On Saturday, this year’s 8-2 Cuse will again do battle with Notre Dame in the Bronx. However, the current Irish team is sitting at 10-0 and is No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, making the stakes considerably higher than they were 55 years ago. While Notre Dame is eyeing a national semifinal berth, Syracuse has New Year’s Six Bowl hopes which will only be attained with a win on Saturday coupled with a victory in the season finale over Boston College.
Notre Dame leads the all-time series 5-3 with the most recent victory coming in 2016.
Syracuse vs. Notre Dame (Bronx, N.Y.)
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Yankee Stadium (Bronx, N.Y.)
Spread: Notre Dame -10
Three Things to Watch
1. The return of Ian Book
Notre Dame won easily over Florida State with Brandon Wimbush at quarterback. But head coach Brian Kelly has to be happy that Book is able to return to face the Orange. The sophomore currently leads the nation with a 74.5 percent completion rate and despite scoring 42 points against the Seminoles, the Irish had issues moving the ball in the second half until running back Dexter Williams got rolling late in the third quarter and into the final period. The Syracuse defensive ends can bring pressure, so Book will have to get the ball out to his receivers quickly, something he has done well all season long.
2. Syracuse tempo
The Notre Dame defense has been solid all season, but will have to deal with a Syracuse team that moves very fast on offense. The Orange rank fourth nationally with 822 plays, a rate that is actually down a bit from last year’s pace. Interestingly, the Irish do have some experience dealing with an up-tempo offense as earlier this season Notre Dame faced the team ranked just above Syracuse in the total plays department, Wake Forest. Notre Dame did a decent job that day defending the Demon Deacons, but they did allow 259 rushing yards and led by veteran quarterback Eric Dungey, the Syracuse offense is more potent than Wake’s.
3. Big plays both ways
Syracuse defensive ends Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman have combined for 16 sacks and 24 tackles for lost yardage this season. Their pressure has been a key factor in the Cuse’s 25 forced turnovers and the Orange's plus-13 turnover margin is a big reason why Dino Babers’ group is No. 12 in the College Football Playoff rankings. But when they don’t create pressure, the Orange have given up big plays defensively. Their 55 plays of over 20 yards allowed ties them for 100th nationally and their 19 plays allowed of over 40 yards places them 120th. Notre Dame is capable of hitting on big plays, both with Williams in the running game and with their big receivers outside. When Syracuse has had the ball, they have been adept at hitting home runs in both the running and passing games. But Notre Dame is among the nation’s best at limiting big chunks of yardage.
It’s been a pretty mundane November in terms of the College Football Playoff top 10. Those that have been expected to win have won and with a schedule that doesn’t present many upset opportunities this week, Syracuse is the biggest threat to shake up the rankings. The Orange offense is humming and their ground game has been on fire the past two weeks. In the two games prior to the wins over Wake Forest and Louisville, when the rushing attack struggled, Syracuse quarterbacks Eric Dungey and Tommy DeVito combined to throw for more than 400 yards in each contest.
Notre Dame comes in knowing what two more victories will mean. The Irish defensive front has to win on first and second down to get Syracuse off schedule and though they probably won’t totally shut down the Orange offense, they hope to slow it just enough. That’s because the Irish offense, if they protect Ian Book and stay clear of turnovers, should be able to score plenty of points. In an offensive showcase, Notre Dame edges out a win and keeps on the playoff track.
Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Syracuse 35
— 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.