Let’s be up front about it: Notre Dame’s McGlinchey, Nelson have to dominate LSU

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Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey (left) and Quenton Nelson are likely first-round picks. (AP/Nam Y. Huh)

CITRUS BOWL: NO. 14 NOTRE DAME VS. NO. 17 LSU

The facts: Noon Monday, Ch. 7, 1000-AM.

The records: Notre Dame 9-3; LSU 9-3.

The line: Tigers by 3.

Greenberg’s pick: Notre Dame, 27-23.

One would think it might help Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s cause if he walked onto the field at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, and had somebody to throw the football to.

Alas, when the Irish square off against LSU, they’ll be without wideout Kevin Stepherson — the team leader in touchdown receptions — and tight end Alize Mack, both of whom will be serving suspensions for off-the-field indiscretions. Wideout Chase Claypool also is out with a shoulder injury.

Huge trouble for the Irish? Not necessarily. More than anything else, it just means they’ll have to lean on their offensive line — the best in college football, with a Joe Moore Award to prove it — like never before.

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It all starts with left tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson, both first-team All-Americans and arguably the best side-by-side offensive-line combo in the history of the storied program. Asked what jumped out at him most in reviewing video of Notre Dame’s games this season, LSU coach Ed Orgeron snickered.

‘‘Left guard and left tackle,’’ he said. ‘‘Can’t keep my eyes off them. They’re the best combo I’ve ever been against.’’

Five winters ago, after Notre Dame was blown out by Alabama in the national-title game, coach Brian Kelly lamented where his program was at physically — specifically on the lines of scrimmage — relative to the standard-bearer Crimson Tide and the other big boys of the Southeastern Conference. Three-plus hours of brawling with LSU will shed some light on how far the Irish have come in that regard.

The Irish will try to ram Josh Adams down LSU’s throats. The Tigers will attempt to do the same with their own dazzling running back, Derrius Guice. Kelly’s team isn’t in the playoff picture, but he knows how important this test is in the name of momentum.

‘‘You’re still on the same mission after this game, and that is to keep working toward a national championship,’’ he said.

The tone for this season was set when offensive coordinator Chip Long arrived on campus and quickly, he put it, ‘‘could just tell who the alphas of the group were.’’ The alphas were McGlinchey and Nelson. Long put a picture of the Moore Award in their lockers.

‘‘It means a lot more to us than anything that we could accomplish individually because we did it together,’’ McGlinchey said.

It’s not often an offensive line gets the glory, but that’s what’s most worth watching in this game. Run that ball to the left, Irish, and let your big dogs eat.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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