By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Notre Dame finds itself in a position it hasn’t been in for quite some time, 24 years in fact: In contention for the national championship.
It was in 1988 that the Fighting Irish last reached that college football pinnacle.
And much has changed in that time, especially in the way that national championship is decided: The Irish are No. 3 in the latest BCS standings.
With unranked Pittsburgh up next on the schedule, the Irish have to guard against a letdown, and that is something head coach Brian Kelly and his staff are especially mindful of.
The past four games in the series have all been decided by a touchdown or less.
“Pittsburgh (is) a team that has played us extremely well over the past couple of years in my time here,” Kelly “They have clearly found themselves, with a new coach, it’s incredible what they’ve been able to overcome with three coaches in a very short period of time tells you a lot about their players, and it’s going to be a great challenge for us, because they will play their very best here at Notre Dame stadium, and we’re prepared for that.”
The key matchup in this week’s game for the Irish is expected to be Pittsburgh’s offensive line vs. Notre Dame’s defensive line.
Pittsburgh QB Tino Sunseri has completed 71 percent of his passes against the Irish the past two seasons for an average of 216 yards — but the Irish defensive line has sacked him eight times. The Panthers are allowing 2.5 sacks per contest — 90th in the nation — and are just 77th in the country in run offense.
The Irish defense, meanwhile, is 23rd in the nation in sacks — paced by DE Stephon Tuitt, who has 8.5. The Irish are ninth in the country against the run.
Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst expects a tough challenge from the Notre Dame defense.
“They’re real good players,” Chryst said. “As good as (Manti) Te’o is, and I think he’s a special player, they’ve got a lot of other guys that make it work and they’re extremely disciplined. Obviously they have talent. I think their scheme really fits the people that they have. They play fast. It looks like they play smart. They’re doing things that they want them doing. I think they tackle extremely well and they’re opportunistic when the ball is in the air.”
IRISH ITEMS: This year’s matchup will mark the 68th meeting between Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, with the Irish holding a 46-20-1 series lead. Notre Dame and Pittsburgh have met in 58 of the last 70 seasons (including 2012), with no breaks in the series longer than three years during that 70-year period. ... Half of Notre Dame’s eight wins have been against teams ranked in the AP top 25 at the time of the matchup.
The four victories over ranked opponents are the most of any team in the FBS. ... Notre Dame has lost one game in the month of November under Brian Kelly (6-1). In the two seasons prior to Kelly’s arrival, the Irish won just once in nine November contests.