At 3:30 today in South Bend, Indiana, your Wake Forest Demon Deacon football team takes on the Fighting Irish, the team with the highest winning percentage in the history of college football, the team that has sent more players to the NFL than any other college program, produced the most Heisman trophy winners, had only 13 losing seasons in its 126 year history. This is a big one.
As it stands right now, Notre Dame is 8-1, sitting at 4th in the college football playoff rankings. If the season ended today, they'd join Ohio State, Alabama, and Clemson in that playoff. Standing between them and their first playoff berth today is Wake Forest, at 3-6 on the season. Wake has some positives and negatives in coach Dave Clawson's second season with the team. The Deacs are tied for 40th in scoring defense on the season and have shown NFL caliber talent at linebacker, punter, and serious improvement at skill positions on offense. They've played teams like Florida State close, and also seen some blowouts (116th-ranked scoring offense will do that to you).
Of note, Notre Dame could be without star senior running back, C.J. Prosise for today's matchup. Prosise was examined under the concussion protocol last weekend against Pittsburgh, and did not return to the game after taking a hit. Coach Brian Kelly has called it "an upper-body issue" and said it will be a game-time decision whether he'll play or not. Prosise had compiled 975 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns before exiting last week's game. Backing him up is true freshman Josh Adams (not that one, Deacon fans) and third string RB Dexter Williams, also a true freshman (and came in this season the 11th ranked RB out of high school and #97 overall college prospect).
Much has changed since the 2012 trip the Deacs took to South Bend. A new coach, a new look, and Notre Dame has one more loss. Wake will look to improve on its 38-0 performance from that season, though admittedly, a win seems out of the realm of the probable. If Wake wanted to make a bowl game this season, they'd have to win out on the road against #4 Notre Dame, #1 Clemson, and at home against Duke. It's something worth playing for even if extremely unlikely.
According to Football Outsiders, Notre Dame's offensive line is ranked 2nd in the nation in opportunity rate, a metric that measures the percentage of carries the ball carrier gains at least five yards, or in their lingo, when the line does their jobs. That leads Notre Dame to the 18th ranked total offense in the country, averaging 488 yards per game and scoring and 7.17 yards per play. Their defense is ranked 44th overall, allowing 365 yards per game and 5.58 yards per play. Wake's offense, as the eyes can attest, has been woeful, ranked 111th overall, gaining just 339 yards per game on 4.76 yards per play. Its defense, however, has been very good, ranked T-33rd overall, allowing just 334 yards per game on 5.5 yards per play.
On paper, therefore, Wake's defense is superior, and Notre Dame's offense far superior. In practice, the Deacs will be outmatched today at nearly every position. Key players to look for on Notre Dame include defensive tackle Sheldon Day and quarterback DeShone Kizer. Sheldon Day leads the Irish with 11.5 tackles for loss this season, and while undersized for the NFL, excels in the pass rush and one-gap scheme. DeShone Kizer is fresh off perhaps his best performance of the season against Pittsburgh, where he posted a 19-26 line for 262 yards and five touchdowns (good for a 221.8 efficiency rating).
Both teams are relatively disciplined when it comes to penalty yardage. Wake Forest is #25 in penalty yards against, averaging just 43.89 yards per game, and Notre Dame comes in at #38 with 47.22. Wake will have the edge with Alex Kinal punting and Cam Serigne at tight end, but elsewhere on the field, look overmatched.
If Wake can hold Notre Dame to field goals early in the game and come up with big plays offensively, they could make it interesting. This is a trap game for Notre Dame, who could be looking ahead to the de facto regular season championship against Stanford looming. Could the Deacs play spoiler today on the road in South Bend? Tune in at 3:30 on NBC today to find out.