, limiting Wimbush to the pocket to avoid such concerns would neuter the Notre Dame rushing attack of its most problem-causing threat.

Wimbush’s option to run at any point forces the greatest defensive adjustments and plays a key role in Adams’ success. The latter being healthy and well-rested plays a key role, as well. After last weekend, that is now something to keep an eye on.

“I definitely learned from last week, which is a great thing about football,” the Heisman-hopeful said Wednesday. “You’re constantly learning and have to do better, so taking care of my body a little bit more and feeling good.”

Kelly said junior running back Dexter Williams is not 100 percent recovered from the quad contusion which hampered him last week on what would usually have been a breakaway touchdown, adding, “He can still definitely help us.”

Junior tight end Alizé Mack has been cleared from a concussion. Fifth-year receiver Cam Smith, however, will be out as he continues to work through a hamstring strain that necessitated a platelet-replacement procedure Wednesday.

Lastly, senior cornerback Nick Watkins will be “managing” knee tendonitis. If sophomore Troy Pride sees an abundance of playing time, presume that to be the reason.

Miami is flying high, as are its fans. Will Notre Dame struggle in a genuine road atmosphere?

Some may scoff at this as a possible factor Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, ABC), but with a first-year starter and a few other young starters in the mix, particularly both options at right tackle, the Hurricanes fans will have their opportunity to make an impact.

Yet another interception from Irish sophomore cornerback Julian Love could do wonders for mitigating Miami’s home crowd Saturday night. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

“There will be some nerves and they’ll have to settle into the game,” Kelly said. “They’ve been really good at, once they get into the game, they’ve settled in nicely.

“But there will be moments early on that they have to settle into it.”

The Irish avoided this particular challenge at Michigan State by getting out to a two-possession lead — partly thanks to the momentum-sealing interception returned for a touchdown by sophomore cornerback Julian Love — within the first five minutes of the game. Otherwise, that could have established a data point for this particular query. It also helped that the Spartans were not yet respected as a 2017 contender as they are now, having risen to No. 12 in the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings. That crowd had not yet bought in on its season.

Miami’s has, deservedly so.

On the flipside of the ball, was last week’s defensive performance really just due to distractions and malaise? Or did Notre Dame have something more concerning afoot?

The Hurricanes average 31.5 points and 461 yards per game. It is safe to expect them to find offensive success at some point Saturday night. Two recent Irish foes present similar profiles.

USC averages 35.2 points and 492.4 yards per game.
Wake Forest averages 31.9 points and 445 yards per game.

The former fell short of those averages at Notre Dame, scoring only 14 points and gaining 336 yards. The latter exceeded those averages at Notre Dame to the tune of 38 points and 587 yards. It is hard to believe only two weeks separated those performances.

Kelly continues to point to something of a defensive indifference allowing for the Demon Deacons to run wild in the game’s final third, and he continues to insist it is no longer an issue.

“They practiced the way that they had practiced leading up to last week,” he said. “Every week they had created a new line of scrimmage. Last week they did not create a new line of scrimmage in practice.”

Apparently defensive coordinator Mike Elko made it very clear what led to Saturday’s issues. Kelly said Elko found six plays from practice Wake Forest ran successfully in the game. In each of them, the lack of execution was foreseen in a lack of execution at practice.

Wake Forest hardly struggled against the Irish defense in last week’s second half. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

“It was easy to go back to how we prepared,” Kelly said. “He was great at showing our players that it’s in their preparation and they’ve prepared very well defensively this week.”

Perhaps, the lackluster performance a week ago will actually serve to aid the Irish this weekend.

“Whenever you have a bad performance, you always come back with a chip on your shoulder,” senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill said. “A lot of the guys after the game were ready to put the patch back on and go right back out there because we felt we let one go.”

To feel like you let one get away and still get a win is quite the treat on its own. To take that feeling and then channel it into a better showing a week later on the road against a top-10 opponent would make every point Wake Forest scored a worthwhile allowance to Notre Dame.

