Evanston, Ill. — No need to remind No. 3 Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish remember what happened last season when they were rolling along with their sights set on the playoffs. They’re out to avoid a repeat.
Notre Dame looks to remain unbeaten and in line for a playoff spot when it visits Northwestern tonight.
“We just need to be focused on the right things on and off the field,” receiver Miles Boykin said. “That’s what we learned from last year.”
The Irish (8-0) are off to their best start since the 2012 team went undefeated all the way until a lopsided loss to Alabama in the BCS championship game. When the College Football Playoff rankings came out this week, they were No. 4.
As good as that all sounds, Notre Dame found itself in a similar spot a year ago. And things didn’t go the way the Irish wanted after that.
They were No. 3 in the first two playoff rankings en route to an 8-1 start, only to go 2-2 the rest of the way — starting with a blowout loss to Miami. Now, they’re one of four remaining unbeaten FBS teams along with No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson and No. 9 Central Florida.
“I think we just deviated from our process, looking too far into the future,” center Sam Mustipher said of 2017. “I am sure last year at this time we were saying, ‘We’re focused on now, this is what we’re doing.’ But I remember last year when the first playoff rankings came out, we had the TVs and everyone was watching. We were sending out tweets and videos of what we came in at.”
But this year?
“It’s not like that because we know the only ranking that matters is the last one,” Mustipher said.
Notre Dame has won its first eight games for the 10th time in the past 68 years. Three of those teams (1966, 1973 and 1988) won championships, and if they are going to stay in the running, they can’t afford to stumble against Northwestern.
The Wildcats (5-3) have won four in a row since a three-game slide to grab the lead in the Big Ten West. They’re stepping out of conference play at an unusual time to take on one of the top teams in the nation.
“What a great opportunity,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got nothing to lose so our guys are gonna, I think, prepare really well. And I think they’re gonna be excited for the challenge.”
Pittsburgh 23, (at) No. 23 Virginia 13: Darrin Hall ran for 229 yards and three touchdowns, the last a 75-yard burst one play after Virginia had awakened it fans by closing to within 14-13, and Pittsburgh beat No. 23 Virginia for the fourth year in a row.
Hall also had a 41-yard scoring run in the first half and a two-yard run in the third quarter, capping a drive that ended with an injury-depleted Cavaliers defense looking incapable of stopping the bruising 225-pound tailback.
“That’s all we do. We just continue to fight, continue to wear down the defense,” said Hall, who carried just 19 times.
The two-yard run capped a 15-play, 84-yard march and gave the Panthers a 14-10 lead and seemed to wear Virginia down.
“Even on short yardage, I was getting 4 yards before I was even touched,” he said.
The Panthers (5-4, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) moved into first place in the Coastal Division.
With 738 rushing yards in the last two games, they seem to be hitting their stride.
Bryce Perkins threw for 205 yards and a touchdown for Virginia (6-3, 4-2, No. 23 CFP), but Pittsburgh never allowed him to get untracked in the running game and sacked him five times for 46 yards in losses. The Cavaliers’ three-game winning streak was snapped.
Pittsburgh trailed 10-7 at halftime, but used the drive that lasted 8:40 to go ahead. The Panthers converted four third downs on the march and Hall finished it with runs of 18 and 2 yards as the Virginia defense, which lost three starters during the game, began to wear down.
After being limited to 24 plays in the first half, the Panthers ran 21 in the third quarter alone, mostly grinding on the ground.
The Cavaliers drove for Brian Delaney’s second field goal, bringing the crowd alive, but Hall quieted them with his long scoring burst.
Buckeyes host Cornhuskers
The bye week has been quite unpleasant for Ohio State.
After a collapse against unranked Purdue on Oct. 20 that further exposed weaknesses in the defense and running game, the Buckeyes spent the off week stewing in the loss and trying to fix the problems enough to still try to make a run at the playoffs.
The extra time off renewed discussions about the health and desire of coach Urban Meyer, who has increasingly suffered headaches because of a cyst in his head.
There was a lot of work to do inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Purdue broke tackles and shredded Ohio State’s defense last week. The Buckeyes had so much trouble running the ball they gave up and relied solely on the passing game behind Dwayne Haskins Jr.
The No. 8 Buckeyes (7-1, 4-1, No. 10 CFP) host Nebraska today, with the Cornhuskers coming off two straight wins after losing the first six under new coach Scott Frost. A month ago, this game looked like an easy day for the Buckeyes. Now, with the Buckeyes reeling, it could turn into another struggle.
“The time spent has been phenomenal, and the effort,” Meyer said. “Now it’s time to see some rewards.”
Frost said he wants the Huskers (2-6, 1-4) to start fast because he knows Ohio State will be angry and ready to go.
“I foresee their team coming out and playing with their hair on fire right at the beginning,” he said.
“We need to be able to withstand that initial surge and play well.”
South Carolina will play Akron at home on Dec. 1 to make up for its September contest cancelled due to Hurricane Florence.
Akron was available because its Sept. 1 contest at Nebraska was cancelled due to lightning.