When the Notre Dame Irish visit Death Valley this weekend, both teams will be putting their undefeated records on the line and potentially the ACC's spot in the College Football Playoff.
The Irish are not technically in the ACC, though this year they might as well be with six ACC teams on the schedule. The win over Georgia Tech has lost some of its luster after the Yellowjackets' loss to Duke this past weekend. Yet, when the Irish are clicking on all cylinders they are a force to be reckoned with.
DeShone Kizer has managed the game ably to this point. Brian Kelly has experience working with a first-year quarterback and even seems to do better when he keeps the game under tight management in such a situation. C.J. Prosise has been racking up the rushing yards in Tarean Folston's absence and Will Fuller would be a Heisman candidate if he was playing for an SEC team with ESPN in his corner.
On the defensive side, Jaylon Smith is one of the best linebackers in the country and should be a first-round pick in the NFL. Joe Schmidt, Sheldon Day, Keivarae Russell and Mathias Farley lead the Irish defense and have yet to look foolish this season. The Clemson game is an opportunity for Brian Van Gorder's defense to make a statement against a very good offense and a top-flight quarterback in Deshaun Watson.
Watson has thrown for 641 yards on 58 attempts in leading the Tigers to a 3-0 start. Their top rusher is Wayne Gallman who has carried 53 times for 310 yards, with Watson the second leading rusher on the team with 93 yards. The Clemson receiving corps is where the Irish need to focus their efforts to stop Artavis Scott, Ray-Ray McClous, and Charone Peake, each with over 100 yards receiving so far this year. But the biggest threat to Notre Dame this weekend will be playing on the road in an atmosphere like Death Valley.
The Irish under Brian Kelly have gone into some tough, season-defining road games over the past five years and done well, including the win at Oklahoma during the undefeated 2012 season and the the near-win at Florida State in 2014 (called back on the pick-penalty call in the end zone). The Irish are just as talented, if not more so, than Clemson, but the road-atmosphere and the leadership of Deshaun Watson will make it very difficult for the Irish to come out of this on 5-0.