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Friday at 4: The results of 40 Notre Dame preseason predictions

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Accountability is the backbone of credibility. With that in mind, let’s laugh at how many of this space’s 40 Notre Dame and Irish-adjacent preseason predictions were woefully misguided.

(Sure, the bowl game seems applicable to some of the season-long stat thoughts, but the vast majority of these watches are ended.)

1) The completed Campus Crossroads project will receive largely positive reviews.
RESULT: Let’s call it a hit. (1-for-1)

2) The completed Campus Crossroads project will be largely an afterthought by season’s end.
RESULT: Now this is certainly valid. (2-for-2)

3) The videos remembering the 1977 national championship team will be a worthwhile usage of the new video board above the south end zone, and a nice way to ease Irish fans into comfort with the board.
RESULT: It took until the USC game in mid-October, but this proved accurate. (3-for-3)

4) Fans will initially balk at pre- and post-game shows on the video board.
RESULT: No one ever seemed bothered by those, actually. (3-for-4)

5) Those shows will become background noise.
RESULT: Claiming this even if they essentially started as background noise. (4-5)

6) The Chicago Cubs will be on the road the night of the USC game, in game six of the National League Championship Series.
RESULT: Well, this would have been accurate if the Cubs had not lost in five games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. (4-6)

7) The Cubs will be knocked out of the playoffs by the time North Carolina State visits Notre Dame a week later.
RESULT: Nailed it. (5-7)

8) At least one junior will prematurely declare an intention to return for his senior year despite NFL Draft possibilities.
RESULT: Perhaps partly a result of receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and tight end Alizé Mack having underwhelming seasons, this never came close to happening. (5-8)

9) Senior left guard Quenton Nelson will not make that mistake.
RESULT: Not that it is in doubt — he’ll head to the NFL — but Nelson never stuck his foot in his mouth during the season. (6-9)

10) Miami will be a warm and high-scoring affair.
RESULT: Warm? Yes. High-scoring? For only one side. (6-10)

11) DeShone Kizer will throw more touchdowns than Malik Zaire will.
RESULT: Kizer’s five are a handful more than Zaire has managed. (7-11)

12) Kizer will lose more turnovers than Zaire will.
RESULT: Kizer has thrown 14 interceptions and lost seven fumbles. Zaire, largely due to hardly playing, threw only one interception and lost just one fumble this season. (8-12)

13) Sophomore Chase Claypool will lead the Irish in special teams tackles.
RESULT: Claypool finished the season with one tackle. Suffice it to say, this was inaccurate. Freshman Jordan Genmark-Heath made 11 tackles this year, all to memory on special teams. If he did not lead Notre Dame in that category, he was certainly among the top few. (8-13)

14) Claypool will have more receptions than tackles this year.
RESULT: He had 28 more, in fact. (9-14)

15) Junior kicker Justin Yoon will set the school record for field goal percentage.
RESULT: Entering the season, Yoon had to make 9-of-16 kicks to claim that mark, needing all 16 to reach the minimum requirement of 50.  Indeed, Yoon finished the season 12-of-16. (10-15)

16) Irish special teams will win at least one game.
RESULT: Nope. It could be argued they played a pretty pivotal role in the loss at Stanford, too. (10-16)

17) Fifth-year senior Cam Smith will have the second most catches for Notre Dame.
RESULT: Partly due to a hamstring injury, Smith made only eight catches in five games. Even if he had been healthy, though, it is unlikely he would have kept pace with Claypool’s 29. (10-17)

18) Mack will have the second-most receiving yards.
RESULT: Marking Mack down as a disappointment may seem harsh, but he certainly fell short of nearly all expectations, including this one. Mack finished with 166 yards, finishing fifth for the Irish. Claypool lands at second in this category, as well, with 402 yards, holding off sophomore Kevin Stepherson and his 359 yards in only eight games. (10-18)

19) St. Brown will lead Notre Dame in all three receiving categories.
RESULT: 31 catches, yes. 468 yards, yes. Four touchdowns, trails Stepherson by one. (10.67-19)

