Bowl Season

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Monday’s Leftovers: Notre Dame lands second cornerback commitment

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Hardly a week shy of the early signing period, Notre Dame doubled its cornerback haul in the class of 2018 with Tariq Bracy’s commitment Sunday night.

A rivals.com three-star recruit, Bracy (Milpitas High School, Calif.) had long said the Irish led in his recruitment, having visited campus for Notre Dame’s 49-14 victory over USC on Oct. 21. Rivals rates Bracy as the No. 65 overall prospect in California.

“The coaches, they made me feel welcome,” Bracy said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “They really wanted me to go down there. They like my skillset. The players, they were welcoming, too. It’s really the whole atmosphere about Notre Dame, and the academics, too.”

Bracy opted for the Irish over a number of schools on the west coast, including Utah, Cal and Washington State.

Notre Dame now has 18 commitments in the class, including consensus-three star cornerback Joseph Wilkins (North Fort Myers H.S., Fla.). All 18 are expected to sign National Letters of Intent during the inaugural early signing period Dec. 20-22. For that matter, it remains possible an additional commitment or two could join those ranks either before the three-day stretch or in the midst of it.

Irish coach Brian Kelly has said he would evaluate any commitment not signing during the December dates as not being genuinely committed to Notre Dame, still needing further recruitment.

— Bracy’s, and Wilkins’, commitment holds more value for the Irish than many of the other 16 in the class thus far. In the last recruiting cycle, Notre Dame failed to sign so much as one cornerback.

Neither Bracy nor Wilkins may start in 2018. They, in fact, almost certainly will not, but they will provide both depth and a possibility of a future at the position.

— Just as another reminder — it is listed twice on the legal pad providing today’s outline, after all — the early signing period runs from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22. There will still be a nationwide focus on National Signing Day, Feb. 7, as any recruits not yet signed will have even more of a share of the spotlight.

— Bowl games have little long-term evaluatory value. They do, however, provide a delightful stretch of mid-day and/or mid-week December distractions. As an example, consider the game-a-day outlook on the horizon …

Sat., Dec. 16: Middle Tennessee St. v. Arkansas State; 8 p.m. ET; a high-scoring affair, if nothing else.
Tues., Dec. 19: Akron vs. FAU; 7 p.m. ET; Lane Kiffin with a nation’s lonely eyes turned to him.
Wed., Dec. 20: Louisiana Tech vs. Southern Methodist; 8 p.m. ET.
Thurs., Dec. 21: Temple vs. Florida International; 8 p.m. ET; Notre Dame’s season-opening opponent is favored by seven.
Fri., Dec. 22: Central Michigan vs. Wyoming; 4 p.m. ET; Josh Allen’s farewell to college football.
Sat., Dec. 23: Texas Tech vs. South Florida; 12 p.m. ET; This very well may end up being the most-dramatic bowl game.
Sun., Dec. 24: Houston vs. Fresno St.; 8:30 p.m. ET.
Tues., Dec. 26: Kansas State vs. UCLA; 9 p.m. ET.
Wed., Dec. 27: Boston College vs. Iowa; 5:15 p.m. ET; Of the 10 Irish foes in bowl games, six are like the Eagles, underdogs.
Thurs., Dec. 28: Stanford vs. TCU; 9 p.m. ET; A healthy Bryce Love could erase the 2.5-point spread in the Horned Frogs favor.
Fri., Dec. 29: USC vs. Ohio State; 8:30 p.m. ET; As strongly as the Trojans finished the season, they are still touchdown underdogs in the Cotton Bowl.
Sat., Dec. 30: Wisconsin vs. Miami, 8 p.m. ET; Despite playing at home, literally so, the Hurricanes are nearly touchdown underdogs.
Mon., Jan. 1: Georgia vs. Oklahoma; 5 p.m. ET; Frankly, Notre Dame vs. LSU in the Citrus Bowl will be but an appetizer for an evening of outstanding college football.

