Notre Dame's path to college football gold runs through Yankee Stadium.
On Saturday afternoon, No. 3 Notre Dame (10-0) -- on the cusp of reaching the College Football Playoff for the first time in the five-year history of the format -- meets upstart No. 12 Syracuse (8-2) at the neutral site of the legendary ballfield in the Bronx. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on a cool autumn day in New York City.
If Notre Dame, which remains undefeated deeper into the season than it has since 2012 (when a 12-0 squad was routed in the national championship game by Alabama), survives Syracuse, they will have to beat rival USC on Thanksgiving weekend to secure a berth in the playoffs.
But the Orange likely represent the Fighting Irish's most difficult opponent since Week 1, when Notre Dame edged Michigan. Syracuse, traditionally known as a basketball school, and coming off a pair of 4-8 seasons, is experiencing a football renaissance under head coach Dino Babers.
Syracuse, quarterback Eric Dungey, boasts the No. 7 scoring offense in the country with 44.4 points per game. When they played No. 2 Clemson on Sept. 29, the Orange led 16-13 going into the fourth quarter of an eventual 27-23 defeat.
Notre Dame's chances of trading scores with Syracuse are boosted by the return of first-choice quarterback Ian Book from a rib injury that kept him sidelined for last week's blowout win over Florida State. Brandon Wimbush, who started the first three games of the season, confidently led the offense in that victory and waits in reserve if Book is hindered.
But Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly said he doesn't expect Book -- who leads the nation in pass completion percentage and is No. 4 in pass efficiency (1,824 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions, in six starts and three relief appearances) -- to have any limitations, including running the ball.
“We wouldn’t have played him if we had to put him in bubble wrap,” Kelly said this week. “You just can’t play a quarterback under those conditions.”
Syracuse ranks 10th nationally with 3.3 sacks per game. Notre Dame's antidote against the pass rush: senior running back Dexter Williams, who is coming off an impressive 202-yard outing last week.
Then there's the setting. Notre Dame is more used to playing outdoors than is Syracuse, which plays its home games in the Carrier Dome on turf, nothing like a baseball stadium's unusual surface.
Notre Dame will mark the occasion of playing in The House That Steinbrenner Built by wearing special-edition pinstriped uniforms created by Under Armour (and approved by the Yankees).
The uniforms have pinstripes on the navy blue jerseys and the pants, as well as a matte navy blue helmet with pinstripes as backdrop for the ND logo.