Josh Adams‘ season went better than any reasonable predictions could have ever expected. (Getty Images)

20) Sophomore running back Tony Jones will finish with the second-most rushing yards, behind only Adams.
RESULT: Jones finished fifth with 232 yards. Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush finished second with 765. (10.67-20)

21) Adams will rush for between 1,174 and 1,274 yards.
RESULT: Sometimes, missing a prediction is not a bad thing, such as when Adams rushes for 1,386 yards. (10.67-21)

22) Junior running back Dexter Williams will finish with the fourth-most rushing yards.
RESULT: Nailed it, though sophomore Deon McIntosh finishing ahead of Williams was never a consideration. (11.67-22)

23) Wimbush will gain more yards on the ground than Williams.
RESULT: More than double, in fact, 765 to 324. (12.67-23)

24) The Irish will average between 34.9 and 36.4 points per game.
RESULT: With 424 points through 12 games, the current average is 35.33. Bullseye. (13.67-24)

Junior linebacker Te’von Coney’s surge this season was certainly appreciated by the Irish. He made 99 tackles through 12 games to lead Notre Dame. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

25) Senior linebacker Nyles Morgan will make the most tackles.
RESULT: Junior linebacker Te’von Coney’s emergence rendered this inaccurate. Coney finished with 99 tackles, compared to Morgan’s 83. (14.67-25)

26) Senior linebacker Drue Tranquill will make more big plays than Morgan while finishing second in tackles.
RESULT: Tranquill finished third in tackles with 74, but the spirit of this foresight was always about the big plays. Lazily leaning on statistics gives Tranquill the edge. (8.5 tackles for loss including 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups including one interception, three fumbles recovered, one fumble forced = 15.5 — Coney had 13 TFLs, one fumble recovered and one fumble forced = 15, but actually only 14 because those two fumble actions came on the same play.) (15.67-26)

27) The defense will total 25-29 sacks.
RESULT: A strong bowl game could tilt this, currently sitting at 22. Considering three would exceed the season average, however, let’s be strict and mark this as a miss. (15.67-27)

28) The defense will force 25-29 turnovers.
RESULT: Twenty may have dwarfed last year’s 14, but it still falls short of this projection. (15.67-28)

29) The defense will allow between 23.6 and 25.1 points per game.
RESULT: That preseason prediction also included the thought of, “The defense will not return to the 2013 level of allowing only 22.4 points per game …” Rather, it exceeded that level and allowed 21.83. (15.67-29)

30) Notre Dame will hit the over on a win total over/under mark of 8.5.
RESULT: Check. (16.67-30)

31) The Irish will finish the regular season with a win at Stanford.
RESULT: *crickets* (16.67-31)

32) Unders: South Carolina under 5 (finished with 8); Georgia Tech under 6 (finished with five); Wake Forest under 5.5 (7); Stanford under 9 (9), and LSU under 9 (9).
RESULT: One correct, two wrong, two pushes. That is a loss at any sportsbook. (16.67-32)

33) Overs: Ohio State over 10.5 (finished with 10); Rutgers over 3 (finished with 4); Arizona over 4.5 (finished with 7); Oregon over 7.5 (finished with 7), and North Carolina State over 7.5 (finished with 8).
RESULT: Going 3-2 would count as a win at any sportsbook. (17.67-33)

34) Notre Dame will beat Georgia to reach the top 25 for the first time.
RESULT: *The return of the crickets* (17.67-34)

35) Four Irish opponents will be ranked at the end of the year.
RESULT: Six currently are: Georgia, Miami, USC, Stanford, Michigan State and North Carolina State. One could argue the semantics of six being ranked means four are ranked. Let’s go with that. (18.67-35)

36) They will not be the same four ranked teams as the beginning of the year’s USC, Stanford Georgia and Miami.
RESULT: Such a line implies only four would be ranked. This is obviously not the case, and serves as grounds to remove the previously credited point in accuracy’s favor. (17.67-36)

The end of the season may have been a letdown, but Irish coach Brian Kelly actually met most logical preseason goals. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