Monday’s Leftovers: Brian Kelly on Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl, facing LSU, & the early signing period

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The second half of Notre Dame’s schedule finished the season with a 51-22 overall record and featured four ranked opponents, not to mention an under-the-radar Wake Forest team and Navy’s triple-option attack. For six consecutive weeks, the Irish had another distinct challenge awaiting them every Saturday.

Thus, the month-plus off between last week’s loss at Stanford and the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 against No. 17 LSU is a welcome reprieve for No. 14 Notre Dame.

“We probably got a little tired at the end with the six weeks in a row of really tough, quality competition,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “It was a long year for our football team, starting back in January.”

Kelly then clarified he was not referring to a physical exhaustion. The diminished November should not be tied to a new strength and conditioning regimen. Rather, Notre Dame tired in a less tangible manner.

“There were no questions about where we were physically as a football team,” Kelly said. “Emotionally and mentally, we had a long year.

“I remember addressing the team the Monday of the Stanford week with so much on the line — a 10th win and a New Year’s Six [bowl game] — and it looked like they were in biology class. They were staring at me like, really? There was no juice, there was no excitement. They were tired mentally.”

As he has for much of the year, Kelly put the onus on himself. While recruiting over the last week, he said he spent much of the travel downtime pondering how to lighten that load and pace better in 2018.

Some of the weariness was indeed physical. Kelly acknowledged junior running back Josh Adams will “benefit greatly” from the layoff before facing an opposing defense again.

The Irish will fit in 15 practices preparing for the bowl game, beginning this weekend before sending the team home for three full days at Christmas. Notre Dame will then reconvene in Orlando, Fla, on Dec. 26. Allowing the team time at home for the holiday is arguably the greatest perk of landing in the New Year’s Day game rather than the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28.

“It’s great that we can get some work in here, then get a break for our players during Christmas so they can spend Christmas home with the family and then meet back up at the bowl site,” Kelly said. “Playing on New Year’s Day is really good for our football team.”

Some things in this world never change, such as LSU having high-end talent. Luckily [for Notre Dame] some things do, and Leonard Fournette (No. 7) is no longer the Tigers’ leading rusher. Instead, start learning the name Derrius Guice. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
— Of course, facing the No. 17 team in the country is a stiff yet welcome challenge. While this is hardly the same version of LSU that the Irish faced in the 2014 Music City Bowl (a 31-28 Notre Dame victory), Kelly sees one key aspect of the Tigers program that has not changed.

“There’s a lot of similarities in terms of the body types that they bring to the table, but the schemes are a little bit different,” Kelly said, then noting offensive coordinator Matt Canada and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, both widely-respected in the coaching ranks. “What Dave does on defense is different, and then certainly what Matt does, he has kind of opened up the offense a little bit.

“More schematically, they are a little bit different, but the kind of athlete LSU is attracting, still great players on both sides of the ball.”

Senior captain and linebacker Drue Tranquill echoed Kelly’s comments regarding mental fatigue, citing last season’s 4-8 debacle as having a tangible effect in its own way.

“Any way you dice it up, it was a long season,” Tranquill said. “Having not gone to a bowl the season before, you start your preparation for the next season earlier, and we got after it in winter conditioning and spring ball and fall camp and into this season.”

To hear Tranquill describe “knowing the stakes of each game” in the second half of the season, one might wonder if a loss in mid-October may have allowed Notre Dame to play looser in November. Obviously, that is nothing but ponderings unless there really are infinite universes with each and every possible permutation of existence occurring within one of them.

Notre Dame senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill will have a decision to make regarding returning for a fifth year or heading to the NFL Draft. (Getty Images)

— Kelly declined to name which players requested feedback from the NFL regarding their draft status, but Tranquill said he was among the group. The feedback usually comes in shortly before the bowl game.

“What I can get better on, what they perceive as my strengths or weaknesses,” Tranquill said he hopes to learn. “… I don’t know that [it] necessarily will [affect his decision]. Obviously it’s feedback and you’ll take all the feedback you can get.”

To anyone skeptical of Tranquill’s chances in the Draft, there may be a point, but it should be remembered this is a player who has suffered two major knee injuries in his career. If he has a chance at an NFL career, he should not put it off for a year, especially not when he will already have an engineering degree in hand.

