When the first College Football Playoff Rankings were revealed in 2015, Notre Dame came in at No. 5 and climbed one spot the following week. But the Irish had a less-than-inspiring performance against Wake Forest on Nov. 14, and though they remained at No. 4 the following week, it began a trend that saw the Irish stumble down the stretch.
Two years later, Notre Dame enters November at No. 3, and the Demon Deacons are once again coming to town. However, this year’s version of the Fighting Irish looks much different than that of 2015. Two years ago, ND struggled to get past teams like Temple and Virginia and even had some tense moments early on against woeful UMass. The 2017 Irish have dominated each opponent, save for the nation’s top-ranked team (the Irish lost to Georgia 20–19). However, the group from Winston-Salem is better this year as well, standing at 5-3 after a victory over Louisville.
Wake Forest at Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Notre Dame -13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Wake Forest front seven vs. Notre Dame offensive line
Wake's Duke Ejiofor is one of the most disruptive linemen in America, ranking high in both sacks and tackles for lost yardage. He is aided by linebackers Jaboree Williams and Grant Dawson, both of whom can make plays. The Demon Deacons are tops in America in tackles for lost yardage and are 24th in sacks. But they are also 89th in rushing defense, and they will be going against arguably the best offensive line in the land. Irish running back Josh Adams is now in the Heisman conversation due in large part to the guys in front of him. After Adams erupted for 318 rushing yards in a 35–14 win over NC State against what was the nation's No. 6 rushing defense last week, the team's confidence in its ground game is understandably high.
2. Who will catch John Wolford's passes?
The senior (above, right) from Jacksonville, Florida, had a huge game against Louisville, completing 28-of-34 for 461 yards and five touchdowns in a 42–32 win. A big part of the passing outburst came on throws to Greg Dortch, who hauled in 10 of those passes with four resulting in touchdowns. But during the game, the redshirt freshman suffered an abdominal injury that required surgery, and he will be lost for the season. Dortch was second in theACC in both receptions and yards while topping the charts with nine scoring catches. The next-leading Wake receiver is Tabari Hines with only 18 catches. Sophomore Scottie Washington did grab six passes for 133 yards last Saturday and will need to pick up a lot of the slack going forward.
3. Red zone conversions
The Irish have been one of the most efficient red zone teams in America, especially when Brandon Wimbush has been at quarterback. They have failed to score only three times on 33 red zone chances, and two of those came when ND chose to take a knee to end games against North Carolinaand NC State. But Wake Forest has a rugged red zone defense that has allowed touchdowns on just 50 percent of their opponents’ trips inside the 20. Like the Irish, the Deacs' offense is 30-of-33 on its red zone chances, though Wake has had to settle for field goals far more often. Wake Forest will not upset the Irish three points at a time.
Coming off big wins over USC and NC State and with unbeaten Miami up next, this is the textbook trap situation for Notre Dame. Plus, the Demon Deacons don’t carry a heavyweight brand but are just good enough to hurt an opponent. But Notre Dame has had no letdowns at any point this season; the loss of Dortch is a huge blow to the Wake offense; and the Demon Deacons run defense will have trouble stopping the ND ground game. Wake Forest will need Irish help to win this game, something Notre Dame has not given other teams so far this season. In what will likely be a close game early, Notre Dame will wear down Wake Forest in the second half to put the game away.
Prediction: Notre Dame 37, Wake Forest 20
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.