With Notre Dame opening up camp next week, Brian Kelly seems to be opening up to the idea of playing two quarterbacks.
As DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire get set to begin their battle, Notre Dame’s head coach talked about that high-profile job with Jim Rome, giving us an interesting look at his mindset on the eve of the season, while also adding a new tweak to the old adage of having two quarterbacks.
Namely, you need two.
“I think you need two,” Kelly told Rome. “You’re going to need two quarterbacks in college football. You need two and we’ve got two very good ones. My expectation is that we need both of them to play.”
That attitude makes sense when you look back at Kelly’s time in South Bend. From the moment Dayne Crist’s bell was rung against Michigan in Kelly’s first season, Notre Dame’s offense has seemingly been pushed into Plan B each and every season—giving way to Nate Montana, Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and eventually Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer.
The Irish certainly wouldn’t have won 10 games in 2015 if Kizer wasn’t capable of thriving when he replaced Zaire against Virginia. And Kelly knows that experience has turned the tables on the depth chart as they enter 2016.
“Both of them are capable of winning, we know that. Malik showed that in the way he played against Texas and he’s been in the program for four years,” Kelly said. “But Kizer obviously has got more experience because of the number of games that he played and big games last year.”
While the plan to continue the competition into fall camp hasn’t changed, Kelly seems to have softened on his stance that only one quarterback will be happy. And while you certainly can’t take this as a declaration that a platoon is coming, Kelly acknowledged the need to have both guys ready and involved. And the best way to do that is by getting them on the field.
“It would be great that whoever took the job over played so well that he’s going to be a Heisman contender,” Kelly said. “If that doesn’t happen, I can see both of them eventually playing.”
The balancing act is nothing new for Kelly. He’s managed it in South Bend, as well as in Cincinnati and his two previous stops. While he’s noted the challenges Ohio State had last season trying to make their offense work while utilizing both Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, it’s worth pointing out that the Irish coaching staff also spent significant time this offseason huddled with the Buckeyes coaching staff, likely a helpful introduction to the quarterback challenges that even Urban Meyer struggled with.
Kelly knows it won’t be easy finding snaps for both quarterbacks. But he also knows it’s likely better to find your balance when you’re the one dictating terms—not a season-ending injury.
“I think it’s so important to have two quarterbacks, be engaged, keep them involved and as much as they can try to get them in the game if you can,” Kelly said. “It’s a lot more difficult if you can do that. But thats the way it is in college football, with the quarterback being so actively involved in the running game.”
Zaire made it only 19 carries last year when his season ended with a broken ankle. Quarterback runs have ended seasons for Dayne Crist and forced Everett Golson to miss multiple games. But Notre Dame’s offense requires a quarterback who can run the football. And Kelly would rather take his chances playing to that identity than recalibrating how they attack opponents.
“You can’t change your identity week to week, you’ve got to be who you are,” Kelly said. “These two quarterbacks are proven winners. The team knows that.
“I’m not going to have a quarterback controversy. I think we can move forward knowing that both of them are going to play in some fashion.”
Listen to Kelly’s full interview with Jim Rome from July 29 below.
No. 4 Notre Dame’s defense spurs it past preseason big picture predictions
21) Freshman defensive tackle Ja’Mion Franklin will manage at least eight tackles with 0.5 behind the line of scrimmage. RESULT: The play of classmate Jayson Ademilola (seven tackles to date) may have always rendered this unlikely, but this projection went by the wayside for good and for certain when Franklin tore his quad from the bone in his first action, ending his season without a tackle.
22) The Irish will have two players with at least sacks. 23) Junior end Khalid Kareem (pictured at top, left) will lead Notre Dame in sacks. 24) Kareem will have more than eight sacks, the most by by someone in an Irish uniform since Stephon Tuitt’s dozen in 2012. 25) Speaking of 2012’s sacks, Notre Dame will match that season’s 34. RESULTS: The spirit of all four of these was spot on, as the Irish pass rush has been more potent this season than any in recent memory. Even in 2012, when Notre Dame had Tuitt and Prince Shembo wreaking havoc, the overall effect paled in comparison to this year’s with senior tackle Jerry Tillery (seven sacks) leading the way, Kareem (4.5) making the biggest of plays and junior end Julian Okwara doing everything but notching a sack on each drive. Then come junior ends Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji, not to mention Ademilola’s improving play, as well as his twin brother’s, end Justin.
