Back in July at the ACC media days, North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren made note of his team’s tough schedule.
“There are six preseason teams in the top 25 in the ACC,” he said, including partial member Notre Dame in that count. “We’re the only team that plays all six. We have a stretch where we play Notre Dame, Clemson and Louisville in a row, which is going to be a great challenge and a great opportunity.”
Who would have thought in the preseason that Notre Dame was the team among Doeren’s dirty half-dozen to tumble out of the Top 25?
That gauntlet of Notre Dame Saturday, at Clemson Oct. 15 and at Louisville Oct. 22 has arrived. Notre Dame (2-3) faces N.C. State (3-1, 1-0 ACC Coastal) at noon Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.
The fact that ESPN scheduled the Irish for a noon kickoff is all you need to know they’re having a disappointing season. The better matchups are set later in the day for ratings and the almighty advertising dollars. The Irish are an automatic TV ratings draw, but college football fans apparently are smarter than Kim Kardashian’s social media followers.
Notre Dame was ranked No. 10 in the preseason poll, dropped to No. 18 after opening with a loss at Texas, and fell out of the poll following a loss to Michigan State. Texas and Michigan State have both fallen out of the Top 25, too, diminishing even more Notre Dame’s brand-name intimidation.
Notre Dame’s talent level always makes the Irish a challenge, but the opportunity for N.C. State to pull off a victory is more realistic now than a few weeks ago.
Notre Dame beat Syracuse 50-33 last week in the Meadowlands to end a two-game losing streak to Michigan State and Duke. But considering Syracuse (2-3) scored 33 points, N.C. State has enough offense to keep up with the Irish on the scoreboard.
N.C. State beat Wake Forest 33-16 last week to end the unbeaten season of the Demon Deacons (4-1) that was built behind a defense that was ranked 20th in the nation in scoring defense. It still ranks 30th after facing the Wolfpack.
N.C. State transfer quarterback Ryan Finley started the season strongly against overmatched William & Mary, but he is playing better each week with his new teammates against tougher competition. He was 23-of-36 for 300 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions against Wake Forest.
The TD passes were 13 yards to tight end/fullback Jaylen Samuels and 36 and seven to freshman wide receiver Kelvin Harmon. Sophomore Stephen Louis caught five balls for 102 yards with a long of 41. Harmon’s long ball was 36. But there is more offensive explosion that can be unleashed with sophomore speedster Nyheim Hines.
Senior running back Matt Dayes has provided balance. He rushed for 24 times for 125 yards with a long run of 29.
A Notre Dame victory would be Doeren’s biggest in four years with the Wolfpack. He has been steadily rebuilding the roster, but the stakes for a signature win this season have increased in the first half of the 2016 season.
N.C. State’s two rivals in the Triangle have recorded such victories. Duke, despite tumbling last week to Virginia, won at Notre Dame two weeks ago. North Carolina won last week at Florida State, 37-35.
The Wolfpack face the other three ranked ACC teams over the last four games: Florida State, Nov. 5; Miami, Nov. 19; and at North Carolina, Nov. 25. However, they are spared a seventh ACC team now in the ratings mix. Virginia Tech (3-1, 1-0 ACC Coastal) is now ranked at No. 25.
Haughty Notre Dame is an easy target for its insistence on remaining independent, but based on rankings alone it can be said Notre Dame is dragging down what is developing into a strong year for the ACC on the national landscape.
ACC schools in the preseason AP rankings: 2. Clemson; 4. Florida State; 10. Notre Dame; No. 19. Louisville; No. 22 North Carolina. Miami was among others with 159 votes to equal No. 26 in the AP poll. But the Hurricanes were a Top 25 team in other preseason polls.
Latest AP rankings: 3. Clemson, 5-0; 7. Louisville, 4-1; 10. Miami, 4-0; 17. North Carolina, 4-1; and No. 23. Florida State, 3-2. Notre Dame (2-3) is unranked with no votes among others.
Typically, polls overrate brand-name schools and underrate upstart programs. Consider the cases of Notre Dame and Louisville.
But the fallacies continue into the regular season, too. The current rankings list North Dakota State with 46 points, which is equal to No. 29. North Dakota State, a Football Championship Subdivision member, began collecting points after it upset then-No. 17-ranked Iowa on a last-second field goal.
But since then Iowa (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten West) has since fallen out of the poll. The Hawkeyes struggled to beat Rutgers (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten East), 14-7, and last week fell to Northwestern (2-3, 1-1 Big Ten West), 38-31.
I respect North Dakota State has won five straight FCS national titles, but I’ll take Notre Dame, with all its problems, over the Bison of Fargo.
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055