SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Saturdays matter most. Realignment should never be discussed during the season. Giving up on a fall just because a few losses cost a Playoff chance overlooks the beauty of this sport. Again, Saturdays matter most. There are only 12 of them guaranteed each year.
But as Notre Dame (5-3) readies to face No. 4 Clemson (8-0), once again unbeaten and on track for a Playoff berth after that oh-so-disastrous 2021 season ended with merely 10 wins, it is worth pointing out this week how well the ACC partnership continues to work for Irish football.
Notre Dame has two impressive wins thus far this season, not just because it has only five wins total, but also because it has played just three teams still looking like worthwhile opponents entering November. Two of them came from the ACC, No. 17 North Carolina and No. 20 Syracuse. Tonight’s matchup with Clemson (7:30 ET; NBC) will provide the Irish another chance at a standout win.
As of this week, five Notre Dame opponents are in the top 20. That exact cutoff is obviously a bit arbitrary, the true reality of college football being that there is often little difference between the No. 16 team and whoever would be considered the No. 40, but if sticking to that arbitrary guideline, only one other team plays a full quarter of the Playoff rankings’ top 20. Consider this a pause to guess that team … … … Auburn.
Next offseason, when someone on whatever social media platform fills the coming void insists the Irish never play a strong schedule, just ignore it. The ACC partnership adds enough heft to Notre Dame’s usual barnstorming to rival any conference slate.
27: The Irish have won 27 straight regular-season games against ACC opponents, dating back to the 2016 debacle.
16: Notre Dame has the longest November winning streak in the country at 16, not losing in the final month of the regular season since 2017’s finale.
186.63: The Irish average 186.63 rushing yards per game, No. 39 in the country.
87.88: Clemson gives up 87.88 rushing yards per game, No. 7 in the country.
97.44 percent: The Tigers have scored on all but one of their red-zone possessions this season, going 38-of-39 from inside the 20-yard line, with 28 touchdowns. That rate of 97.44 percent ranks No. 3 in the country.
5.02 points: Clemson scores 5.02 points per quality possession, No. 12 in the country. Any possession with a first down inside the plus-40 yard line or with a touchdown scored from further than that is considered a quality possession.
100 percent: Opponents have scored on 100 percent of their red-zone possessions against Notre Dame, going 20-for-20 with 17 touchdowns.
2.80 points: But the Irish keep those red-zone possessions to a minimum. Only 20 of them ranks No. 14 in the country, and on the rest of its opponents’ quality possessions, the Notre Dame defense stands up, giving up 2.80 points on average, ranking No. 7 in the country.
3.5 points: As of very early Saturday morning, the Tigers are favored by 3.5 points.
44 points: And the combined point total Over/Under is set at 44 points.
32: Irish junior tight end Michael Mayer has a catch in all 32 of his career games. It could be 33 if a hip abductor strain had not sidelined him against Virginia last season.
15: Mayer has 15 career touchdown catches, tied for the Notre Dame record for tight ends. One more will give Mayer every season and career receiving record for Irish tight ends.
23: A stat correction last week gave Notre Dame senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey an additional half a sack, raising his career tally to 23, just 1.5 sacks from tying Justin Tuck’s career record at Notre Dame.
7.5: Foskey is second in the country with 7.5 sacks this season, a good ways off pace to breaking Tuck’s single-season record of 13.5.