No. 7 Notre Dame passes the eye test, but can it pass the polls' gut test?

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Call it the gut test.

As opposed to the eye test. Or good old-fashioned data points.

That’s coming for the Associated Press Top 25 college football poll next week, when the national panel of voters can include Big Ten teams on their ballots, roughly four weeks before the league’s new opt-in fall schedule kicks off (Oct. 24).

Provided Notre Dame’s schedule isn’t altered between now and then by pandemic-related issues, the Irish (2-0) will have five games in the books heading into that weekend. So the wonkiness that COVID-19 has cast over sports will have voters for the next month comparing actual résumés to projected ones.

As it stands only 52 of the 76 teams originally committed to fall football have opened their seasons so far. The Big Ten’s reversal brings that total to 90 of the original 130. And if the Pac-12, Mountain West and Mid-American conferences follow through on their apparent changes of heart, that number would swell into the 120s.

For now, the Irish are a consensus pick in both major polls, holding steady Sunday at No. 7 in the AP and Amway coaches Top 25s following their 52-0 domination of South Florida (1-1) on Saturday.

One of the unlikely heroes who rose to the occasion from a diminished Irish roster at Notre Dame Stadium was freshman cornerback Clarence Lewis. In his college debut on Saturday, Lewis had three pass breakups to go along with five tackles.

Notre Dame doesn’t keep single-game records for PBUs, but to put that in perspective, only 15 Irish players in history have amassed as many as 10 in a season. And only one player in the FBS, Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr., currently has more (4) than Lewis’ three.

Lewis started in place of junior TaRiq Bracy, one of eight players in the Irish two-deeps who were ruled out of playing in the USF game on Saturday. The pregame status report put out by the university doesn’t differentiate between injured players and those with COVID-19-related issues.

Only starting safety Kyle Hamilton had a previously reported injury (ankle sprain).

Others missing Saturday were linebackers Shayne Simon and Marist Liufau, No. 2 quarterback Brendon Clark, wide receiver Lawrence Keys III, defensive end Ovie Oghoufo and running back Jahmir Smith.

Campus-wide, the COVID-19 numbers remain impressively low. The school’s COVID dashboard on Sunday reported zero new cases, only 44 active cases among students and employees, and a seven-day positivity rate of 1%.

ACC guidelines, updated on Aug. 28, require at least a 10-day isolation period for players testing positive and a 14-day quarantine for those identified through contact tracing. So some of ND’s absences could extend into this week’s game.

The Irish visit Wake Forest (0-2) Saturday (noon EDT, ABC-TV) in their first-ever ACC road matchup. The game, dubbed the Duke’s Mayo Classic, was originally scheduled to be played at the home of the Carolina Panthers, Bank of America Stadium, in Charlotte, N.C.

Following its 45-42 loss to NC State on Saturday, Wake finds itself fifth from the bottom nationally in total defense.

Four future Irish opponents also landed in the week’s AP Top 25, led by No. 1 Clemson (2-0). Also ranked are No. 11 North Carolina (1-0), No. 21 Pitt (2-0) and No. 24 Louisville (1-1).

In the coaches poll, the Irish nearly overtook idle No. 6 Florida, cutting the Gators’ lead from 77 poll points to three.

The coaches did include Big Ten teams this week on their ballots — at least some of them did anyway.

Ohio State, No. 2 in the preseason coaches poll, was 10th this week. Penn State was 13th (seventh in preseason), with Wisconsin 17th (12th preseason), Michigan 19th (15th) and Minnesota 22nd (18th).

Notre Dame freshman cornerback Clarence Lewis gets in a beach workout in late May as trainer Ryan Daly looks on, back in Lewis' home state of New Jersey.   

No. 7 NOTRE DAME (2-0) vs. WAKE FOREST (0-2)

Kickoff: Saturday at noon EDT

Where: Truist Field; Winston-Salem, N.C.


Radio: WSBT (AM 960, FM 96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)

Line: Notre Dame by 18 1/2