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Green: Notre Dame’s season is on the line (Nov. 7)

| Friday, November 7, 2014

Irish senior tight end Ben Koyack celebrates his first-quarter touchdown reception in Notre Dame’s 49-39 win over Navy on Saturday night at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.JODI LO | The Observer
Irish senior tight end Ben Koyack celebrates his first-quarter touchdown reception in Notre Dame’s 49-39 win over Navy on Saturday night at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.

Saturday’s matchup against Arizona State will be Notre Dame’s biggest and best opportunity to make a statement this season.

However, it will be up to the Irish to determine which type of statement they make to future opponents, fans nationwide and, perhaps most importantly, the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Every team in America can say it doesn’t pay attention to the rankings, but those rankings still control whether a team makes it into the playoff and has a chance to contend for a national championship, and Notre Dame is no exception.

That’s why this week is so important. 

The Irish have won all the games they were supposed to win, outscoring opponents 256-142 in victories. The defense has posted a shutout, the offense has posted more than one blowout, and Vegas has posted that Everett Golson currently has the fourth-best odds of winning the Heisman Trophy.

That’s not bad for a defense that lost seven starters, an offense that is heavily reliant on previously inexperienced sophomores and a quarterback who didn’t take a single snap last season.

Not many people gave Notre Dame a serious shot at beating Florida State, especially at the beginning of the season. In the end, the Irish walked away with their first and only loss of the season thus far. 

But to anyone who watched, the game was as close as you could come to a victory without actually placing another tally in the win column. It was as quality a loss as any other team in contention for the playoff has had all season.

So why is Notre Dame ranked No. 10 in the country, behind seven other one-loss teams?

For starters, its strength of schedule isn’t as difficult as it seemed before. Unfortunately for the Irish, opponents who once seemed formidable — such as Stanford and Michigan — have faded into mediocrity.

The defense has given up a lot of points lately. Notre Dame didn’t surrender more than 17 points in any of its first five games, but since facing North Carolina in mid-October, the team has let opponents score at least 31 points in three consecutive games, including yields of 43 and 39 points.

On a similar note, the Irish have shown their tendency to play to the level and style of their opponents in those last three games, which has both helped and hurt them.

North Carolina was a shootout. Florida State was considered by some to be the best game of the college football season so far. Navy should not have been as close as it was, and as a result, the Irish fell down two spots in the AP poll to No. 8 and were jumped by Arizona State in the College Football Playoff rankings.

And now, at a most convenient time, Arizona State welcomes Notre Dame to Sun Devil Stadium. It’s the spark the Irish need to revive a dull patch in their season and rocket them closer to those coveted four spots in the rankings.

If the Irish play to the level of the Sun Devils, this top-10 matchup will be everything viewers could hope for, with two highly potent offenses led by dynamic quarterbacks and talented receivers facing one another.

A win would shoot Notre Dame closer to the top. It would undoubtedly pass Arizona State and could leapfrog at least one other team, since the victory would be against the country’s No. 9 squad.

However, a loss would signal the end of any hopes Notre Dame has of making the playoff. Yes, Arizona State is a quality opponent, so the loss would not be a crazy upset, but it is difficult to imagine a two-loss team outside the SEC West playing for a championship, at least at this point in the season.

A win could make the season. A loss would break it.

The Irish season is on the line, and their fate lies in their hands only. It’s time for them to show us if they’re championship material or not.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Mary Green

Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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