On a relatively quiet Saturday in November, a Notre Dame-Syracuse rumble in the Bronx could cause drastic rewrites to the College Football Playoff narrative.
Many College Football Playoff contenders are using the third weekend in November for a tune-up game, as this Saturday will feature 15 teams ranked in the CFP’s Top 25 going up against competition at .500 or worse. A rare exception will come in The Bronx, as third-ranked Notre Dame takes on #12 Syracuse in a mid-afternoon showdown of enormous importance (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (10-0) perhaps have the most to lose this weekend. One of four undefeated teams left on the Football Bowl Subdivision level, the Irish have an inside track on their competition, as their independent status allows them to avoid a conference championship game challenge that awaits fellow unbeaten brethren like Alabama and Clemson, the only teams ahead of them.
As a result, a win on Saturday, as well as one more against the floundering USC Trojans next week, would clinch their first-ever Playoff trip, giving them a chance to play for the proud program’s first national title since 1988.
Standing in their way are the resurgent Orange (8-2), a team in the midst of run denied to them over decades.
November is usually a time for the Carrier Dome faithful to celebrate the return of college basketball, but, this season, Syracuse may very well be the hottest pigskin commodity with the New York labeling attached to them. With 54-23 a win over Louisville last Friday night, the Orange clinched their best ACC record (5-2) since joining the power football grouping in 2013.
While an Atlantic Division title is out of the question, as the aforementioned Clemson Tigers clinched last week, the Orange still have plenty to play for. A win over the nationally adored Irish can only secure them a more prestigious bowl game, and the program has not won nine games since a 1997 Big East championship season ended in the Fiesta Bowl.
Seasons So Far
Notre Dame (10-0)
For all the claims of Notre Dame bias, the Irish will have truly earned their perfection should they pull off victories in the final two games. Syracuse will be the fourth team to be ranked at the time of their meeting with the Irish, who have also defeated Michigan, currently fourth in the CFP rankings, in their season opener back in September. Other fallen ranked foes include Stanford and Virginia Tech in back-to-back weeks, while wins over Pittsburgh and Northwestern have aged well with each team currently leading their respective divisions.
Notre Dame has already earned consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since 1991-93. The team’s 11 straight wins, including a Citrus Bowl victory over LSU on New Year’s Day, make up the third-longest winning streak in the nation, behind UCF (22) and Alabama (12).
Syracuse (8-2, 5-2)
Enjoying their most prosperous ACC run by far, Syracuse has enjoyed several high-profile wins, each setting a new landmark in their football journey. For example, a 30-7 win over Florida State was the Orange’s first victory over the Seminoles since 1966. That win was followed up several weeks later by a win at home over the ranked North Carolina State Wolfpack at the Carrier Dome. The win was Syracuse’s sixth of the season, making them bowl-eligible for the first time since 2013. The win over Louisville allowed them to secure their first undefeated home slate since 2001.
With losses at Syracuse now heartbreaking for all the right reasons, the Orange’s couple of losses each came against the current ACC division leaders everything they could handle in back-to-back weekends. They took current #2 Clemson to the brink on the road on September 29, falling 27-23 thanks to the Tigers’ game-winning drive in the fourth, before bowing in overtime to Pittsburgh in a 44-37 overtime thriller the week after.
This will be the ninth meeting between the two teams, with the Fighting Irish holding a 5-3 advantage. The last meeting came in 2016 at the Carrier Dome, a 50-33 Irish victory. Notre Dame Quarterback DeShone Kizer threw for 471 yards and three touchdowns, with 182 of the yards going to Equanimeous St. Brown. Future New York Giants practice squad receiver Amba Etta-Tawo countered with 134 yards and a score in defeat.
This won’t be the first time the Irish and Orange square off in an athletic cathedral of the tri-state area. In 1963, Syracuse closed out an 8-2 season with a 14-7 win over the Irish at Yankee Stadium’s first incarnation. Over five decades later, then-#8 Notre Dame would earn a 31-15 victory, a game that saw Irish quarterback Everett Golson complete 25 consecutive passes, a school record.
Players to Watch
QB Ian Book–Notre Dame’s offense has reached a whole new level under the junior Book, who took over starting duties in late September. He has personified the Irish’s balanced offensive philosophies in 2018, picking up 2,142 yards of offense through both the air and ground. It’ll be interesting to see if Book is at full strength, as a rib injury kept him out of the Irish’s win over Florida State last week.
RB Dexter Williams–The senior rusher has been one of the more inspiring stories of the college football season, overcoming an early-season suspension for a marijuana arrest and the terminal illness of his mother to become a late-blooming NFL prospect. Seen as undersized entering the season, Williams has earned at least 100 yards in four of his past six games, including a career-high 202 in the 42-13 win over the Seminoles last week.
QB Eric Dungey–It feels like Dungey has been the Orange’s quarterback since the Stone Age, but with the senior’s tenure finally set to end, it’d be great to go out with a bang. Known for his injury woes, Dungey has nonetheless built one of the most prolific careers in Syracuse history, ranking at or near the top of every major passing category.
WR Jamal Custis–One of the biggest concerns entering the year for the Orange was that a majority of their aerial attack departed, with outgoing receivers Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips taking over 2,000 yards of offense with them. But Custis has risen to the occasion when the team has needed it most, averaging just under 18 yards a reception and leading the team with 748 yards.
Football at the Stadium
This will be the 14th football game held in the new stadium’s history. Notre Dame and Syracuse are not strangers to The Bronx, as each has visited on separate occasions.
Though taking place in Syracuse’s state, this will serve as a home game for Notre Dame, as the game is the latest edition of the “Shamrock Series”. Originated in 2009, the Shamrock Series has been used as a recruitment tool for both the school and the football program, as the Irish have descended on different cities across the nation. Returning after a one-year hiatus, the Shamrock Series has previously visited the San Antonio, Washington DC, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, and Boston areas.
This will be the second time that it has arrived in The Bronx, as the Irish defeated Army by a 27-3 final in 2010. Notre Dame, who will wear special Yankees-themed jersey’s for Saturday’s game, is 2-0 at Yankee Stadium overall, having also won the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers. Notre Dame is 8-0 in Shamrock Series games thus far.
Syracuse is likewise 2-0, with both victories coming in the postseason Pinstripe Bowl game. Just over a month after the Irish defeated the Black Knights in 2010, the Orange took on the Kansas State Wildcats in the bowl’s inaugural occurrence. Energized by three touchdown passes from another future Giants reserve, Ryan Nassib, as well as 198 yards and two scores from running back Delone Carter, the Orange stole a 36-34 decision, perhaps aided by a controversial excessive celebration penalty called after the Wildcats’ final score.
Two years later, future Giants backups squared off, as Nassib and the Orange took on Geno Smith and West Virginia. The Orange again used a strong run game to their advantage, tallying 369 yards on the snowy turf, coasting to a 38-14 victory.
Future football games at Yankee Stadium include the eighth annual Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27 and an Ivy League showdown between Dartmouth and Princeton in November 2019.