What’s at stake for Georgia Tech at Notre Dame?

Georgia Tech left guard Trey Braun has done his homework on Notre Dame defensive tackle Sheldon Day, a potential first-round NFL draft pick. Braun’s research has included game video, but also some reading online about his matchup on Saturday.

He hasn’t, though, gone hunting for any incendiary talk that might have dripped out of Day’s mouth.

“Any trash talk, that’s stuff that happens outside of our purview,” Braun said. “Hopefully, we’re just there to go play the game.”

What is within Tech’s purview, though, are the 60 minutes that the No. 14 Yellow Jackets will share with No. 8 Notre Dame on Saturday in South Bend, Ind. This anticipated afternoon carries weighty implications for Tech’s aspirations on the heels of its 11-win season and top-10 finish in 2014.

“To win the national championship, you have to win every game,” Braun said. “Right now, to win the national championship, we have to beat Notre Dame.”

It is a bold declaration, one that typically hasn’t been the province of the Jackets. In coach Paul Johnson’s tenure, the ACC championship and a win over Georgia have typically been primary objectives. But the success of 2014 and the returning nucleus elevated the Jackets’ gaze. They aren’t alone. Tech’s ranking suggests acknowledgement that the Jackets are at least in the mix.

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who has predicted an ACC title for Tech, said in an interview this week on “SportsCenter” that the Jackets “have a shot at knocking on the door” of the College Football Playoff’s four-team field when the season ends.

To gain that threshold, though, the Jackets likely can’t afford to lose more than one game, if that. Tech may be coming to South Bend for an elimination game. While ESPN rates Tech’s remaining strength of schedule the toughest in the country, many concluded that the CFP selection committee took a dim view of the ACC last year.

“If you lose more than one, you’re out,” said Jerry Palm, the CFP expert for CBSSports.com. “You might not make it even if you lose just one.”

From a playoff perspective, a loss to Notre Dame could be particularly damaging if the team’s outbreak of season-ending injuries sends the Fighting Irish tumbling down the polls. Losing on the road to the No. 8 team in the country may fall in the “good loss” category, but it would look differently if the Irish end up in the 8-4 or 7-5 neighborhood. The rest of Notre Dame’s schedule includes Clemson, USC, a surging Temple team and Stanford, among others.

And if Tech were to lose Saturday, that would leave the Jackets with no margin for error the rest of the way, with Clemson (Oct. 10), Florida State (Oct. 24), Georgia (Nov. 28) and a potential ACC Championship game remain, along with the rest of their conference schedule, still to come.

On the other hand, a win would keep the Jackets among the undefeated and enable them to cross off one of the more treacherous Saturdays of the season. Tech has caught a particular break with injuries — the Irish will be without starters at quarterback, tailback, tight end, defensive tackle and nickel back after season-ending injuries to all.

“I think Georgia Tech wins this game, and I think it does set them up to clearly make a run at the College Football Playoff,” said ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham, who called Notre Dame’s last-minute win over Virginia last Saturday.

Palm concurred, saying Tech is “catching Notre Dame at a good time.”

It may be a trifle dizzying for Tech fans to consider the notion of the Jackets baldly stating their intention to win the national championship, and perhaps even more so that it’s not so outlandish a statement. In that light, there may be some comfort that the Jackets appear to be taking a process-oriented approach in directing their thrust to Glendale, Ariz., and the Jan. 11 championship game.

Quarterback Justin Thomas doesn’t want to win the game for its implications on his team’s positioning in the hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoff. He wants to win the game because it’s the next one on the schedule.

“The playoff is going to come no matter what,” Thomas said. “So you don’t have to really think about it. It’ll show up.”

A word that coaches used often in interviews this week was “opportunity.” The confluence of factors that will converge upon Notre Dame Stadium — an elite quarterback, a seasoned defense and a name-brand but vulnerable opponent in its own fabled stadium, all before a national audience — doesn’t synchronize often, at least not at Tech.

“You ought to embrace it,” Johnson said. “A chance to compete.”

The Jackets could fly home to Atlanta on Saturday night set to break into the top 10 with a schedule that could vault them even higher. First things first, though.

“It’s just every week, you’ve got to be dialed into the guys you’re playing,” Braun said. “You can’t look forward and you can’t worry about what’s going to happen later, because to get there at all, you have to do this week and you have to win this week. That’s sort of how we approach it.”