The Irish haven't been this good, this late in nine years. Four of the seven Bowl Championship Series computers Monday ranked Notre Dame No. 1. Tyrone Willingham, the first black coach in school history, has taken an Irish squad that went 5-6 last year to a 7-0 start and No. 6 ranking.
That's great. That's perfect. That's wonderful.
Because this game is just as important to the 11th-ranked Florida State Seminoles.
While Notre Dame heads into its biggest game since 1993 – ironically against these same Seminoles – FSU finds itself at yet another crossroad.
Win, and coach Bobby Bowden's team leaps back into the Top 10 with both feet. Win, and the Seminoles prove their effort at top-ranked Miami two weekends ago was not for naught. Win, and FSU – not North Carolina State – is in the driver's seat in the Atlantic Coast Conference simply because of impact.
Lose, and oh my.
The legendary Bowden, second all-time among Division I-A coaches with 328 victories, could be headed to a second consecutive four-defeat season (the Seminoles haven't lost more than eight games in any two-year span under Bowden). Lose, and the Seminoles' coaching staff – namely offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden and defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews -- will again be questioned. Lose, and FSU's approach will be examined and dissected by fans.
While some question whether FSU has started a slide of its own, going 13-6 since the start of the 2001 season, season, Willingham does not. With an overtime loss to Louisville and a 28-27 loss to No. 1 Miami two weeks ago on a missed field goal, the Seminoles are two points away from being undefeated.
"With the athletes that they have and the coaching that they have and the way they are playing, they concern us in every aspect,'' Willingham said.
Willingham also is genuinely impressed by Bowden's ability to keep the Seminoles among the nation's elite for so long.
"It has to be a testament to one's confidence in his system. Because it's very easy when you have those down moments to doubt yourself and doubt the things that are a part of your system and begin to change,'' Willingham said. "You can get inflated and somebody can say you're this or you're that, and you start to believe it. It's amazing how destructive that can be.''
Think positive, FSU fans.
Tallahassee is bracing for the Irish.
FSU seems certain of breaking the all-time attendance record at Doak Campbell Stadium. The record attendance is 83,042, set at the 2000 game against Florida. Last year's crowd for the Miami game (82,836) is No. 2.
Of course, ESPN's GameDay will be broadcasting from the northeast corner of the field in Doak Campbell Stadium beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, and runs until the noon kickoff. FSU team buses will arrive at Langford Green between 9:30 and 9:45 a.m.. The players will then walk to the locker room, and fans are encouraged to be present for the team's arrival.
Because of humble expectations, a new coach and offensive limitations, each Notre Dame victory has been greeted with skepticism. In fact, Notre Dame won its first six games despite an offense that was among the nation's worst.
However, last week at Air Force, the Irish took advantage of their size up front -- up to 60 pounds heavier than Air Force's line -- to produce a season-high 447 total yards. Notre Dame's defense, considered one of the best in the country, also got into the act. The Falcons finished with just 104 yards rushing, 235 below their average.
While the Irish must switch gears for the Seminoles, they've been able to make adjustments just fine this season.
Gold Bless Notre Dame.
The 'Noles need this win to show they also belong among the nation's elite.
Between 40 to 50 recruits will be making "unofficial visits" to FSU this weekend for the big game. Tight end Jonathan Stupar of State College, Pa., is the lone player on an official visit. Stupar was featured by TheTerritory earlier this week.
Here are a few of the players who are expected to attend the game, though some – and others – also are expected to be taking the SAT Saturday morning, which could alter plans.
Receiver Sean Bailey, defensive end Alex Boston, receiver defensive end Richard Cook, receiver Antonio Cromartie, defensive back Willie Cooper, running back Brian Dennison, linebacker Earl Everett, receiver DeCody Fagg, offensive lineman John Frady (has committed to FSU), defensive back Ryan Gilliam, offensive lineman Aubrey McPhadden, tight end D.J Norris, running back/linebacker Ernie Sims, lineman Bakahri Thornton, and defensive back Dee Webb.