Can the Irish win a close game?

Let’s just present a series of facts.

— Notre Dame has not had to turn to Wimbush to lead a game-winning, last-minute drive in two months. That is not a bad thing. No coach in the world will begrudge blowing out each and every opponent.
— When Wimbush did get his chance against Georgia in the season’s second week, his first attempt sputtered and his second was cut short by an unblocked defensive end. He has never had a genuine chance to show the poise, command of the playbook and quick-thinking needed to win a collegiate game in its last minute.
— The last time the Irish prevailed in a one-possession game was also Miami’s last defeat, Oct. 29, 2016. Notre Dame won 30-27.
— Since then, the Irish have gone 0-3 in one-possession games.
— Before that victory, one has to trace back to Nov. 21, 2015, for such a win, 19-16 vs. Boston College at Fenway Park. Since then, Notre Dame has gone 1-7 in one-possession games.
— The last time the Irish beat a ranked foe in a tight game was Oct. 31, 2015, a 24-20 victory at No. 21 Temple, undefeated at 7-0 heading into that game including a win over Penn State.
— Miami has won four games by one-possession this season. Considering the Hurricanes remain undefeated, they have indeed not lost such a contest.

Miami and senior quarterback Malik Rosier have shown the ability to win tight football games. Notre Dame and Wimbush have not, though in no small part because they have simply not needed to.

And In That Corner … The No. 7 Miami Hurricanes and an eye-catching turnover chain

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Before Notre Dame heads down to south Florida for a prime-time, top-10 pseudo-elimination game (8 p.m. ET, ABC), let’s get to know the No. 7 Hurricanes a bit with the help of Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald.

DF: Hey Susan, I appreciate you taking some time out of your week to chat Miami football. As I mentioned to you earlier, I certainly didn’t expect this game to have such importance when the season started. Before getting into the weeds, how long have you been covering the Hurricanes?

SMD: Since Butch Davis took over in 1995, though I didn’t start full-time until 2000, the year the Hurricanes finished 11-1 and began their 34-game winning streak.

Miami’s offense ticks away pretty well — 31.5 points and 461.0 yards per game with a relatively-balanced run-pass distribution — even without junior running back Mark Walton (ankle). I expect it to come at least within shouting distance of those numbers Saturday. At that point, it will be a question of the Hurricanes slowing, if not stopping, Notre Dame. That is tough to envision considering Miami gives up 170.0 rushing yards per game and the Irish offense relies on the ground game. How might the defense adjust to buck those two trends?

The running yards sometimes come in big chunks — until the ball gets close to the goal line. Then the ‘Canes are very stout. Miami held Virginia Tech last week to 2.4 yards per rush. Someone asked Diaz before the Hokies game last Saturday if he was concerned about yielding rushing yards. His response:

“Toledo is the only team that’s had more than five yards a play on us. We had 17 possessions of defense last week and in a normal game there are 13. We played five quarters of football. We three-and-outed them or less eight out of 17 times. Our kids aren’t perfect, but they’re playing pretty good by all the metrics.

“There are a couple of things that we would love to do better. Our third down defense started poorly and it’s been improving. Our run defense is suffering from a couple mistakes. People are starting to run their quarterback against us, which to me is a sign of respect that we are shutting down their running back. If you look at where we are and what we are doing and the fact that what it all comes down to is that we’re not allowing points because we don’t give up long runs or passes for touchdowns and then we have the mental toughness to stop people in the red zone.

“We never have panic. That’s why when the ball was fumbled last week and 11 guys had to take the field, we knew we were going to get the ball back. We didn’t know how and we didn’t know who, but we knew we were going to get it done. Like anything else, we always have room to grow. We hope that our best game is always our next game, but I think our kids are playing pretty hard right now.”

