Notre Dame-Clemson Watch: Week 9

Herb Gould

Days Remaining until Clemson at Notre Dame: Nine

This Week’s Games:

@ No. 4 Notre Dame (5-0) at Georgia Tech (2-4), 2:30 p.m., ABC

@ Boston College (4-2) at No. 1 Clemson (6-0), 11 a.m., ABC

It was being billed as the non conference game of the season. But now that Notre Dame has taken shelter from the Covid-19 storm in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Clemson’s trip to Notre Dame on Nov. 7 becomes among the best conference games of the season.

Each week will provide a little more insight into how that critical matchup is likely to play out.

Here’s a look at where Notre Dame and Clemson stand as ND heads to Georgia Tech and the Tigers get ready for Boston College.

@ Irish Outlook: A week ago, there was a lot of consternation about how good Notre Dame was—despite its unbeaten record and its No. 3 ranking.

So what happened? The Irish pounded Pittsburgh 45-3.

And dropped to No. 4.

Talk about disrespect.

I don’t know who should feel more insulted—Notre Dame or Pitt.

But seriously, as the comedians say, the Irish were dropped a notch in both the AP and coaches’ polls to make room at the top for Ohio State, which is a playoff best bet along with Clemson and Alabama. If any of those three stumble, it will be a big surprise.

Notre Dame is on the semi-short list of candidates for that fourth playoff slot. An unbeaten Oklahoma State would be problematic for a one-loss ND, but that’s a long way off. So is an SEC (Alabama and Georgia) double play. And Brian Kelly’s former school, Cincinnati, will be lobbying hard if it runs the table.

But we’re here to talk about ND, which could have a case if it manages a split with Clemson, when the Tigers come to South Bend in nine days and a possible rematch in the ACC championship game.

The rout of Pitt was a positive sign. The defense played a very stout game, although it was snuffing an anemic Panthers offense and will need a better pass rush against Trevor Lawrence.

Ian Book answered critics by showing a vertical game, including touchdown tosses of 34 and 73 yards to Northwestern transfer Ben Skowronek (shown above), who’s finally fitting in after an early hamstring setback. And freshman tight end Michael Mayer, who answers to the nickname `Baby Gronk,’ continues to look like he’ll be coveted by teams that play on Sunday after his ND tenure. Book is still looking, though, for a speedy separation receiver.

That said, Clemson remains a tough matchup for anybody, including some teams that play on Sunday.

@ Clemson Outlook: The Tigers only led lowly Syracuse 27-21 late in the third quarter before putting up a three touchdowns for a 47-21 win. But Dabo Swinney didn’t like all the negative questions after a 26-point win.

``I just want to make sure I'm at the right press conference here,’’ he said. ``We made some mistakes. Just didn't execute, but at the end of the day, it's not easy to win. We won the game by almost four touchdowns. You're not going to get any negative stuff from me.’’

That’s how high the bar is set at Clemson.

The Tigers, by the way, whaled on Georgia Tech 73-7 a week earlier. That’s going to be a tough comparison to match for Notre Dame.

One more week. And then the college football world will find out if Clemson-Notre Dame can live up to its sky-high buildup. And ND will find out how wide the recruiting gap is.