This Saturday, for the 25th time, the only two Catholic institutions that play FBS football will meet up when Boston College travels to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are riding a couple of streaks into this game, winning three in a row this season and with six consecutive victories over the Eagles.
At No. 16 in the current College Football Playoff rankings, Notre Dame (8-2) faces an uphill battle in trying to make a New Year’s Six bowl. But with struggling Stanford on the schedule after the meeting with Boston College, 10 wins is a strong possibility, especially considering that the Irish are playing their best football of the season.
Meanwhile, the Eagles have lost four of their last six and stand at 5-5. Just one win shy of bowl eligibility, Boston College closes the regular season with a tough game at Pittsburgh following the trip to South Bend.
Boston College at Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Notre Dame -19
When Boston College Has the Ball
When starting quarterback Anthony Brown was lost for the season with an injured knee and was replaced by former walk-on Dennis Grosel, most expected the Eagles' passing attack to wither and die. While Grosel has completed fewer than half of his passes, he has improved dramatically with more reps. Grosel has connected on 28-of-39 attempts for 422 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception in his two most recent games.
Of course, Boston College is still a team built around its running game. AJ Dillon is having a monster year and is third in the nation with 1,451 yards. But he has had help, as David Bailey has logged 760 yards of his own. Both are big, bruising backs who will wear down opposing defenses during the course of a game, and they are facing an Irish unit that has been up and down against the run this year.
For the most part, the Notre Dame pass defense has been solid all year. But the inconsistency against the run has been maddening. The Irish were respectable against Georgia and totally shut down Virginia the following week. But Louisville and New Mexico both went for 200-plus yards in the season’s first two games, and Michigan ran for 303 during their domination in the Ann Arbor rain. Notre Dame will have to load the box and force Grosel to beat them throwing the ball.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
Last week’s offensive onslaught against Navy was nearly perfect. The Irish put up 38 points in the first half and could have scored a lot more than the 52 that was on the scoreboard at game's end. Ian Book was fabulous, and Chase Claypool tied the Notre Dame record with four touchdown receptions in one game. But it wasn’t a completely perfect outing.
A bigger, stronger Notre Dame team was unable to physically push Navy around at the line of scrimmage. The Irish rushed for just 105 yards and averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. Book was the main reason for the Irish gashing Duke for 288 yards on the ground, and if you take that out of the equation, the Notre Dame backs have not had much success running the ball since the win over USC.
But that’s not how you want to attack Boston College anyway. NC State is the only team the Eagles have played that has completed fewer than 61 percent of its passes, and seven of the 10 opponents have had a 67 percent completion rate or better. Furthermore, Boston College ranks near the bottom nationally in allowing pass plays of over 10, 20, 50, and 60 yards. So expect the Irish to come out throwing, testing the Eagles downfield with Claypool and speedster Braden Lenzy.
Notre Dame knows that if it can slow down AJ Dillon and David Bailey, it will win this game. It really is that simple. Notre Dame has enough athletes to make things difficult for Dennis Grosel, and the Irish secondary can out-skill the Eagles' receivers. On the other side of the ball, Boston College does not pressure the quarterback well and gets burned by big plays in the passing game, so Ian Book should have time, and he has the weapons to make the Eagles pay. Points should not be a problem for the Irish, assuming they can get Dillon and Bailey off the field. Boston College will churn out some long drives, but Notre Dame will make enough stops to control this game.
Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Boston College 20
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.