— A change to bowl preparations this year, the Irish coaching staff has to focus on recruiting even more in December than ever before thanks to the first early signing period, held Dec. 20-22. Notre Dame’s coaches have always spent the week immediate after the season making in-home visits. That may be more of an emphasis over the next three weeks, as well. That should, theoretically, allow for a more proactive January.

“It’s busier now,” Kelly said. “What it will do is it will allow us to focus on [current high school juniors] a little bit more in January than we’ve had in the past.

“We expect, if our players are committed, they’ll sign in December. If they’re not committed, they won’t … which frees up that time I’m normally on the road in January chasing these guys down for a February signing to really focus on [next year’s class], then the remaining spots that we have left.”

— Kelly indicated if one of the 18 current Irish commits were to not sign in December, he would see it as a sign the player needs more wooing.

Long-time commitment and consensus four-star running back Markese Stepp (Cathedral High School; Indianapolis) came to that decision even earlier, announcing he was reopening his recruitment over the weekend.

Notre Dame still has consensus three-star running back Jahmir Smith (Lee County H.S.; Sanford, N.C.) in the class, not to mention a well-stocked depth chart already on campus.

— This is perhaps a thought to be explored further following the season, taking into consideration where teams land in the final AP or Coaches’ polls, but with LSU becoming the seventh currently-ranked opponent on Notre Dame’s schedule, it seems safe to presume it has been some time since the slate featured so many, including three currently in the top 10.

Notre Dame to the Citrus Bowl to face LSU, with some numbers

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Falling two spots shy of making a Playoff-eligible bowl, No. 14 Notre Dame will face No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day (1 p.m. ET; ABC). Both teams will be looking for their 10th wins of the season, and, as has been the story for the Irish throughout the year, it will be a focus of strength versus strength, dangerous rushing offenses against stout rushing defenses.

“We’re thrilled with the opportunity and excited about the challenge that awaits us with LSU — one of the premier programs in all of college football,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “We had quite a battle with the Tigers a few years ago in a bowl game, and I’d expect a similar contest this time around.

“Our University has never participated in the Citrus Bowl, one of the longest-standing bowl games in the nation, and we’re delighted to play in a bowl game on Jan. 1 for the second time in three years.”

Sophomore linebacker Devin White led LSU’s stout defense in tackles this season. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Led by sophomore linebacker Devin White (3.5 sacks, 127 tackles, one interception) and senior defensive tackle Greg Gilmore (51 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks), the Tigers held opponents to 3.80 yards per carry, No. 38 in the country.

Other defensive statistics of quick note:
— No. 17 in scoring defense at 18.8 points per game.
— No. 9 in passing efficiency defense.
— No. 13 in total defense by allowing 311.7 yards per game.

That stingy rushing defense came despite a schedule featuring four of the top-37 ground attacks in the country, although three of those four contests resulted in LSU’s three losses.

— Mississippi State averages 5.17 yards per rush (No. 24) and in beating the Tigers 37-7 way back on Sept. 6, the Bulldogs rushed for 285 yards on 48 carries, a 5.94 average per attempt.
— Troy averages 4.83 yards per rush (No. 37), using 206 yards on 42 carries and a 4.90 average to spark perhaps the season’s biggest upset, a 24-21 win at LSU on Sept. 30.
— Two games later, LSU’s young defense finally started to mature, leading to a 27-23 win against Auburn, holding the No. 33 rushing attack (4.96 yards per carry season-long average) to 189 yards on 44 carries, a 4.30 average.
— To finish this train of thought, the Tigers’ third loss came two weeks ago at Alabama, despite holding the Tide to 116 yards on 36 carries, a 3.22 average, well below the Tide’s No. 7 average of 6.00 yards per rush.

For comparison’s sake, Notre Dame faced four defenses in the top 50 of the country in yards allowed per rush, going 2-2 in those contests, on its way to averaging 6.37 yards per carry on the season.

