By Stiofán Mac Fhilib

Notre Dame suffered a 31-23 loss to the Clemson Tigers time they plated. This week sees Sam Hartman welcome his previous team to South Bend as Notre Dame searches for their eighth win of the season.

Looking back at last week

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Notre Dame had their second bye week of the season last Saturday, courtesy of playing Navy in Dublin in Week 0. Coming off the back of a 31-23 defeat down in Clemson it was a chance for a beleaguered Irish coaching staff to take stock of a season that has not progressed as well as hoped. And with season-ending injuries taking Tight End, Mitchell Evans, and Right Guard, Rocco Spindler, out of the depth chart until 2024, it was a chance for other players to stake their claim to a starting spot.

Given that ND’s playoff and even New Year 6 bowl game hopes are now well and truly filed under ‘b’ for ‘bin’, there was even some interest among fans around how the Quarterback position might play out in the final three games of the 2023 season. Would it make sense to stick with Sam Hartman, knowing that he may, and quite possibly, should choose to skip the bowl game? Or is there anything to be said for starting, or at least giving much more significant game time to, redshirt Freshman, Steve Angeli, or true Freshman, Kenny Minchey?

Marcus Freeman has already lost three games so far this season, and being in no rush to make it four, expect to see Hartman start the final two regular-season matchups. Especially given the offensive struggles that have beset the Irish in the last month or so. Notre Dame fans will certainly hope that game conditions will allow for an extensive look at the backups, but recent history has often shown that such expectations do not always go to plan at all.

The week ahead

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Up Next: Wake Forest Demon Deacons (Notre Dame Stadium); 3.30pm EDT; 8.30pm IST/BST

The much anticipated Sam Hartman Bowl of last summer is now the not-so-appetising Senior Day game for this ND team. The Demon Deacons went 8-5 last season and have been to seven straight bowl games, winning five. 2023, however, has seen them lose six of their last seven outings, en route to a 4-6 record. So the ‘Sam Hartman Bowl’ might sadly be their only ‘bowl’ game this year.

Their offense has suffered hugely from the loss of Hartman, who in his five years in Winston-Salem perfected the slow-mesh offense. His successor, Mitch Griffis, gave up 9 fumbles in 9 games, and was benched during their most recent game, the home loss to NC State. In his place should come, Michael Kern, who will attempt to take Wake past 20 points against a Power 5 opponent for only the third time this season. Against a Notre Dame defense playing its best football, and with whatever tips and assistance Hartman can provide, I can’t say I envy him.

On defense the Demon Deacons have been, well, not terrible at all. Only unbeaten and seemingly playoff-bound Florida State have managed more than 30 points against them. But their defensive line is a tad undersized and while the Irish will be handing RG, Billy Schrauth, his first career start, expect Audric Estime to be given copious opportunities to grab another 100-yard game in what will likely be his final game in Notre Dame Stadium.

Wake does have some NFL talent on the back end of their defense but ND fans will hope and expect Hartman to make enough big plays to allow his understudies to see at least some meaningful second-half action.

Game Prediction

Notre Dame 34-13 Wake Forest

The Irish have been notoriously slow out of the blocks in quite a few previous Senior Day games, perhaps taking time to deal with the emotions involved. The pressure remains on the offense to show that it can match its potential and I expect the ND defense to squeeze sufficient life out of the visitors to allow Hartman and co. to have a fairly straightforward, if not explosive, afternoon.

Where to watch:

Sky Sports NFL (Channel 407 on Sky); coverage starts at 8:30pm IST/BST 

NBC (in the USA)

Playoff Picture

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It’s been a while since we last reached the penultimate week of the regular season with five P5 teams still unbeaten, even if one of those 10-0 records does come with an asterisk the size of, well, the state of Michigan. Obviously, the Big Ten can only provide at most one in the end, but it does place Texas in a fascinating situation, should they finish as 12-1 Big 12 champs.

Should Georgia, Florida State, Washington, and Ohio State/Michigan all finish 13-0, then the Longhorns will spend the playoff semi-finals at home. They do, however, possess arguably the best win of the regular season, by double digits on the road in Tuscaloosa. And that could become VERY interesting if one of the other four P5 champs also has a loss.  Especially if it were an Alabama side that had just knocked off Georgia in Atlanta.

This week’s drama at the top could most likely come from the Bulldogs’ trip to Rocky Top or the Huskies’ prime time visit to Oregon State. Beyond that, we have to wait for Thanksgiving and rivalry week for one final chance of, if not chaos, then at least significant upheaval.