37) Notre Dame will remain in the top 25 for the rest of the season.
RESULT: Once the Irish reached the rankings, they stayed there. Valid enough. (18.67-37)

38) Notre Dame will finish the regular season ranked between No. 13 and No. 18 in the polls.
RESULT: Presuming Wisconsin does not beat Ohio State 140-0 this weekend, this should land in the black side of the ledger. (19.67-38)

39) The Irish will play a bowl game in Orlando.
RESULT: Again, barring a Bucky beat down of the Buckeyes, one could have booked flight plans in August. (20.67-39)

40) At least 15 of these will be wrong.
RESULT: Well, that was obvious.

Final score: 21.67 for 40, or 54.17 percent.
Such a positive percentage would pay for at least a few drinks if properly-deployed. There are worse track records to have in this gambit.


To add one more piece of prognosticator’s applause, if anyone closely read each week’s look at opponents’ schedules, the reader may have noticed certain thoughts intermixed. Those thoughts finished the year 38-21. Now that would buy a few rounds.

Friday at 4: Some complaints, some predictions in the balance & one thought experiment

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Finding 40 things, concepts and people somewhat tied to Notre Dame and deserving of appreciation was an appropriate gimmick for yesterday, but it runs contrary to this scribe’s reputation. In an attempt to protect that cynic’s stance and counterbalance that 40, here are a baker’s dozen items worthy of Irish fans’ criticism, regret and/or disappointment:

— The lack of Notre Dame composure from the start at Miami two weeks ago.

— The lack of Irish execution at the end against Georgia in the season’s second week.

— Twitter’s 280 characters. As of now, excluding links and mentions, @D_Farmer has yet to release a tweet longer than 140 characters, and that will continue as long as is feasible due to some misguided and unfounded principle.

— The possibility of losing senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner after this season even though he will have another year of eligibility remaining. Bonner told Notre Dame’s independent student newspaper, The Observer, he does not intend to pursue a fifth year with the team. If that proves true, it will cut into the both the depth and the rotation on the interior of next year’s defensive line.

Bonner’s mother having cancer may be part of his motivation to move on to the next stage of his life, understandably so if so.

— Injuries throughout the NBA, including to Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and Patrick Beverley. Each one diminishes an outstanding product.

— Ankle injuries, as suffered this season by Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, Tony Jones and Bryce Love.

— Brandon Wimbush lucked out of a number of interceptions in September’s first few weeks. Perhaps a humbling moment then may have forced the issue of earlier growth.

In a shortened season, sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson has made his presence quite known. Notre Dame fans will have to wait until 2018 to see what he can do when incorporated into a September. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

— Kevin Stepherson missing the first four games. The suspension was presumably warranted — there has been no reason to think otherwise — but given the sophomore receiver’s progress the last few weeks, it is tantalizing to think what he could already be if he had played a full fall.

— Sometimes, the toughest of times, the bacon-wrapped shrimp dish has only three such delicacies. Has that ever been enough? No. It has never been a satisfactorily-filling serving.

— Football season is only three months long. File that under the disappointing category.

— Notre Dame’s safety play remains undeniably underwhelming. Fortunately, there is an entire offseason to learn the grammatical nuances of Aloha and workshop the appropriate Aloha Alohi headlines.

— Online commentators. As advertised, this segment is intended to counterbalance yesterday’s good will.

More than a quarter of the 40 preseason predictions will be determined tomorrow.

A total of 11 of those 40 stand very much in the balance, including three in direct conflict with two others.

19) If junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown plays (concussion protocol), he will need two catches and 34 yards more than sophomore receiver Chase Claypool records to take the lead in those categories and a touchdown more than sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson scores to lead the Irish in the third receiving category.

24) Notre Dame currently averages 36.7 points per game. To fall within the predicted range of 34.9 to 36.4 points per game, the Irish would need to score between 15 and 34 points at Stanford.

