The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, December 01, 2020 7:40 pm

Irish matchup vs. Wake Forest canceled, spot in title game secure

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame is headed to Charlotte.

Thanks to late-season scheduling changes brought on by coronavirus cancellations in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, the No. 2 Irish clinched a spot in the Dec. 19 ACC Championship Game on Tuesday, where they will take on either No. 4 Clemson or No. 9 Miami at Bank of America Stadium in the Queen City.

Notre Dame's final regular-season matchup against Wake Forest, scheduled for Dec. 12 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has been canceled.

The cancellation means that Notre Dame's last regular-season game will be Saturday against Syracuse. A win against the Orange would give the Irish their second undefeated regular season in the last three years.

"It's crazy," running back Kyren Williams said of locking up an ACC Championship berth. "You come to Notre Dame and you don't think you're going to play in any conference games, but now look, we're in the ACC conference championship for the first time in Notre Dame history. ... This is a goal we've been preaching as a team since we joined the ACC that we were going to come in here and compete for a championship.

"Now that we can see that goal in the future, we can't forget that we have to keep working to get to that. We haven't accomplished anything yet."

The Irish could learn their ACC Championship Game opponent Saturday. If Clemson beats Virginia Tech, Notre Dame will face the Tigers for the second time this season after beating them 47-40 in double-overtime in November. Clemson was without quarterback and likely No. 1 NFL Draft pick Trevor Lawrence in that game following Lawrence's positive test for COVID-19.

If Clemson loses to Virginia Tech, which would be the first regular-season defeat of Lawrence's career, Miami could take the second championship game spot with wins against Duke on Saturday and North Carolina on Dec. 12. Clemson holds the tiebreaker over the Hurricanes by virtue of the Tigers' 42-17 head-to-head victory Oct. 10.

Notre Dame's canceled game against Wake Forest was originally scheduled for Sept. 26 before a coronavirus outbreak within the Irish program forced its postponement. Wake Forest will play at Louisville on Dec. 12 instead of facing the Irish.

Practically speaking, the schedule changes also smooth Notre Dame's path to the College Football Playoff somewhat. It's possible the Irish could get into the CFP field if they go undefeated in the regular season and lose to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. The cancellation of the game against Wake Forest, a dangerous team that rolled up more than 600 yards in a 59-53 loss to North Carolina, takes out Notre Dame's biggest remaining obstacle in that scenario.

The Irish would still have to put on a good showing against the Tigers in the championship game (of course, winning it outright would be ideal and ensure Notre Dame goes in as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the Playoff), but I'd say a win over Syracuse on Saturday makes a trip to the CFP more likely than not. Today's news increases Notre Dame's margin for error, if nothing else, though no Irish player or coach would ever admit that life is easier without playing the Demon Deacons.

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