The actual grading of these predictions is varied. Between Tillery and Kareem, it is likely the Irish end up with two pass rushers combining for a dozen sacks. Kareem could still lead that charge — he is only Tillery’s four-sack performance against Stanford away — and he could still top eight. Even if Kareem does not break eight, Tillery should, and that was the underlying intention of the claim.
As for the team total, Notre Dame is on pace for 27 sacks, with 16 thus far. This is more a sign of the times than it is a sign 2012’s pass rush was better.
“We’re much more interested in quarterback hurries and getting them out of the pocket and getting them out of rhythm,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said last week. “Today the passing game is a three-step passing game.”
Quarterback hurries are the most subjective of metrics, but being the one at hand, let’s compare 2018 to 2012 … Notre Dame is credited with 41 through seven games, including Okwara’s single-handed seven against Pittsburgh. In the run to 12-0 earlier in the decade, the Irish managed 45 quarterback hurries in 12 games.
The official record of these four projections is currently to be determined for all four, with the first likely to hit and the last likely to miss, leaving the two Kareem-specific speculations unknown yet. The underlying message of the four hits on three, though, if giving credit for such. Unfortunately, the ledger does not.
26) Notre Dame will give up more than 20 points three times, but its scoring defense will still allow fewer than 21.5 points per game, both being 2017’s marks. RESULT: Threading the needle of such a specific dichotomy was going to be unlikely, yet, here we are. The Irish gave up 27 to Wake Forest — as hinted at — and 23 to Virginia Tech. All five remaining opponents average at least 23 points per game (Florida State) with Navy (28.0) and Syracuse (43.0) looming as the most-distinct threats to the Notre Dame defense, not to mention a bowl game against what is sure to be a high-powered offense, LSU possibilities notwithstanding.
Nonetheless, first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea has schemed his way to an 18.71 points against average.
27) Again using last season as the initial measuring stick, the Irish will allow fewer than 369.2 yards per game. In fact, let’s lower it to 350. RESULT: That number is currently at 340.9. Opponents would need to average 362.8 yards per game in the remaining five games to bring the season-long average above 350. That could happen, given they combine to average 388.8 yards per game through six games apiece. (The fact that all five remaining opponents have already had their bye week speaks both to the incongruent timing of Notre Dame’s and to a potential scheduling advantage in the second half of the season.)
28) Opposing running backs will catch at least three touchdowns of more than 20 yards. RESULT: The specificity of this thought is retroactively surprising, but even if it had been vague, it would have been wrong. First of all, let’s give credit where credit is due: Senior rover Asmar Bilal has outperformed all expectations, proving to be a genuine defender and suited, at least well enough, to the hybrid position. He may not remain there next year, but that will be due to a team need rather than his own ill fit, as may have been previously expected.
Through seven games, the Irish defense has given up just two touchdowns of greater than 20 yards: a 23-yard run to Wake Forest quarterback/receiver Kendall Hinton and a 39-yarder to Stanford running back Bryce Love. That’s it. Again, kudos is deserved by Lea.
29) Freshman linebackers Shayne Simon and Bo Bauer will not preserve a year of eligibility. Freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec will. RESULT: Simon and Bauer have both exceeded the four-game barrier to preservation, while Jurkovec has appeared in just one game. It would take two quarterback injuries for him to burn the season at this point.
30) A Notre Dame safety will intercept a pass unlike in 2017. RESULT: See junior Jalen Elliott, Ball State, twice.
31) Simon will make 10-plus tackles. RESULT: A lack of comfortable leads combined with worthwhile play from Bilal have limited Simon to four tackles thus far. Let’s call that within range and leave this as to be determined.
