- Notre Dame has played in other games like this weekend's—facing a top-10 team as a team ranked in the top 10 itself—but hasn't won such a contest in five years. The Irish will try to buck that trend against the Hurricanes.
When Notre Dame travels to Miami this weekend, it’ll be the first time the Irish face a top-10 team while also ranked in the top 10 since the Fiesta Bowl after the 2015 season, a 44-28 loss to Ohio State. It’ll be the first regular-season matchup of two top-10 teams featuring Notre Dame since Oct. 18, 2014, when it lost to Florida State, 31-27.
And if the Irish pull off the win against the Hurricanes, it’ll be the first time they, as a top-10 team, will have beaten another top-10 opponent since Oct. 27, 2012. That night, No. 5 Notre Dame traveled to No. 8 Oklahoma, winning 30-13 en route to a national title game berth. All this is to say: The Irish have faced such stakes as this weekend in recent seasons, but it’s been five years since they’ve won such a game.
There’s more on the line for Notre Dame Saturday in South Florida than there is for Miami, which remains undefeated and is ranked No. 7. The Irish, meanwhile, are 8-1 and No. 3 in the second week of the College Football Playoff rankings. Miami’s schedule hasn’t been the toughest this year, but there’s still a possibility for a one-loss Hurricanes team making it into the playoff. Notre Dame with two losses? Probably not, barring some major meltdowns elsewhere across the top 10; currently, No. 10 Auburn is the only two-loss team among the group.
Key to Notre Dame’s chances this weekend is quarterback Brandon Wimbush, the junior with a big arm who’s in his first year as a starter. Wimbush has spent much of this season in the shadow of Heisman-contending running back Josh Adams, but against Miami, his play will loom large. Adams, who only played a quarter last week against Wake Forest, will more than likely be back at full strength against Miami; he’d been beaten down in recent weeks, and it made sense for the Irish to spell him last Saturday in what was a relatively one-sided win. With Adams almost a given to rack up 100-plus yards, Wimbush’s play may be what tips the scales in Notre Dame’s favor.
According to ESPN, Wimbush is the only quarterback this season to post a QBR of 90 or higher while completing half of his passes or fewer. He’s done it twice in 2017, including last week against Wake Forest, when his 94.6 QBR was second-best among all Power Five quarterbacks. The key to that rating is Wimbush’s ability to connect on long passes and his running skills; last week, he rushed for 110 yards while throwing for 280 on just 15 completions. That’s an average of 18.7 yards per completion. And despite not having the highest completion percentages game in and game out, Wimbush has done well in terms of throwing the ball to his own teammates, racking up just two interceptions through eight games and 200 pass attempts.
Last week against Virginia Tech, Miami’s quarterback play was inconsistent at best. Malik Rosier threw three interceptions, creating opportunities the Hokies mostly squandered. If the Irish defense can better capitalize on Miami’s mistakes and Wimbush is as careful with the ball as he always is, the odds should be stacked in Notre Dame’s favor. And should they win, the Irish look more and more like they might cruise to a playoff spot with games remaining against Navy and Stanford—two good teams that have proven inconsistent this year.