— Michigan State allows 3.38 yards per rush, No. 13 in the country. The Irish gained 182 yards on 40 carries, a 4.55 average.
— Georgia allows 3.47 yards per rush, No. 17 in the country. Notre Dame ran for 55 yards on 37 carries, a 1.49 average.
— Miami allows 3.68 yards per rush, No. 31. The Irish rushed for 109 yards on 36 carries, a 3.03 average.
— North Carolina State’s 3.92 yards allowed per rush rated No. 42 in the country. Notre Dame used 318 yards on 54 carries, a 5.89 average, to trounce the Wolfpack.

Somewhat below the national radar thanks to LSU’s disappointing start to the season, junior Derrius Guice is one of the more dangerous running backs in the country, averaging 5.34 yards per rush and 104.82 yards per game. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Flipping sides of the ball, LSU junior running back Derrius Guice ran for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games on 216 attempts, a 5.34 yards per carry average. Guice led the way for a rushing attack that averaged 210.8 yards per game, No. 31 in the country. It set up an efficient passing attack, No. 18 in that regard.

The Irish defense gives up 3.96 yards per rush, No. 43 in the country, having faced four offenses more dangerous than LSU’s on the ground and two more worthy of comparison.

— Stanford averages 6.00 yards per rush, but gained only 152 yards on 38 carries a week ago, a 4.00 average.
— Georgia averages 5.8 yards per rush, but gained only 185 yards on 43 carries in the season’s second week at Notre Dame, a 4.30 average.
— Navy’s triple-option yields 5.46 yards per carry, but the Midshipmen managed just 277 yards on 72 carries against the Irish, a 3.85 average.
— Miami averages 5.11 yards per rush, exceeding that against Notre Dame with 237 yards on 42 carries, a 5.64 average.
— North Carolina State gains 4.70 yards per carry, yet the Irish held the Wolfpack to 50 yards on 24 carries, a 2.08 average.
— Boston College used a late-season surge to gain 4.68 yards per rush, better than the 185 yards on 44 rushes allowed by Notre Dame, a 4.20 average.


The overwrought storyline of this matchup will deem it a rematch of the 2014 Music City Bowl, a contest Notre Dame won 31-28. This is a vastly different LSU team, now led by Ed Orgeron.

The more worthwhile topic will be how a finally-healthy Josh Adams and Dexter Williams can lead the Irish ground game against a proven and still-improving defense in the season finale. They have done it before, but it has not been since mid-October. Hence, a full month to get healthy may prove to be a difference-maker.

(Note: As always when discussing national ranks amid statistics, these rushing figures are not sacks adjusted.)

A final summary of Notre Dame bowl possibilites

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UPDATE: Wisconsin ranked at No. 6, with Auburn somewhere behind the Badgers and Alabama in the College Football Playoff, removes the Camping World Bowl from these considerations. If Notre Dame is in the top 12, it will head to a playoff-eligible bowl, most likely the Cotton Bowl. If not, then the Irish will be in the Citrus Bowl facing an SEC team on Jan. 1.


By the time today’s first NFL game kicks off, Notre Dame will know its bowl destination. If not then, shortly thereafter. It entirely depends on the final College Football Playoff selection committee poll, though not entirely concerning where the committee slots the Irish. The poll is scheduled to be announced at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Three possibilities remain plausible enough to be outlined.

Playoff-eligible bowl, most likely the Cotton Bowl
This is the most unlikely outcome, but also the one deserving of the most debate. After the weekend’s conference championships, Notre Dame is one of three teams in the rational discussion for the 12th and final spot in the six playoff-access bowls.

In last week’s poll, TCU ranked No. 11, Washington at No. 13 and the Irish were No. 15. Since then, the Horned Frogs lost 41-17 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. Neither the Huskies nor Notre Dame played, while No. 12 Stanford fell 31-28 to USC on Friday.

There is logic to elevating the Irish past TCU and Washington.

There is also one fact: The committee ranked the Huskies ahead of Notre Dame last week. It is a stretch to think Georgia’s and USC’s victories were enough to change that, especially when considering Miami’s face plant (lost 38-3 to Clemson) diminished the Irish claim.