His tackle totals are not astronomical, only third on Notre Dame’s defense, but senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill has affected the season in big ways, nonetheless. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

26) Statistically speaking, senior linebacker Drue Tranquill and junior linebacker Te’von Coney are tied for “big” plays this season. August’s prediction No. 26 implied Tranquill would lead Notre Dame in the category.

27) With 20 sacks to date, the Irish defense would need to record five more to reach the projected range of 25 to 29.

28) The exact same numbers apply to turnovers forced.

31) This space predicted Notre Dame would beat Stanford. It also predicted the Cardinal would fail to reach nine wins (No. 32) in the regular season and only four Irish opponents would finish the season ranked (No. 35). If Stanford wins Saturday, all three of those predictions will be foiled with one fell swoop.

32-33) The other season win total over/unders hanging in the balance are North Carolina State exceeding 7.5 wins (currently at seven), Georgia Tech failing to reach six wins (currently with five) and LSU falling short of nine wins (currently at eight). If all three of these and the Cardinal prediction were to come true, the over/under predictions would finish at 5-5 overall, a losing record when factoring in the discrepancies inherent to such wagers.

38) August predicted Notre Dame would finish ranked between Nos. 13 and 18. It will undoubtedly finish higher than that with a win this weekend.

39) Likewise, a win this weekend will send the Irish to a playoff-eligible bowl, not one of the two options in Orlando as predicted.

Finally, a thought experiment prompted by …

In the last four decades, 21 teams have won national championships. That list, in full, in order of most recent title:

Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Texas, USC, Miami, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Nebraska, Michigan, Washington, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Penn State, BYU, Georgia.

Russo’s point is valid. That is a pretty thorough list. Add in the likes of UCLA and Oregon, perhaps Texas A&M due to its recruiting base, and it may be comprehensive.

One exception needs to be added, though. In basketball, it is referred to as the “Larry Bird factor.” Bird led Indiana State through an undefeated season to the 1979 National Championship game, falling to Magic Johnson and Michigan State.

One player changing every dynamic of a game happens more frequently in basketball than it does in football. In the former, one player is 10 percent of the participants, not less than five percent as he is in football. But every so often, once every five or seven years, a quarterback comes along with that exact effect.

Vince Young at Texas in 2005. Cam Newton at Auburn in 2010. Deshaun Watson at Clemson in 2017. Admittedly, Clemson also won the national title in 1981, but otherwise, none of those three schools make this listing without those quarterbacks.

The four-team Playoff format makes it even more difficult for an upstart program to reach the promised land, but Larry Bird had to navigate four rounds before even facing Magic Johnson. It is rare one player has such an effect, but it is neither unheard of nor impossible to fathom again.

Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest: Who, what, when, where, weather, why and by how much?

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WHO? No. 3 Notre Dame (7-1) vs. Wake Forest (5-3), otherwise known as defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s current employer against his former employer, respectively.

WHAT? It’s pretty simple, really. If the Irish win their remaining four games, they have a very good chance — though not a sure thing — of reaching the College Football Playoff. If they lose so much as one, Orlando is nice in late December or early January.

WHEN? 3:41 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Note: Come Sunday, those clocks pivot back to standard time. It is truly one of the best weekends of the year, albeit created by one of the most-outdated practices still maintained. Daylight saving time, the designated hitter and unicycles — all things that have hung around in society long enough.

WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., and broadcast on NBC.

The game will also be available through the NBC Sports app or online at: http://stream.nbcsports.com/notre-dame/notre-dame-wake-forest

WEATHER? If you like 50-degree rain, then here is some great news: The day in South Bend is expected to be around 50 degrees with a strong likelihood of rain throughout the day. Let’s just avoid lightning.

WHY? In many respects, the Irish suffering a loss so early in the season gave each and every subsequent week a distinct impetus. If undefeated, it would be conceivable Notre Dame might start to think of grandeur, or at least of a trip to Miami in a week. If losing more recently, the deflating aspect might crush all hopes of righting the ship to reach the Playoff. Instead, the Irish know exactly what position they are in and seem to be focused appropriately.