32) Fifth-year linebacker Drue Tranquill and senior linebacker Te’von Coney will combine for 220 tackles. RESULT: Currently at 102, the duo is on pace for 175 through 12 games. Stretching that to one bowl game raises it to 189. A Playoff run could jump it to 204. There just is not a viable reach for 220. Go ahead and call this wrong already.
33) The New York Yankees will not be swept in the American League Championship Series, guaranteeing Yankee Stadium hosts a game exactly one month before the Irish play the Orange there. RESULT: If only the comma had been a period.
34) The best sporting event of the weekend before Thanksgiving in New York City will not be Notre Dame and Syracuse on Saturday, but rather it will be Connecticut and Syracuse rekindling Big East lore in Madison Square Garden that Thursday night. RESULT: Obviously to be determined, but it would take something monumental to shift this take.
35) Nationwide win total unders … Texas Tech under 6.5, Washington State under 5.5, Arizona State under 4.5, North Carolina under 5.5. RESULT: Texas Tech is already at 4-2 with Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor yet on the schedule. Mike Leach has proven to be a coach of absurd means in getting Wazzu to 5-1. The Fighting Herm Edwards started 2-0 but have gone 1-3 since to make that mildly interesting. And the Fighting Larry Fedoras would not reward anyone who actually made this wager because they cancelled a game due to Hurricane Florence, but the Tar Heels are unlikely to even reach five wins (S&P+ projects 3.2 wins), meaning the bet would have cashed no matter how they fared against Central Florida, which is to say poorly.
Considering the margins of these endeavors, 1-3 or even 2-2 does not count as a correct suggestion.
36) Nationwide win total overs … Virginia Tech over 8, Vanderbilt over 4.5, Northwestern over 6.5, Michigan State over 8.5, TCU over 7.5, Arizona over 7.5, Oregon over 8.5. RESULT: If it was not for the Ducks, this might be an oh-fer, although the Commodores have hope of going from 3-4 to 5-7 if they can knock off not only Tennessee (for the third consecutive year), but also either Ole Miss or, more likely, Arkansas.
37) Notre Dame will not reach the top five at any point in 2018. RESULT: These days, that should read, “No. 4 Notre Dame …”
38) The Irish will win more than 9.5 games. RESULT: It is shy of bold to count this as correct, but for now it remains just likely. A 2-3 finish to this season would, however, be a collapse Kelly could not recover from.
39) Notre Dame will play in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day. RESULT: If granting the logic it remains more likely than not the Irish lose a game this season, and not yet believing a one-loss Notre Dame would warrant Playoff consideration, then this could quickly become a 50/50 proposition between the Fiesta Bowl and the Peach Bowl.
40) At least 15 of these 40 will be wrong, the Prognosticator’s Paradox. RESULT: If the trends continue as expected, these currently break down to a 17-15 record with eight unknowns. The 17th correct prediction is indeed No. 40 itself.
What is odd looking at these preseason thoughts is the Irish defense has been about as good as expected statistically speaking, yet it has felt more dominant than that, the sole reason Notre Dame held on against Michigan and Pittsburgh at the least, and arguably at Virginia Tech, as well, considering how that first half went.
It is that defense which has the Irish more in the national conversation than expected as the season enters its second half.
Revisiting predictions from Notre Dame’s preseason
Checking in on predictions after seven of 12 games is not as obvious as doing so after six, but Notre Dame’s idle week came a touch later this year, and these are the side effects. Fortunately, the first half of this preseason’s 40 predictions have fared well enough to still trot out at this uneven midway point.
1) The combined point total for Michigan at Notre Dame will come in below the long-held 48-point over/under. 2) The Irish and Wolverines will not even break 41 points. 3) The only way that total breaks 48 is with multiple defensive and special teams touchdowns.
RESULT: Three-for-three right out of the gate, even giving some warning of Michigan’s 99-yard kickoff return touchdown.
Prediction No. 3 also included a reminder of the new kickoff rules, wherein a kickoff fair caught within the 25-yard line places the ball at the 25-yard line. Mentioning it was intended to keep the change on minds before it mattered, and it did when Notre Dame’s Chris Finke signalled for a fair catch at the 12-yard line on a kickoff with only 2:18 left. The stands booed the decision, not remembering Finke had just moved the Irish to the 25-yard line with a chance to run out the clock or, at least, drain Michigan’s timeouts.
