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ACC Spotlight: Notre Dame at Boston College

By Dave Holcomb
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Dave Holcomb previews Notre Dame vs Boston College.

NBC play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico said it best after Notre Dame defeated Clemson on Saturday night by claiming, “In the midst of the pandemic, there is pandemonium in South Bend.”

Of course, Tirico’s call had a double meaning related to the lack of social distancing among the students who stormed the field following Notre Dame’s double overtime victory against the No. 1-ranked team in the country. But regardless of COVID-19, this Saturday, the Fighting Irish must guard against one of the oldest ailments to any team in organized sports -- an emotional letdown following a huge win.

During Saturday’s broadcast, Tirico revealed that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly admitted to him he didn’t take the usual “one game at a time approach” this season, instead focusing his players on Clemson weeks ahead of time. The strategy paid off, but the question now becomes how the Fighting Irish handle the tremendous success of beating the Tigers.

Because as meaningful as Saturday’s victory was, it won’t mean nearly as much if Notre Dame doesn’t enter the ACC Championship Game undefeated. Even one loss would mean the Fighting Irish must beat Clemson a second time -- on a neutral field -- in order to stay alive in the College Football Playoff race.

An undefeated record going into Championship Saturday allows Notre Dame to keep some margin for error, and retaining that margin begins this weekend against Boston College.

What’s interesting about Notre Dame’s “mental” battle this Saturday is more often than not, top-ranked programs have to guard against emotional letdowns against bad teams. In this case, Boston College is an above average team, which makes Notre Dame’s inter-struggle this weekend that much harder.

There’s no denying that the Fighting Irish will have more talent on the field than the Eagles Saturday. Based on the 247Sports team composite rankings over the last four years, Notre Dame’s recruiting classes have held the average position of 13.25. No Fighting Irish class since 2017 has sat outside the Top 18.

For Boston College, its recruiting class average over the last four years sits at 66.0, and the Eagles have not finished better than 62nd in recruiting according to 247Sports during that time. But talent aside, Jeff Hafley is getting the most out of Boston College during his first season, especially on defense.

While Notre Dame is ranked inside the Top 3 in the ACC in total defense, points allowed, pass defense and run defense, Boston College is fifth or better in all of those categories. Offensively, the Fighting Irish average 10.5 more points per game than the Eagles, but on average, Boston College out-gains Notre Dame through the air.

The Fighting Irish hold a distinct advantage in the red zone with the No. 2-ranked defense in the ACC at preventing touchdowns on opponents possessions that reach the Notre Dame 20-yard line. Boston College is 11th in the same category, but the Eagles have a slightly better turnover margin (six versus five).

With the talent discrepancy, Boston College will look to utilize its ability to produce takeaways in order to capture an upset win. But preventing giveaways is one of the things Notre Dame does best.

The Eagles are ranked third in the ACC in takeaways with an even split of seven interceptions and seven fumble recoveries. The Fighting Irish, though, are second in the conference in giveaways with just five. Quarterback Ian Book has eight touchdown passes this season, but he is also the only signal caller in the Power 5 with seven games played and only one interception.

That strength against strength could decide this matchup, especially if Notre Dame isn’t quite as sharp coming off a big win. Boston College is a team that can challenge anyone. The team the Fighting Irish just beat can tell them that.

Notre Dame 20, Boston College 10