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Carson: ND has chance to make statement

| Friday, October 30, 2015

ESPN’s College GameDay is headed to Philadelphia on Saturday, as Temple is set to host the biggest game on the college football slate this weekend.

Wait, what?

In a situation that seemed nearly impossible two months ago, No. 21 Temple has run off seven straight wins to open its season — and welcomes No. 9 Notre Dame to Philadelphia in the week’s only matchup between two top-25 squads.

It gives the Irish (6-1), in desperate need of a big win, the chance to impress before Tuesday’s release of the first College Football Playoff rankings.

What once looked like a strong first-half schedule for Notre Dame quickly slid away. Georgia Tech and USC were supposed to be opportunities for signature wins, while Texas and Virginia were expected to be at least a little better than the 3-4 and 2-5 football teams they are.

The fact the Irish lost to No. 3 Clemson? Meaningless.

That’s the message the selection committee gave last year after Notre Dame’s loss to defending national champion, Florida State, and it’s the same message Irish fans should expect to hear from the committee Tuesday. Despite sitting sixth in the AP poll last year in the last week of October, the committee slotted Notre Dame 10th in their initial rankings, citing the team’s lack of quality wins to that point — making no consideration to the last-minute loss to the team they placed No. 2.

To this point, the Irish have a similar résumé, and if the committee ranked teams this week, should have expected to see themselves behind schools like No. 10 Iowa, with three victories over six-win squads, No. 11 Florida, who beat No. 19 Mississippi, and even No. 13 Utah, who has a solid win over No. 15 Michigan to its name.

But, of course, the committee didn’t rank teams this week — and that’s where the opportunity comes in for the Irish.

Let’s look through the rest of the AP poll’s top 10 this weekend.

No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Baylor, No. 4 LSU, No. 6 Michigan State and No. 7 Alabama are all on byes this week, while No. 5 TCU got its contest with West Virginia out of the way last night.

It paves the way for nothing to stand between America and the big showdown in Philadelphia on Saturday night.

A year ago, eventual national champion Ohio State entered the College Football Playoff rankings on Nov. 16.

How’d the Buckeyes get to the fourth seed in the inaugural bracket? It wasn’t by beating a slew of top-ranked teams — a win over Michigan State aside — but rather by simply looking impressive on the schedule against the teams they had to play.

There’s no reason Notre Dame can’t do the same thing to sneak into the fourth and final spot.

While the Pac-12 would likely be taken care of with a win over Stanford on Nov. 28, it’s looking less and less likely Notre Dame would be among one of four one-loss or unbeaten teams at the end of the year — the conference champions from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC should all be in the mix.

So I’d say it’s unlikely the Irish get into the playoff by default. And that’s why just winning isn’t going to cut it.

Look, Temple does a lot of things well. The Owls run the ball decently and play exceptional defense for the caliber of teams they’ve gone up against.

But a 6-2 Penn State team represents the best competition Temple has faced this season and, quite frankly, Notre Dame competes on another level right now than the Nittany Lions. This is an Irish team that’s set to put a slew of talent into April’s NFL Draft and one that knows its window to seriously compete might close at the end of the year.

Look across the two teams’ starting lineups, and compare Notre Dame’s personnel with Temple’s. It’ll paint a pretty good indicator of what the Irish can do Saturday: dominate.

Notre Dame’s going to trot a team out on the field that’s, simply put, better than a good Temple team’s.

Emotions will run high in Philadelphia on Saturday — after all, it’s one of the biggest games in Temple program history — but there’s no reason the Irish can’t take care of business.

It’s a big opportunity to impress the committee.

What will the Irish give Condoleezza Rice, Tyrone Willingham and the rest of the 13 members to consider?

A comfortable win would give Notre Dame the boost it needs to solidify itself in the midst of the discussion.

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

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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