This may be worth remembering in November if Notre Dame once again finds itself in a close game.
4) Senior kicker Justin Yoon will make the biggest kick of his life. RESULT: This has not yet come to be, but it certainly looked possible last weekend until junior quarterback Ian Book’s 35-yard touchdown pass to take the lead with only 5:43 to go. If the Irish drive had stalled there, instead, the subsequent field goal attempt would have tied the Notre Dame record and outdone Yoon’s own by a yard.
5) Sophomore quarterback-turned-running back Avery Davis will attempt a pass on some variation of an unorthodox play. RESULT: That has not happened and, frankly, given Davis’ recent quality and lack of quantity of playing time, it seems unlikely it does. Since this needs just one snap to become a correct prediction, though, let’s leave it as to be determined.
6) Irish running backs will have more catches than they did a year ago, then totaling 24 and led by Josh Adams’ 13 for 101 yards. RESULT: To date, five backs have combined for 20 catches for 220 yards, led by sophomore Jafar Armstrong’s seven for 87 in only four games. For further context: Last year’s 24 gained only 134 yards. Mark this up as an almost certainly likely correct.
7) While Notre Dame will not match last year’s prodigious rushing output of 3,503 yards and 269.5 averaged per game, it will not fall to the depths of 2013 and 2014. Averaging between 214.5 and 224.5 rushing yards per game sounds about right. A mobile quarterback deserves credit for some of that reduced regression. RESULT: Even before the quarterback shift benching senior Brandon Wimbush, this was going to be wrong; the Irish averaged 164.7 rushing yards per game in their first three contests. For that matter, even before last week’s paltry 80 yards against Pittsburgh, this was going to be wrong, averaging 195.7 before that. As it stands, the current 179.1 average is very unlikely to jump the needed 35 yards.
8) Finke will match his career totals of 16 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns. RESULT: Finke already has 25 catches for 305 yards and a score, so let’s call this one correct, and let’s follow up that judgement with a confession: This prediction was nearly followed by a caveat along the lines of, “but not by much.” The intention was to set the bar for Finke to contribute, but not to be a featured part of the offense. Through three games, that had somewhat born itself out, with 10 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown putting Finke on pace for 40 receptions, 404 yards and four scores.
The spirit of that unspoken qualifier was wrong, but predictions are not measured on the spirit of what was not said.
9) Two freshman receivers will outperform then-freshman Michael Young’s 2017 of four catches for 18 yards and a score. RESULT: Kevin Austin has managed three catches for 39 yards, so he just needs that touchdown, but it is unlikely this reaches fulfillment unless Joe Wilkins has a notable one-day showing.
10) Junior receiver Chase Claypool will not finish second in receptions or receiving yards, as he did in both last season. RESULT: Claypool is currently fourth in catches with 23 and third in yards with 261. In the similar vein as that Finke clarification, this Claypool projection was a subtle way of saying 2018 would be boom-or-bust for Claypool. That has been the case, but to such an aggravating extent, one can already expect another offseason of storylines discussing Claypool’s inevitable and supposed maturation.
11) Fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar will catch at least three touchdowns, placing no lower than second among Notre Dame tight ends in the category. Last year Weishar caught nine passes, two for scores. That percentage could comically rise in 2018. RESULT: Weishar leads the tight ends with two touchdowns to date, doing so on three catches. This is indeed somewhat laughable.
12) Wake Forest junior receiver Greg Dortch will score twice against Notre Dame. 13) Stanford senior running back Bryce Love will equal that. RESULT: The two combined for one touchdown, which speaks to Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s game planning to take away what an opponent usually relies upon to inflict damage.
14) Virginia Tech will be a primetime matchup. 15) The Hokies’ “Enter Sandman” entrance will be memorable, but not as daunting as the entrance of Mariano Rivera to the same tune. RESULT: Never have there been two more surefire predictions.
16) Book will attempt fewer than 75 passes, his total of a year ago. RESULT: Book has completed 103. This was wrong.