As for the Demon Deacons, they are a win away from bowl eligibility and besting the win total over/under mark of 5.5. While they would certainly like to snag that victory in an attention-grabbing upset, they still have two prime chances remaining if needed (at Syracuse on Nov. 11; vs. Duke on Nov. 25).

BY HOW MUCH? The looming weather may dampen the game’s total score, but current odds project Notre Dame to win by two touchdowns with a combined point total over/under of 55. In other words, bookmakers expect the Irish to win 34-20.

Notre Dame has scored fewer than 35 points only once this year with its starting quarterback, junior Brandon Wimbush, taking snaps. That was the 20-19 loss to now-No. 1 Georgia in the season’s second week. The Bulldogs are also the only team to reach 20 points against the Irish.

Expecting Wake Forest to join Georgia in either category seems far-fetched, so let’s flip a touchdown to Notre Dame and then round up to make it consistent with a typical football tally.

Notre Dame 42, Wake Forest 13. (6-2 record on the season.)

THIS WEEK’S INSIDE THE IRSH READING:
Monday’s Leftover: Notre Dame embraces Adams’ Heisman hopes with ’33 Trucking’ theme
Notre Dame’s Opponents: Six still hold conference title hopes
Notre Dame among the dozen looking at the Playoff, though it is still October
Notre Dame at No. 3 in initial CFP poll
Notre Dame’s best-case and worst-case CFP scenarios
Notre Dame lands speedy CA receiver’s commitment
And In That Corner … The Wake Forest Demon Deacons and a very familiar defense
Things To Learn: Wake Forest offers a look into Notre Dame’s defensive future
Quick Notre Dame Notebook: Injury updates, cornerback swap & ‘developmental’ players
Friday at 4: A statistical look at how Notre Dame routed two top-15 teams in consecutive weeks

INSIDE THE IRISH COVERAGE FROM THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE GAME:
Notre Dame ‘dominates’ Wolfpack 35-14
Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s in-season improvements make the previously-maybe become increasingly possible
Notre Dame Sunday Notebook: Injury update and punt block blocks

THIS WEEK’S OUTSIDE READING:
Long drives, reliably delivered
’33 Trucking’ hats available with all proceeds going back to Irish student-athletes
Meet the replacements: Deacons line up with depth in light of injuries
New 538.com projections factor in first CFP poll
North Carolina State QB and head coach explain pick-six misunderstanding

Notre Dame vs. North Carolina State: Who, what, when, where, weather, why and by how much?

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WHO? No. 9 Notre Dame (6-1) vs. No. 14 North Carolina State (6-1), two of about 16 remaining genuine College Football Playoff contenders. The Irish removed a name from that list last week.

WHAT? Continuing the stretch of “playoff” games on Notre Dame’s schedule, a win is absolutely necessary to keep that pipedream alive. This contest will likely come down to the strength-against-strength matchup of the Irish offensive line and running game against the Wolfpack’s defensive front seven led by senior end Bradley Chubb.

WHEN? 3:41 p.m. ET, though an Air Force F-16 flyover is expected beforehand, so if in attendance, don’t wait until the last minute to get inside.

WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., and broadcast on NBC.

The game will also be available through the NBC Sports app or online at: http://stream.nbcsports.com/notre-dame/notre-dame-north-carolina-state

Those abroad should take a look at NBC Sports Gold for the evening, and for anyone hoping to see the Notre Dame band’s halftime show: http://stream.nbcsports.com/notre-dame/notre-dame-halftime-show

A postgame show will also be available online: http://stream.nbcsports.com/notre-dame/?pid=37523

WEATHER? There are rumors of snow, but it would not likely accumulate. The more pertinent fact is Saturday in South Bend will be in the low-40s and precipitation is possible. If this were mid-November in the home finale against Navy, such might be expected, but it is still October, and this qualifies as cold on a comfort spectrum.

WHY? Entering the season, few would have expected this contest to have national implications, but it very much does. Both North Carolina State and Notre Dame have viable means of reaching the College Football Playoff, provided they win out after losing in the season’s first and second weeks, respectively. A loss would not stop the Wolfpack from chasing the ACC title, especially not with No. 7 Clemson awaiting in a week.

