By Dan Kilbridge | | 5 mins
Why Notre Dame Could Upset Georgia & Flip Playoff Picture
Think the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can shock the Georgia Bulldogs and pull off a major road upset Saturday night in Athens? Not many do.
Fans have been looking forward to this since Georgia’s 2017 upset win in South Bend. That’s when then-freshman Jake Fromm first showed what he can do on the big stage in helping the Bulldogs cover the 6.5-point spread for the 20-19 victory.
The Irish are looking to return the favor in this home-and-home finale, but oddsmakers aren’t giving them much of a chance. Notre Dame opened as a 12.5-point underdog and the line is up to 14 at most shops, despite a 2-0 start coming off last year’s College Football Playoff appearance.
It’s been nearly three years since the Irish were such significant underdogs. They were +17.5 entering the 2016 season finale at USC and failed to cover in a 45-27 loss.
There’s reason to believe the Irish can cover the two-score line Saturday and maybe even win in what equates to a loser-goes-home game regarding the College Football Playoff. Tough to see either team getting seriously back in the mix with a loss.
Georgia makes more sense to get there on paper at +800 to win the National Championship, but Notre Dame is a semi-serious contender at +3000.
It would take a small miracle for Clemson to miss the playoff (see: schedule, Trevor Lawrence). Georgia has company among SEC contenders with Alabama and LSU. It’s tough to find a loss on Oklahoma’s schedule with the Sooners facing Texas and TCU at home. And the Big Ten could send its first playoff team since 2016-17 (looking at you, Ohio State).
With all that in mind, it should be easy to dismiss Saturday’s loser from the picture.
Notre Dame's Upset Potential
Georgia is one of those throwback teams that wins games in the trenches, believes in balance and produces a seemingly endless supply of NFL-caliber running backs.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly didn’t mention any of that when asked what makes the Bulldogs so tough.
“The quarterback. The quarterback,” Kelly said of Fromm. “He’s efficient. He’s unflappable. You can pressure him and he doesn’t panic. He makes great decisions. He’s sound with the ball.”
Kelly will be asking a lot of the Irish defense and a two-touchdown spread says no one thinks they’re up to the challenge. But the Irish don’t lack talent and quarterback Ian Book is a darkhorse Heisman contender after throwing five touchdowns last week against New Mexico.
He can keep the Irish in this one with his arm and pick up a key first down or two with his legs. It sounds like that’s what most concerns Georgia coach Kirby Smart.
“He is exactly what is hard to prepare for,” Smart said. “When a play breaks down, a lot of times you think as a coach or defensive coach you got it right, you finally got it right, then all of a sudden he gets a 10-yard gain on a play that you got it right on.”
Those are the kinds of plays that can swing momentum and stop the Bulldogs from an easy cover. Maybe even give the Irish a chance at the outright win.
This is a disciplined Notre Dame team with just 73 penalty yards through two games – Georgia has been flagged 20 times for 196 yards in three games. The Irish also lead the nation with a +7 turnover differential, forcing six fumbles.
The Bulldogs pass the eyeball test after three weeks of cupcakes. It’s hard to find any weakness. But Notre Dame is one of the few teams that can match the Bulldogs’ physicality up front. If the Irish aren’t right there with Georgia in size and talent, they aren’t far behind. Certainly not 14 points behind.
Notre Dame Has Been Through It Before
There’s been plenty of talk about the wild atmosphere and frenzied Georgia crowd. The school is even adding temporary bleachers for the 8 p.m. kickoff at Sanford Stadium.
It’ll be a scene, for sure, but nothing new for the Irish. They’re always the biggest show in town. This year they have a quarterback who looks capable of quieting the Bulldog faithful early, making it a three-score game for spread bettors if the Irish strike first.
Plenty needs to go right for Notre Dame to win outright and secure the +450 moneyline. But they have the talent to take this thing down to the wire in a game neither team can afford to lose.
Playoff preview? More like a play-in game, with the Irish looking to make the biggest statement of any team thus far and flip the postseason script in Week 4.