17) Sophomore offensive lineman Josh Lugg will start multiple games. Notre Dame’s offensive line enjoyed remarkable health last season. RESULT: The logic to this prediction has proven valid with fifth-year left guard Alex Bars’ torn ACL creating a massive hole on the line, but it has not been Lugg who stepped in. Senior Trevor Ruhland has taken much of that load, and even among the sophomores, it does not seem Lugg will be the first choice. Irish head coach Brian Kelly has mentioned Aaron Banks repeatedly as Ruhland’s potential tag-team partner, a dynamic seen only momentarily through two games without Bars.
18) Multiple freshman offensive linemen will play thanks to the NCAA’s shift regarding eligibility concerns. RESULT: Three factors indicate this will end up wrong. Close home games against Ball State, Vanderbilt and Pittsburgh removed chances for spot appearances from reserve linemen. Among the freshmen linemen, only Jarrett Patterson traveled to Virginia Tech. Notre Dame has just one true home game remaining, meaning only Patterson, who has already seen some time, will be available in the other four, rather than the three other freshmen linemen.
19) Former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer will not see much success this season. RESULT: Kizer had his chance to prove this wrong. He did not, turning the ball over twice in needed action against the Chicago Bears in the season opener.
20) The Florida State weekend will include a 30th anniversary celebration of Notre Dame’s 1988 title team. RESULT: There has not been much of one yet, and that is the only remaining true home game, so this seems a correct result waiting to happen.
MIDSEASON VERDICT: 7-5 with eight yet to be determined. The trends point toward 11-7 with two very much still unknown.
More than those numbers of relative success, what stands out is how the change to Book invalidated one prediction and compromised the underlying intention of another. His play changes that much of what was expected from the Irish before the season.
Similarly, even among offensive predictions, the aggressive scheming from Lea shows through. These are the stories of Notre Dame’s year, Book and Lea, no matter what was expected in August.
For an old drinking buddy, Curtis missed the implied message when his first two texts went without response for nearly two hours. The delayed two-word reply somehow convinced him to send seven more in rapid succession.
“So what is the best loss Notre Dame could have knock it out of the Playoff and avoid getting embarrassed by Bama?”
I had not even read that text when my phone buzzed again.
“I hate that it’s probably USC. … To get that close and lose it would hurt, even if it’s the logical move to have an actually satisfying ending to the season.”
He soon pondered a loss to Syracuse, then to Northwestern, and finally to Navy, all in the span of seven minutes. Willie Taggart does not garner enough respect to even consider Florida State in a moment of what had to have been Monday-induced optimistic cynicism..
To be honest, I am still not clear on Curtis’ concept of a “best loss,” but he is not the first Irish fan I have heard take the pragmatic view of finding a fate that allows No. 4 Notre Dame to avoid Alabama in the postseason. This may be the best the Irish have looked in decades, but the same can be said about the Tide, and the latter of those two thoughts is a far more powerful statement. How “satisfying” would it be to lose to Alabama 42-14 again? Those overreactions would write themselves.
If I had offered Curtis more than two words in replies — “Define best” — they would have gone something like this …
“This isn’t the usual Navy. Something has gone wrong this year, and I haven’t done the deep dive yet on what. Could an eight-possessions apiece game get flukey? Sure, but that may require a three-interception day from Ian Book AND a special teams score for the Midshipmen.”
“There is some requisite respect for Florida State’s raw talent — 67 percent Blue-Chip Ratio this season, fifth-highest in the country — but that offensive line is such a sieve.”
“Northwestern cannot run the ball. At all. Which means Notre Dame will trot out its dime package pass rush — when Khalid Kareem moves inside and Daelin Hayes joins Julian Okwara on the ends — to notch a Brian Kelly-era record of seven sacks.”
And then the tone would have shifted. It still remains more likely than not Notre Dame loses a game this season. Going by ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Irish have a 64.51 percent chance of winning their next three, but only a 51.02 percent chance of beating both Syracuse and USC. S&P+ numbers set those odds at 63.23 percent and 48.36 percent, respectively.