BY HOW MUCH? The Irish are favored by a touchdown with a combined point/total over under of 57.5, though that latter figure began the week a bit higher. Those current odds would indicate an unusual final score of Notre Dame 32, North Carolina State 25.

This space has been quietly warning of the difficulties of this matchup since August. It became an underpinning theme this week. Some excerpts, in chronological order:

Aug. 18 — Let’s also add North Carolina State exceeding 7.5 wins to the previous list of over bets.
Aug. 22 — Make no mistake about it: When the Irish host North Carolina State on Oct. 28, they will not be entering a trap game. The Wolfpack will be anything but average this season.

Sept. 19 — It may be a bit bold to predict the Wolfpack to win outright [at Florida State], but a cover and an under would go hand-in-hand.
Sept. 26 — North Carolina State notched its biggest win of the year, a 27-21 victory at Florida State. The Wolfpack benefited from 11 Seminoles penalties and a turnover, but overall North Carolina State just played a solid game.

Oct. 3 — As four-point underdogs, expect North Carolina State to come out on the high side of a 34-31 projected final [against Louisville].
Oct. 10 — The Wolfpack has definitively arrived, topping Louisville 39-25 on Thursday to add a second victory over the ACC’s top teams.

Monday — This seems an applicable time to remind folks, North Carolina State had the week off.
Tuesday — For the second consecutive week, Notre Dame will face a viable passing threat. North Carolina State senior quarterback Ryan Finley, however, has had a consistent and mistake-free season, especially if compared to USC junior Sam Darnold. Finley has yet to throw an interception and has been held to fewer than 200 yards only once, when he threw for 198 at Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
Wednesday — Notre Dame will have a difficult time running against North Carolina State. The Wolfpack gives up a mere 3.04 yards per carry, No. 14 in the country. For context, Georgia ranks No. 7 in allowing 2.82 yards per rush and Michigan State comes in at No. 8 at 2.89 yards.
Thursday — North Carolina State may be, particularly in the eyes of this scribe, the toughest opponent remaining on Notre Dame’s schedule.
Friday — “They’re one of the top teams in the country,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “They can play with anybody.”

All this was whole-heartedly intended to lay the groundwork for this prediction. The Wolfpack is a season-opening moment’s focus away from being undefeated. If South Carolina had not returned the first kick of its season for a touchdown, North Carolina State would enter this weekend no more than three-point underdogs. At that point, picking the upset would be much trendier than it is. It shouldn’t be trendy. It should hardly be considered an upset.

North Carolina State 28, Notre Dame 24. (6-1 record on the season.)

THIS WEEK’S INSIDE THE IRSH READING:
Monday’s Leftovers: Notre Dame lands safety commitment and Adams lands in more Heisman talk
Notre Dame’s Opponents: BC & Mich. St. rise while Miami continues its streak of well-timed luck
Notre Dame doesn’t ‘have anything else to play for’ but a Playoff bid
Questions for the Week (Some, Notre Dame already answered)
And In That Corner … The No. 14 North Carolina State Wolfpack and a vaunted run defense
Things To Learn: Notre Dame will need the year’s best rushing performance vs. NC State
Notre Dame’s injury returns will aid needed punt return coverage
Friday at 4: If/when Notre Dame loses, shed the disappointment

INSIDE THE IRISH COVERAGE FROM THE USC GAME:
Notre Dame makes quick, easy work of USC
Things We Learned: Maybe, just maybe …
Sunday Notre Dame Notebook; Results create belief & an injury update

THIS WEEK’S OUTSIDE READING:
Jack Swarbrick reflects on his commitment to Brian Kelly over the offseason
Notre Dame left guard Quenton Nelson lands in the conversation of most NFL-ready, non-QB draft prospects
Irish linebacker Te’von Coney has returned from a public mistake to become a valuable on-field contributor
Defensive coordinator Mike Elko has made all the difference for Notre Dame this season. How?
Do bye weeks lead to wins? ($)
A Notre Dame alumnus pledged a $100 million gift to the University to be used in any way the school sees fit
Former Notre Dame basketball guard Pat Connaughton has shown he is ready for an increased role with the Portland Blazers this season
Only one starting quarterback has yet to throw an interception this season
DeShone Kizer’s late night out doesn’t sit well with Browns
The Athletic’s Heisman straw poll has a familiar name debut this week ($)

Notre Dame vs. USC: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much?

