Notre Dame wasn’t forecast as a national title contender but the No. 10 Fighting Irish are suddenly knocking on that door as they enter Saturday’s home contest against No. 15 North Carolina State. Notre Dame was unranked to start the season after going 4-8 last year but is now part of the College Football Playoff discussion after five straight victories by 20 or more points.
Irish coach Brian Kelly endured an offseason of reflection, brought in Mike Elko from Wake Forest to be defensive coordinator and now a run-based offense is overpowering opponents but there is no margin for error with one loss already on the ledger. “Every game we play is a playoff game. Our guys don’t know it any other way,” Kelly said in a press conference. “Everybody else seems to have caught on with this idea that Notre Dame is playing for a playoff spot. We don’t have anything else to play for. That’s what we play for.” North Carolina State is thriving as well with six consecutive victories and it features one of the nation’s top defensive players in senior end Bradley Chubb, who ranks second nationally with 14 tackles for loss. “It’s been three long years, and a lot of heartbreak,” Chubb said of a program ranked among the Top 20 teams for the first time since 2003. “It’s about keeping fighting. Me and this program have a lot in common. We’ve been through a lot to get where we are.”
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, ESPN. LINE: Notre Dame -7.5
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA STATE (6-1): Senior Ryan Finley is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation with a 69.4 completion percentage, 11 touchdown passes and not a single interception in 248 attempts. Junior running back Nyheim Hines (648 yards) has strung together three straight 100-yard outings, while sophomore receiver Kelvin Harmon (547 yards on 36 receptions) is the first Wolf Pack player with four 100-yard performances in a season since Jerricho Cotchery (seven in 2003). Chubb has a team-best 6.5 sacks -- he ranks fourth in school history with 22.5 -- and ranks second in program history with 48 tackles for loss while being the prime reason North Carolina State ranks sixth in rushing defense (91.3 yards per game).
ABOUT NOTRE DAME (6-1): The Irish rank sixth nationally in rushing offense (317.9) with run-based junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush (508 yards, 10 touchdowns) and junior running back Josh Adams (967 yards, eight scores, 9.2 average) leading the way. Adams racked up 191 yards in last Saturday’s 49-14 beat down of USC to forge his name into Heisman Trophy contention and Kelly said, “maybe everyone should just wait until the end of the year and vote for the Heisman.” Notre Dame ranks 12th in scoring defense (16.4) and has forced 17 turnovers with junior linebacker Te‘von Coney leading the team with 53 tackles after piling up 11 stops along with a sack and forced fumble against USC.
1. North Carolina State is 2-0 all-time against Notre Dame, posting a 10-3 victory last season in a rain-soaked home game and also prevailing in the Gator Bowl following the 2002 season behind standout QB Philip Rivers.
2. Fighting Irish senior LB Greer Martini (knee) said he is recovered from meniscus surgery and will return to action on Saturday.
3. Wolf Pack senior WR Jaylen Samuels ranks third in school history with 180 receptions, trailing only Torry Holt (191 from 1995-98) and Cotchery (200 from 2000-03).
PREDICTION: Notre Dame 26, North Carolina State 21