5 Things To Watch

Syracuse: Five Things To Watch

It seems like just weeks ago that the Yankees and Red Sox were squaring off in the Bronx in the Major League Baseball American League divisional playoff round.

A month later there’s a matchup of ranked college football teams to be played on that same Yankee Stadium grass.

Notre Dame and Syracuse may not be able to talk about their rivalry in the same terms the New York and Boston baseball teams do — yet the matchup has plenty of juicy storylines, including a throwback to the subway alumni days when Knute Rockne brought his teams to Yankee Stadium in the 1920s.

For the Irish, it’s their third stop at this site this decade, after a previous Shamrock Series game in 2010 versus Army (in the first football game played in the facility) followed by a 2013 Pinstripe Bowl victory against Rutgers.

Here’s what else to ponder in advance of the Notre Dame matchup with Syracuse:

Return to form for Ian Book. The Irish survived the Florida State challenge admirably a week ago, thanks to a determined effort by Brandon Wimbush at quarterback. Ian Book had been playing at an amazingly consistent pace in terms of completing passes — and will he be able to resume that same identity after a break in his weekly rhythm? This appears to be a week where both teams are capable of scoring lots of points—and the team that squanders the most scoring opportunities may be in trouble.  

The Irish must find ways to disrupt. This was a goal a week ago against Florida State, based on the Seminole playmakers. It’s even more important this week given Syracuse’s proclivity to score 50 points on any given Saturday. Eric Dungey may be the best quarterback the Irish face all year, and his consistent productivity suggests the Irish better avoid allowing him to find a comfort zone. Notre Dame needs its pass rush to be dynamic and keep Dungey moving.

Who will make the Yankees proud? Notre Dame will be dressing in the Yankee home locker room, even though Brian Kelly is an avowed Boston Red Sox fan. The Irish are wearing uniforms with plenty of pinstripes. There presumably are plenty of New York state fans who list the Orange and Yanks atop their list of favorite teams. So, who will hit an Aaron Judge-caliber home run on Saturday? And will tight end Cole Kmet, who also played a prominent role with the Irish baseball squad, feel particularly at home playing on a baseball diamond?

There’s plenty of motivation to go around. Notre Dame at 10-0 has its goals in plain sight. Bowl-bound Syracuse, with eight wins, already has doubled its combined totals from 2016 and 2017 (both 4-8 in Dino Babers’ first two seasons with the Orange). It may be a nonleague game for Syracuse, but Babers and his players understand the credibility boost their program would earn with a victory over an unbeaten Irish squad.

Avoid the noise. Brian Kelly loves that phrase, and it’s never been more applicable than this week–with the New York media paying rapt attention and the College Football Playoff rankings earning more notice every Tuesday night. The Irish need to forget all that and play their game.

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is the author, co-author or editor of 12 books (one a New York Times bestseller) and editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.