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WHO? No. 13 Notre Dame (5-1) vs. No. 11 Southern Cal (6-1), two of 16 or 17 genuine College Football Playoff contenders, though the loser of this matchup will no longer be able to make that claim.

WHAT? This one should come down to how well the Irish defense can limit the Trojan offense. If this becomes a shootout, the road team will hold the edge.

WHEN? 7:42 p.m. ET. The sun will have already set by then, making for a comfortable fall evening, and fans facing west in the Notre Dame Stadium should be quite grateful for that prime-time start.

WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., and broadcast on NBC.

The game will also be available through the NBC Sports app or online at: http://stream.nbcsports.com/notre-dame/notre-dame-usc

Those abroad should take a look at NBC Sports Gold for the evening, and for anyone desperate to see the Notre Dame band perform with Chicago at halftime: http://stream.nbcsports.com/notre-dame/notre-dame-halftime-show

WHY? To quote Tom Rinaldi from the top of a recent “Onward Notre Dame” special about the Irish rivalry with the Trojans, “There are two ingredients to a great football rivalry: history and hate.”

In many respects, those two factors are intertwined. Remember Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship season? USC entered the season finale against the Irish also undefeated at the time. One can hardly fault the Trojans for hating Notre Dame for spoiling that potential title season, even though USC then went on to lose to No. 11 Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Let’s not spend any more time here than necessary on USC’s most-recent ruining of Irish dreams in 2005. Some Notre Dame fans have yet to recover from those few moments of premature joy. They don’t seem to find much comfort in knowing that game isn’t counted in either the official series record or USC’s all-time record due to something or other about an unnamed player receiving benefits above and beyond what the NCAA allows.

BY HOW MUCH? This line has held consistently at 3.5 points in favor of the Irish while the combined points total over/under has ticked up from 60 to 65.5. That jump would lead to a theoretical conclusion of Notre Dame 34, USC 31.

That sounds a bit like the aforementioned shootout. Perhaps if some of those points come from special teams or a defensive touchdown, such an output would make more sense, but those unexpected joys are beyond predicting. Thus, let’s defer to home-field advantage while skewing a bit lower.

Notre Dame 27, USC 23. (5-1 record on the season.)

In other words, the Irish convert in the red zone one more time than the Trojans do.

STAT TO REMEMBER: USC has turned the ball over 16 times in seven games. The Trojans have also forced 16 turnovers. Which one of those slows this weekend will likely make all the difference.

FACT TO REMEMBER: The only unbelievable part of the greatest Christmas movie ever made, “Die Hard,” is that the security guard is distracted by a Notre Dame vs. USC game, despite it being Christmas Eve. The teams have never played later than Dec. 10, which came all the way back in 1932.

THIS WEEK’S INSIDE THE IRSH READING:
Questions for the Week: Wimbush’s health & the unpredictability of college football
Notre Dame’s Opponents: Navy falls, dropping undefeateds to only Georgia and Miami (FL)
QB Wimbush & Notre Dame RBs healthy; LB Martini not
Notre Dame relies on QB Brandon Wimbush to keep drives alive despite passing struggles
And In That Corner … The USC Trojans and turnover/touchdown-machine Sam Darnold
Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s defense to be tested by USC in ways it has not yet seen
Notre Dame without LB Greer Martini and with a hampered Dexter Williams
Friday at 4: Bye Week Mailbag Part Two

THIS WEEK’S OUTSIDE READING:
Adams and Wimbush give Notre Dame more than meets the eye
Notre Dame’s ‘Ridiculously Photogenic Running Back’ reflects on the photo that made him a meme