That cause suffered a setback Monday when it was announced senior defensive lineman Demetrius Jackson is out for a stretch due to a right knee injury. Though a backup, Jackson has made 7.5 tackles for loss, including 3.5 sacks. It may seem lacking a reserve would hardly be noticed, especially along a deep defensive front such as the Hurricanes’, but Jackson certainly provides pressure. How will his absence affect Miami’s defense, if at all?

Yes, the absence of Jackson will make a difference, but Miami has a couple of highly rated freshmen. One of them, Jonathan Garvin, will get a lot more snaps as he fills in for Jackson. How’s this for a true freshman who hasn’t played a ton? A sack, tackle for loss, forced fumble and fumble recovery against Virginia Tech.

I feel a need to bring up the turnover chain, both as a gimmick and as a tangible piece of an on-field factor. The Hurricanes force 2.5 turnovers per game. How much has that been due to defensive design vs. the inherent chance tied to an oblong ball vs. the motivating factor of a shiny, bulky gold necklace?

This defense has been focused from the start, but there’s no denying that the turnover chain has got them having fun. It’s contagious, they all agree. And they all want the chance to wear it. Fifteen players have worn the chain this season.

“Wearing the chain, it’s a big accomplishment,’’ safety Jaquan Johnson said. “We go out there and have to guard an offensive player the whole game, and sometimes we don’t get credit for what we do. When we get the turnover, we get rewarded and everyone sees we’re doing our job. It’s definitely a trending topic.”

Notre Dame fans are skeptical of Miami’s chances this weekend. Much of that stems from the Hurricanes barely slipping past Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and, especially, North Carolina. Miami is undeniably a talented football team. What led to such a by-the-skin-of-its-teeth stretch?

Slow starts. The ‘Canes have a second-half point differential of +206 in 21 games under coach Mark Richt (390-184) and have held opponents to 10 points or fewer in the second half in 15 of 21 games. This season, Miami has 154 points in the second half and 98 in the first half. Its opponents have 84 points in the second half and 57 in the first half.

(Note from Douglas: Notre Dame has outscored opponents 224-82 in the first half this season, compared to only 148-84 in the second half. Even if attempting to adjust for the Irish easing off the gas pedal in blowouts, that first-half discrepancy stands in stark contrast to the Hurricanes’ tendency to get out of the gate a touch sluggish.)

The flip side of those close games is the Hurricanes are much more battle-tested than the Irish. The last time Notre Dame won a close game was … the last time Miami lost a game. Bookmakers expect this to be close. Do you? If so, will those October stresses bear Hurricane fruit now?

I would be surprised if Notre Dame blows out Miami, though I know people who swear that will happen. If the Hurricanes win Saturday, they will be sparked by what will be the most raucus, insane crowd at that stadium in years. The Hurricanes are convinced the nation underestimates them and never gives them the credit they deserve. That drives them, too. But mostly they emulate the old-time defensive players who expected to win.

CFP Contenders & Notre Dame’s Opponents: Oklahoma & Wisconsin loom

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For all the talk about 13 data points this time of year, only a few games on each schedule matter. The College Football Playoff selection committee focuses on those when putting together each week’s poll, the most-recent having been released Tuesday night with Notre Dame still at No. 3.

The Irish opened their season by beating Temple; No. 5 Oklahoma began with a 56-7 victory over UTEP. Neither much matters anymore. Notre Dame beat Miami (Ohio) 52-17; No. 4 Clemson hosts the Citadel in two weeks. The eyes naturally move past both games when looking at the schedules. The Irish outran Boston College 49-20; No. 6 TCU rolled past Kansas 43-0. Frankly, the Horned Frogs’ conference opponent remains one of the country’s weakest teams no matter affiliation.

Rather than dissect the various birds’ weekends, a look at the Sooners, the Tigers and TCU makes more sense. Thus, in order of pertinence, import and meaning, the weekly look at opponents pivots from the teams scheduled to the teams who may yet be scheduled for January. In November, that context becomes the more important determining factor, rather than the all-inclusive content of September and October.

