Survive and Advance

Undefeated Irish await ultimate test next Saturday after passing their first six in impressive, if not dominant fashion.

Notre Dame fans shared a sigh of relief Saturday in the wake of their team's 50-43 victory over North Carolina. Those among the less-than-impressed with a sloppy, defense-optional afternoon inside the House that Rockne Built would do well to remember the words of the late Jim Valvano, North Carolina State head basketball coach and 1983 national champion.

"Survive and advance."

The Irish survived their oft-referenced "trap game" Saturday against an aggressive, albeit now 2-4 Tar Heels team. As a result, Brian Kelly's crew advanced to the marquee game of the upcoming college football weekend and -- considering viewership and ticket cost -- of the season to date: at No. 1 Florida State, defending national champions, winners of 22 consecutive games, and 32 of its last 34 since the start of the 2012 season.

Win in Tallahassee and Notre Dame will likely enter its second bye of the 2014 season as the nation's No. 1 team. At worst they'd be cemented at No. 3 (the state of Mississippi owns the college football world, at present, and they've earned it) but in complete control of their own destiny.

Win in Tallahassee, and nothing but a loss thereafter could knock the Irish out of the inaugural four-team college football playoff.

But play in Tallahassee as they did in South Bend vs. North Carolina, and premature championship dreams will die inside Doak Campbell Stadium.

"I told them, you're going to have some of these games, you shake it off," said Kelly. "You go back to practice, they've done some great things this year. They will be ready to play their very best against Florida State.

"But the nice part about it is we got great film and great teaching off of another win, that's the best thing about it."

Kelly knows his 2014 Irish are ahead of schedule. 6-0. Playing with house money. Double-digit underdog status guaranteed vs. a Florida State team that hasn't lost since the day Notre Dame won in Los Angeles to advance to the BCS Championship game.

The teams met in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl with Florida State prevailing 18-14. Neither team had an offense of which to speak, both certainly do now. The Seminoles boast a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback that can't get out of his own way off the field; the Irish a senior triggerman that's endured more highs and lows over the last three weeks than your average day trader.

Jameis Winston, 19-0 as a starter, has proven to be great between the lines. Everett Golson (17-1) appeared on his way to such status, then 12 quarters and nine turnovers later, it was reaffirmed that time away training in shorts in the San Diego sun doesn't necessarily prepare a quarterback for the rigors of a football season.

A performance similar to any of his last three and the Irish won't sniff the Seminoles next Saturday.

"Just ready to go, anxious, just ready to start getting prepared for a pretty dominant team, the most dominant in college football in Florida State," said Golson of the upcoming task at hand. "Anxious and ready to go."

The Irish defense, unassailable until Saturday, won't slow the Seminoles if it doesn't regain its pre-UNC form. With Winston under center, Florida State has not been held under 34 points in his 19 starts -- and that was in a 34-31 BCS Championship game victory over Auburn.

"We have to make sure we’re right emotionally and come ready to play," said senior linebacker Joe Schmidt. "We didn’t start very fast (vs. UNC) and that’s something we have to make sure we’re ready for. It’s going to be a big week of preparation…We have to come back strong for next week because they’re an amazing opponent."

The Seminoles and the Tar Heels can't be reasonably compared. Aside from Stanford's stout defense, Notre Dame hasn't faced anything of national caliber en route to 6-0.

But their head coach realizes that his squad's joinery to the season's midpoint has produced an unteachable quality amid myriad flaws.

"There are many, many things I could delve into," said Kelly of Saturday's wild win. "But the thing that points up for me is that our guys know how to win football games."

That theory's about to be put to the ultimate test. Top Stories