Notre Dame vs Syracuse : Pinstripe uniforms. The Empire State Building shining blue and gold . The marching band performing at Bryant Park and the drummer’s circle at Rockefeller Center.
When Notre Dame plays in New York City it comes with fanfare and pageantry. This trip hardly needs the frills and extra-curricular activities to be a big deal.
The third-ranked Fighting Irish (10-0, No. 3 CFP) visit Yankee Stadium in contention for the College Football Playoff to face No. 12 Syracuse, the highest-ranked team the Orange have fielded in 20 years.
Notre Dame is two victories away from an unbeaten regular season and an almost certain spot in the national semifinals for the first time in the five-year history of the four-team playoff. Those games will be played on two coasts as the Irish finish the season next week at rival Southern California.
Since before the season, the late-season travel schedule has been a topic of conversation. Now concern among Notre Dame fans about the long road trips has been exacerbated by the fact that Syracuse (8-2, No. 12 CFP) is the best it has been years.
The Orange are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2013, have won eight regular-season games for the first time since 2001 and have their best AP Top 25 ranking since 1998. Running coach Dino Baber’s fast-paced offense, quarterback Eric Dungey is averaging 288 total yards per game and has accounted for 26 touchdowns (14 passing, 12 rushing). Few teams operate faster than the Orange, and they are more balanced this season, with 32 rushing touchdowns and 216 yards rushing per game.
“They’re still up-tempo, but they can beat you with the quarterback running, the running backs running, but also with passing the ball on the perimeter,” Notre Dame safety Nick Coleman said.
The Irish counter with a top-10 defense (4.52 yards per play), led by linebacker Te’von Coney and defensive lineman Jerry Tillery. It is a rangy, athletic and deep unit.
“They’re really, really long and they have a really, really good scheme,” Babers said. “It’s the main reason why a lot of teams have a lot of difficulty scoring points on those guys.”
Syracuse has a large following in downstate New York and for years has promoted itself as New York’s college team. That might be true during basketball season, but there will be a distinctly partisan crowd in the Bronx. The game is part of Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series, so it controls the tickets. With so much at stake for the Irish, the field will be anything but neutral.
“We may have some fans there,” Babers said. “They’re the nation’s team, I guess you could call it.”
Things to know about the ninth game between Notre Dame and Syracuse and the first with both teams ranked:
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book is expected to be back in the starting lineup after missing last week’s game against Florida State because of a rib injury. The Irish didn’t miss him, running all over Florida State for a season-high 365 yards with Brandon Wimbush at quarterback.
Book leads the nation in completion percentage at 74.5 percent, but the plan against Syracuse might be similar to what it was vs. the Seminoles. The Orange defense is so-so and the best part of it is the pass rush (33 sacks) behind defensive ends Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman.
The Irish can lean on Dexter Williams (202 yards rushing vs. Florida State) and coach Brian Kelly said they won’t avoid getting Book involved in the running game. The junior has 218 yards and four rushing touchdowns.
“We wouldn’t play him if we had to put him in bubble wrap,” Kelly said.
The Irish breakout special uniforms for the Shamrock Series games, and this week they are going with a reference to the Yankees, working pinstripes into the uniforms and helmets.
Notre Dame is 16-6-3 all-time at Yankee Stadium, including 1-0 at the newest version. Most of those games came against Army from the late 1920s through 1946. The Irish and Syracuse played at Yankee Stadium in 1963. The then-Orangeman won 14-7 less than a week after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Notre Dame and Syracuse last played in 2016 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, home of the Giants and Jets. Notre Dame won 50-33.
The last time two ranked teams played at Yankee Stadium was 1946, when No. 1 Army and No. 2 Notre Dame tied 0-0 in what was dubbed the Game of the Century.