Clemson (8-1): In not moving the Tigers past the Irish this week, the committee may have made it impossible to do so moving forward. Clemson’s résumé received a greater boost this weekend, beating now-No. 23 North Carolina State 38-31, despite not leading until the second half and needing a last-minute interception to seal the road victory. Close as it was, the win means more than Notre Dame’s 48-37 topping of Wake Forest.

Yet, the Tigers remain a step back. Even if the best Irish opponents fall apart, diminishing the value of those wins, they may already be worth enough to keep Notre Dame staked ahead of Clemson. The biggest boost the Tigers can get from their past would be No. 10 Auburn beating the top-two teams a total of three times. The Irish would welcome that unlikely scenario, as it would greatly diminish two claims to top spots, even if that meant Clemson jumped to No. 1.

The Tigers still host Florida State (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) and the Citadel, have a trip to face South Carolina and meet a yet-to-be-determined foe in the ACC title game. That schedule will not elevate Clemson more than will Notre Dame’s remaining games, including a trip to that likely ACC title game challenger, No. 7 Miami.

Oklahoma (8-1): The Sooners, however, could still jump both the Irish and the Tigers. A 62-52 win over now-No. 15 Oklahoma State was not enough to push Oklahoma into the top-four, but three more games against top-25 opponents, including two against No. 8 TCU, could do it. Neither Notre Dame nor Clemson face as many remaining challenges.

This is not saying the Sooners’ overall résumé is better than either of the two ahead of it. This is saying if the committee already sees it as close, there is enough yet to come to move it ahead in those eyes. Those opinions are, after all, the only ones that matter.

That slate begins this weekend vs. TCU (8 p.m. ET, FOX) with Oklahoma favored by a touchdown. A combined point total over/under of 62.5 posits the Sooners as 34-28 victors and more pressure on the committee to consider moving Oklahoma and Heisman-frontrunner quarterback Baker Mayfield into the Playoff field.

TCU (8-1): Frankly, the next entry on this list is more pertinent, but having the Horned Frogs follow their upcoming opponent makes organizational sense.

TCU has little-to-no chance of jumping Notre Dame. This past weekend’s 24-7 victory against Texas didn’t much help the cause. Sure, the Horned Frogs still have up-to-two top-10 games remaining, but the Irish have one themselves. If TCU wins both this weekend and in the Big 12 title game down the line, that will not likely be enough to make up for a lackluster schedule thus far.

Oklahoma differentiated itself from the rest of the Big 12 with its win at Ohio State in September.

But what about undefeated Wisconsin at No. 8? The 9-0 Badgers could finish 13-0 with only one win of value. Even with Iowa vaulting itself into the top-25 this week thanks to a blowout of the Buckeyes, Wisconsin beating the No. 20 Hawkeyes on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) will not impress much. And yes, presume that will happen. The Badgers are favored by 12 with an over/under of 46, a theoretical 29-17 final.

It is hard to fault Jonathan Taylor and Wisconsin for winning all their games in a major conference. (Getty Images)

The question Notre Dame must wonder: Will an undefeated Power Five conference champion really not make the Playoff? If both Oklahoma and Wisconsin win out, this answer will matter a great deal.

This space does not know this answer, but it will also not fault a team for winning every game on its schedule.

The question may not matter, but it is the question at hand.

Because no one else in the Big Ten can make a claim. Ohio State fell to No. 13 after the Hawkeyes raced to a 55-24 victory. Quarterback J.T. Barrett dashed his Heisman hopes with four interceptions. Meanwhile, Penn State dropped to No. 14 thanks to a 27-24 loss at Michigan State, boosting the Spartans to No. 12. This did the Irish two favors: It removed a CFP contender from the conversation and it made September’s win at Michigan State that much more impressive.