If the Irish finish at No. 12 in the ranking, then a playoff-eligible bowl it is, and the Cotton Bowl seems the most likely destination. Central Florida is a near lock for the Peach Bowl due to proximity. USC is headed to the Fiesta Bowl for similar reasoning, and Miami is obligated to the Orange Bowl. Avoiding regular season rematches, Notre Dame would not head to either of those latter two.

An SEC team will almost undoubtedly oppose the Knights in Atlanta, and one way or another it is natural to move a Big Ten team to face the Pac 12 champion, befitting tradition. Then, either a remaining SEC team or Big Ten team — whichever conference does not snag the fourth spot in the Playoff — will face the Hurricanes.

That leaves the Cotton Bowl and, presumably, Penn State (Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Don’t hold your breath.

Citrus Bowl; Orlando, Fla. (Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC)
For the Irish to head to the New Year’s Day lead-in to the Playoff, Wisconsin must head to the Orange Bowl. The Badgers get that right only if they are ranked ahead of all non-Playoff SEC teams. In other words, Wisconsin needs to be ranked ahead of Auburn and possibly Alabama, if Ohio State claims the fourth and final Playoff spot.

The Buckeyes cannot go to the Orange Bowl, a quirk included in the contracts as something of a concession to the Rose Bowl in years where the Rose Bowl is a semifinal. Thus, even if Alabama makes the Playoff, it is the Badgers who need to fit in ahead of Auburn, not Ohio State.

In the case of Alabama making the Playoff, a conspiracy theorist could see the committee putting Wisconsin ahead of Auburn to be sure to send an SEC team to the Peach Bowl, held at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. If the Tide do not make the Playoff, then that would no longer be a concern as the SEC would have two teams floating amongst the eight to be assigned to eligible bowls.

If any of this comes to be, Notre Dame would face an SEC team in the Citrus Bowl, theoretically LSU.

Camping World Bowl; Orlando, Fla. (Dec. 28, 4:15 p.m., ESPN)
If Alabama is not in the Playoff, then this is the reality awaiting the Irish. The Tide would head to the Orange Bowl, a Big Ten team to the Citrus Bowl and then Notre Dame plays the Thursday evening following Christmas.

This all also applies if Alabama is in the Playoff, but Auburn finishes ranked ahead of Wisconsin. The Tigers would subsequently head to the Orange Bowl, and the dominoes fall right back into place.

The Irish would face a Big 12 foe, perhaps Iowa State.


Nailing down which of the latter two scenarios is most likely hinges largely on if Ohio State or Alabama claims the final Playoff spot. If the Buckeyes do, then the odds tilt heavily toward Notre Dame going to the Camping World Bowl. If the Tide gets a chance to face Clemson for the third January in a row (from a selfish view, please let that be case), then the question would be if the committee gives merit to how close Wisconsin kept the Big 10 title game compared to the SEC’s blowout with Auburn on the losing end.

A meaningless prediction from these parts: Alabama gets in, Wisconsin heads to the Orange and Notre Dame beats LSU to start 2018.

Notre Dame’s bowl projections and opponents’ results

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Notre Dame fell to No. 15 in the most-recent College Football Playoff selection committee poll Tuesday night. At this point, a bowl appearance in Orlando is a near certainty. Three possibilities remain, listed in order from most-to-least likely:

Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET: The Irish head to the Citrus if the Big Ten has a higher ranked non-Playoff participant than the SEC does. A second-tier SEC opponent would await in the Citrus Bowl, most likely LSU or perhaps Mississippi State.

In other words, if No. 8 Ohio State beats No. 4 Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship as bookmakers project, but No. 5 Alabama makes the Playoff rather than the Buckeyes, then a Notre Dame afternoon in the Citrus Bowl seems likely.

Camping World Bowl, Dec. 28, 5: 15 p.m. ET: If an SEC non-Playoff participant is higher ranked than all the Big Ten’s such teams, then the Irish will fall to the Camping World Bowl to face a Big 12 foe — Iowa State, for example.

Should the Tide be left out of the Playoff in nearly any way, it appears destined for the Orange Bowl, opening a Big Ten slot in the Citrus Bowl and moving Notre Dame to an evening discussing camping gear.

