The history, streaks and ACC tiebreakers swirling around Notre Dame's No. 1 matchup

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

What Boston College fell just short of doing Saturday, the Associated Press’ panel of 62 voters almost took care of Sunday.

Knocking Clemson (7-0, 6-0) out of the top spot in the AP college football poll, just ahead of its visit to Notre Dame Stadium this weekend.

The Tigers rallied from 18 down to turn back former Irish quarterback Phil Jurkovec and his new team by a 34-28 count. Sunday’s poll vote was even closer, as Clemson edged No. 2 Alabama 1,515 to 1,513 poll points for the top spot.

Clemson’s support eroded in the coaches poll as well, but the Tigers had a 24-point edge over the Crimson Tide in those rankings.

Notre Dame (6-0, 5-0), facing the AP No. 1 team for the 26th time in its history, remained at No. 4 in both polls.

“They’re excited about this opportunity to play the gold standard, in Clemson,” ND head coach Brian Kelly said Saturday of his players after the Irish beat Georgia Tech, 31-13, in Atlanta.

Kelly will be aiming for win No. 99 as Notre Dame’s head coach in just his second matchup at home against a team ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game during his 11 seasons. The other was a 38-17 rout of Stanford in 2018 in what was current Irish QB Ian Book’s second career start.

(No, eventual national runner-up Georgia in 2017 was No. 15 at the time, and Michigan in the 2018 opener was 14th.)

ESPN’s College Gameday show will be on site the morning of the 7:30 p.m. (EST) matchup, with the game itself being telecast on NBC.

While there were snow flurries in the air in South Bend at the time the AP poll dropped Sunday afternoon, Saturday’s high temperature is expected to reach 69 degrees, with a low of 51.

Saturday’s matchup will be the first time the Irish have played a No. 1 team since the 2005 “Bush Push” game, a 34-31 last-second USC victory. The 15 years between challenges by the nation’s top-ranked team is the longest stretch the Irish have gone since the inception of the AP poll in 1936.

The Irish are 8-16-1 all-time against No. 1s, with a three-game losing streak. The last time Notre Dame beat a top-ranked AP team was as the No. 2 team in a 31-24 victory over Florida State in 1993.

Nd vs. No. 1

Notre Dame brings several positive streaks into the game:

• The nation’s longest active winning streak, at 12 games.

• The second-longest active home winning streak among FBS teams, at 22 games. Clemson extended the nation’s longest to 27, Saturday against BC.

• A 15-game winning streak against ACC teams in regular-season competition.

There’s a presumption that this will be the first of two, maybe three, meetings between the two teams this season. And with North Carolina’s 44-41 loss to Virginia Saturday night, Clemson and Notre Dame are the only two ACC teams at the moment that completely control their destiny in reaching the league championship game, Dec. 19 in Charlotte, N.C.

That’s true for Clemson even if it loses Saturday night, because it has a head-to-head win over Miami (5-1, 4-1). The Irish and the Hurricanes don’t play in 2020, so if they end up with identical one-loss records, breaking the tie could come down to something as obscure as whether Boston College (which ND plays and Miami doesn’t) or Virginia Tech (vice versa) ends up with the better final record.

The last time Notre Dame and Clemson met, they did so as Nos. 3 and 2, respectively in the 2018 College Football Playoff semifinals, with the eventual national champs romping to a 30-3 win.

Notre Dame QB Ian Book dives for extra yards against Clemson in the Cotton Bowl Dec. 29, 2018 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelley has vowed to close the talent gap between his team and Clemson.

Book and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence were making their 10th career starts that day. Lawrence, however, will miss his second straight game as the All-American remains in isolation because of a positive COVID-19 test and mild symptoms.

It’s possible he’ll be cleared to travel to South Bend with the team, but Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said Saturday that Lawrence will still be ramping up post-isolation, and that freshman D.J. Uiagalelei will make his second career start this Saturday night against the Irish.

Uiagalelei was the No. 1 QB and No. 3 prospect overall nationally in the 2020 recruiting class. He threw for 342 yards against BC in his first start.

“You want the best players to play,” Kelly said. “But, look, the kid that played (Saturday) is a five-star recruit as well. I know he’s not Trevor Lawrence, but they’re not going to come to South Bend shorthanded.”

Added Book, “I feel for (Lawrence). I know that’s probably killing him inside. I’ve met him before. He’s a good dude. And I know he’s a competitor. I couldn’t imagine.”

cfb polls 11012020
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is doused with Gatorade while shaking hands with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly at the end of the 2018 Cotton Bowl college football playoff semifinal game Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

No. 4 NOTRE DAME (6-0) vs. No. 1 CLEMSON (7-0)

Kickoff: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST

Where: Notre Dame Stadium


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

Line: Clemson by 5 1/2