Then comes the SEC: No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama and the aforementioned No. 10 Auburn: If Georgia (9-0) and Alabama (9-0) keep winning until they meet in the SEC title game, presume both are in, no matter what Wisconsin worries may exist for others. Both face tests this weekend, though.

The Bulldogs are favored by 2.5 at Auburn, a 25-22 possibility on the horizon (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS). The Tide, meanwhile, heads to No. 16 Mississippi State expecting to cruise to a two-touchdown triumph (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

If either is upset, that alone will not end Playoff plans, but it would create for a lot more hypotheticals to be bantered about. Let’s cross that bridge if/when we get to it.

For thoroughness’ sake, No. 9 Washington (8-1): The Huskies need some sort of chaos ahead of them to expect a bid. For now, a 38-3 win vs. Oregon didn’t hurt, and neither would a 28-22 notch Friday night at Stanford (10:30 p.m. ET, FS1). Then again, Pac-12 road teams have fared terribly on Friday nights this season.


That covers Georgia, Michigan State and Miami — oh, right, Miami came in at No. 7 in the new poll thanks to its 28-10 victory over now-No. 17 Virginia Tech — and there was a mention of North Carolina State (now heading to Boston College for a 12 p.m. ET kickoff on either ESPN2 or ABC depending on your region) and Stanford (fell out of the poll thanks to a 24-21 defeat to now-No. 19 Washington State). That leaves one more of Notre Dame’s impactful opponents to be mentioned.

USC limited Khalil Tate to only 161 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

USC (8-2) rose to No. 11 in the poll, making the Trojans the second-ranked two-loss team, behind Auburn. A 49-35 win vs. Arizona might not have been expected to provide such a jump in the standings, but the committee clearly respects what the Wildcats have done since inserting sensation Khalil Tate at quarterback. USC, just like Georgia, Michigan State and Miami, still controls its own path to its conference title game. That path should not struggle with this weekend’s obstacle, a trip to Colorado (4 p.m. ET, FOX). Favored by nearly two touchdowns with an over/under of 63.5 would make for a 38-25 Trojan victory.

As for the rest of the Irish schedule:

Temple (4-5): The Owls won 34-26 against Navy on Thursday, and now head to Cincinnati for a Friday-night matchup (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Favored by 2.5 with an over/under of 47.5 creates a 25-22 distraction while you ready for a night on the town.

Boston College (5-4): The Eagles come off a bye with the aforementioned date with the Wolfpack as only three-point underdogs. There could be value there, now that North Carolina State’s ACC hopes were dashed by Clemson. Perhaps the Wolfpack will struggle and fall on the wrong side of a 28-25 result.

Miami (OH) (4-6): The RedHawks beat Akron 24-14 on Tuesday night, now readying for a meeting with Eastern Michigan next Wednesday. MACtion, it is the opiate of the midweek miserable.

North Carolina (1-8): The Tar Heels head to Pittsburgh on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) having had nearly two weeks to prepare in hopes of overcoming a 9.5-point spread in the Panthers favor. A 29-22 score is not a normal football score, and expecting North Carolina to keep it that close might be unreasonable.

Wake Forest (5-4): Can the Deacons secure bowl eligibility at Syracuse? The 3 p.m. ET kickoff, not nationally-televised, has no favorite, only an over/under of 63. A 32-31 nail-biter never hurt anyone.

Navy (5-3): After that loss to Temple, Navy seeks bowl eligibility vs. SMU (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network), despite being 4.5-point underdogs. SMU has snuck up on the general public this year, and just may do that to the Midshipmen, as well.

‘Focus, refocus’ approach applies to both Notre Dame’s defense and Kelly’s 100th game as Irish coach

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On the verge of his 100th game at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly’s description of his eighth season mirrors his plan to avoid another disappointing defensive showing as was displayed in the 48-37 Irish victory over Wake Forest on Saturday.