ND to the Citrus ND to the Camping World
Big Ten > SEC — Orange SEC > Big Ten — Orange
Big Ten to the Citrus Bowl

Cotton Bowl, Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET: What would it take for the Irish to reach a Playoff-eligible bowl? Notre Dame would need to move into the top 12. If No. 10 USC blows out No. 12 Stanford in the Pac 12 championship, the Cardinal could fall below Notre Dame. Subsequently, No. 3 Oklahoma embarrassing No. 11 TCU might drop the Horned Frogs past the Irish. That would still not be enough, though.

What if the Badgers beat Ohio State by something along the lines of 70-0? Then, and only then, the Buckeyes might drop out of the top 12 and open the possibility for Notre Dame to face current No. 13 Washington.


So much chaos is needed to move the Irish into the top 12 despite a rather strong schedule. Ten Irish opponents made bowl games, only Miami (OH) and North Carolina the exceptions. Eight of the 12 exceeded preseason expectations, totaling a 91-51 record, a .641 winning percentage.


Georgia (11-1): The Bulldogs remain in the Playoff hunt thanks to a 38-7 win at Georgia Tech. If Georgia tops No. 2 Auburn in the SEC title game (4 p.m. ET; CBS), then it should leap from No. 6 to the needed top four. It may be difficult, though, with the Tigers favored by two points and a combined point total over/under of 48.5. The Bulldogs will need to flip the script on an expected 25-23 conclusion.

USC (10-2): The Trojans enjoyed their first off week of the season. That rest may play a part in USC being favored by four in the Pac 12 championship against Stanford (8 p.m. ET on Friday; ESPN). An over/under of 58.5 creates a theoretical final of 31-27.

Miami (10-1): The Hurricanes fell 24-14 at Pittsburgh on Friday, endangering their Playoff hopes. A victory over Clemson to claim the ACC could still vault No. 7 Miami into the top four. It would be a notable upset, considering the Hurricanes are 9.5-point underdogs with an over/under of 47. Rough math makes for a 28-19 Tigers victory.

Stanford (9-3): If the Cardinal top USC on Friday, it should be headed to the Fiesta Bowl.


Temple (6-6): A 43-22 win at Tulsa got the Owls to bowl eligibility, though the six triumphs still fall ever so slightly below the preseason win total over/under of 6.5 victories.

Freshman running back A.J. Dillon provided the spark that changed Boston College’s season, carrying the Eagles offense through the latter half of the year. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Boston College (7-5): The Eagles finished the regular season on a high note with a 42-14 walloping at Syracuse, once again carried by freshman running back A.J. Dillon. The stalwart took 23 carries for 193 yards and three touchdowns to finish his debut campaign with 1,432 yards and 13 touchdowns on 268 rush attempts. Boston College’s closing stretch of five wins in its final six games cleared the win total over/under of four all on its own. It seems worth noting the Eagles visit South Bend in 2019, before Dillon will be eligible to declare for the NFL Draft.

Michigan State (9-3): The Spartans routed Rutgers 40-7. Much like Notre Dame’s rebound of a season, Michigan State had no trouble surpassing its expected 6.5 wins.

Miami (OH) (5-7): The RedHawks concluded their season last Tuesday with a 28-7 win at Ball State. Miami entered the season favored to win the MAC’s Eastern Division, instead finishing third, so consider the season fitting of the spirit of an under.

North Carolina (3-9): The Tar Heels’ misery ended with a 33-21 loss at North Carolina State, finishing the season well short of the preseason’s over/under of seven victories.

North Carolina State (8-4): Speaking of the Wolfpack, it needed that victory to clear its over/under of 7.5

Wake Forest (7-5): The Demon Deacons finished the year on a down note, dropping the finale 31-23 to Duke, yet clearing the over/under of 5.5.

Navy (6-5): The Midshipmen lost 24-14 at Houston on Friday, but will have a chance to further their win total next weekend against Army (3 p.m. ET; CBS).


For thoroughness’ sake, all four teams playing this weekend cleared the overs on their win totals. Georgia — 8.5; USC — 9.5; Miami — 9; Stanford — 8.5.