“It’s focus, refocus at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “I’m honored to have gotten the opportunity to coach 100 games. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever get a chance to coach one game at Notre Dame, so to think of 100, I can’t even wrap my arms around that.”

That “focus, refocus” approach played a role in Kelly rebooting the Irish this year, now standing at 8-1 less than a year removed from a dismal 4-8 season. Similarly, Miami finished a bland 9-4 last year but now has its eyes on the College Football Playoff with an 8-0 record to date. Were the changes between the two programs the same? Not specifically, but a few broad themes may apply to both.

“Fans could be more patient, I’m sure that’s not the answer you wanted,” Kelly said before offering a more sincere thought tying to player development and college football’s 85 scholarships restriction.

Such development begins during the week. Apparently that was the lacking piece for Notre Dame before hosting the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest set season highs for points against and yards allowed by the Irish.

“They didn’t find the key to unlock the secrets of the Elko defense,” Kelly said, referencing defensive coordinator Mike Elko. “There’s nothing like that.

“This is really about playing with the right intensity and the right mental approach to the game. We just didn’t prepare in the manner that we had prepared in the other weeks, and we’ll do that and we’ll need to do that moving forward.”

Kelly listed off a variety of distractions that played a part in the subpar preparation, including senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill having three engineering projects demanding late nights, immaturity not recognizing possible pitfalls, and perhaps too much comfort with a 41-16 lead on the scoreboard. He did not fault the No. 3 ranking in the initial College Football Playoff selection committee poll, but perhaps that was an underlying piece of the vague reference to immaturity.

Wake Forest not only scored 37 points against Notre Dame, but the Demon Deacons also gained 587 total yards.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“The external distractions, we’ve got those covered pretty good for our guys,” Kelly said. “It’s the internal distractions where they start thinking about, oh, maybe I don’t have to play quite as hard this week, maybe I don’t have to get all the nutrition and sleep I need this week.

“… The enemy is the distractions. The enemy isn’t the College Football Playoffs.”

Such a performance resulting in a victory serves as something of a win-win for Kelly and his staff. The “refocus” part of the equation would be more difficult if Notre Dame had lost or if there was little to point toward necessitating its need.

“We use [it as] great learning and teaching opportunities for our guys,” Kelly said.

Speaking of the Playoff poll …
The committee will release an updated version tonight (Tuesday) at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The exact rankings may not play into Kelly’s view of weekly preparations, but the fact that they matter at all is a valid piece of November readiness. Such could certainly be said for the Hurricanes, as well.

“I know our guys are excited about this championship drive that they are on now,” Kelly said. “This part of the season, obviously in November, all of the teams that are in contention are focused on one game at a time, and it’s single elimination for most teams.”

It will be single elimination Saturday at 8 p.m. ET (ABC). After tonight, it could be a top-five matchup, though certainly top-10. If offering a prediction, this space would posit the Irish will remain No. 3 while Miami jumps four spots to No. 6. In many respects, that latter landing will not matter. If the Hurricanes win this weekend, they will find themselves in excellent playoff positioning pending an ACC title game victory.

Editor’s Note: The weekly “Notre Dame’s Opponents” piece moved to Wednesday this week to incorporate a CFP focus, but it should be noted Miami (OH) lost 45-28 a week ago at Ohio and will host Akron tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) as 6.5-point favorites with a combined point total over/under of 51, hinting at a 29-22 final.

Injury updates
Kelly had largely good news regarding Irish injuries. He has “no concerns” about the readiness or physical stature of junior running back Josh Adams (“not himself”) or junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush (left hand).

Junior tight end Alizé Mack (concussion) will return to practice today, ready to go for the weekend, and junior running back Dexter Williams (quad contusion, lingering sprained ankle) showed some signs of his trademark explosiveness in the weight room Monday.

Fifth-year receiver Cam Smith remains questionable after further imaging of his hamstring. He will test it in practice to see if he can reach full go.