Curtis, if Notre Dame is going to lose this season, it will likely be in mid-November. As an Irish fan seemingly content with that result — again, if forced to choose between a Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma or an Orange Bowl humiliation at the hands of Alabama, your logic merits consideration — the question you have to ask yourself is, would you rather spend your offseason griping about the unnecessary travel to face Syracuse or ruing the thought of two or three more years of JT Daniels connecting with Amon-Ra St. Brown?
For context on those two games: FPI: Notre Dame has a 77.9 percent chance against Syracuse, 65.5 percent at USC. S&P+: The Irish have a 78 percent chance against the Orange, 62 percent facing the Trojans. The Yankee Stadium contest currently has a projected margin of 13.6 points, while the Coliseum would see a game within 5.1 points, per S&P+.
Now let’s revisit the viable College Football Playoff scenarios after a weekend in which three Power-Five undefeateds lost, four top-10 teams fell and the maximum number of Power Fives to end the year unbeaten dropped to four …
THE OBVIOUS: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame all finish the year undefeated. The only possible aggrieved party would be Central Florida if it finishes a second consecutive season unblemished. While the Knights would deserve to push whatever narrative they want, they still would not make the College Football Playoff.
THE SEC STRESS: Tide sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is dealing with a sprained knee of some magnitude. If, hypothetically, that sidelined him against LSU or Georgia and Alabama lost, the selection committee has already granted entry to a team with that kind of an asterisk on its résumé, Clemson in 2016. Both Alabama and LSU or Georgia would be in position to make the Playoff, and that conversation would focus on leaving out either Clemson or Notre Dame.
It would remain untenable for the first excluded undefeated Power Five team to be the only one that does not require a conference to be considered “Power Five,” but that debate would at least be had.
WHAT ABOUT WITH A LOSS? Someone may yet come out of the Big 12 with just one misstep, be it Texas, Oklahoma or West Virginia. That team would have faced a notably more difficult schedule than the Irish, and would likely get in ahead of Notre Dame. The aforementioned SEC possibility would also come at the expense of the Irish at 11-1, if it came to that.
THE UNSATISFYING ONE-LOSS NIGHTMARE: Let’s keep calm across the country except in one specific tri-state area. If the season ended with a controversial Michigan victory at Ohio State and Notre Dame lost a tight game at USC, then the effects of time could put the 12-1 Wolverines into the Playoff ahead of the 11-1 Irish, all while the Buckeyes stage protests over the blown call that cost them the game.
Even Curtis would not handle that outcry well.
IT’S NOTRE DAME’S OFF WEEK … And yours truly is strongly considering answering every question that shows up in the inbox at email@example.com.
Notre Dame’s Opponents: Maybe they aren’t quite as bad as thought?
Recency bias works both ways. Just two weeks ago, looking at Notre Dame’s schedule was largely accompanied by some chuckling. Continued winning from Michigan, a rebound from Virginia Tech and quick 2-0 stretches from both Northwestern and USC now make the Irish calendar appear a bit more formidable than not at all.
That is, of course, in part an immediate response to the Wolverines topping No. 15 Wisconsin, the Wildcats upsetting then-No. 20 Michigan State a week ago and USC ending the unbeaten streak of No. 19 Colorado.
Michigan (6-1): The Wolverines rose to No. 6 in the AP poll thanks to a 38-13 rout of the Badgers. Considering one Wisconsin touchdown came in garbage time and Michigan never trailed, even that score is closer than the game actually was. The Badgers managed all of 283 total yards, holding onto the ball for a mere 22:59.
These types of losses do not happen to Wisconsin often.
Since 2011 (101 games), just two teams have beaten Wisconsin by more than 10 points – 2014 Ohio State and 2015 Alabama. Both of those teams won national championships. Unless you think Michigan is national championship good, maybe think twice about laying 9.5.
The Wolverines hardly get a break, though, now traveling to No. 24 Michigan State (12 ET; FOX) as touchdown favorites with a combined point total over/under of 43. Rather than rehash the stats pertaining to Michigan going on the road against ranked opponents in the last decade, let’s trot out a new one courtesy of ESPN’s Dan Murphy: Since 2009, the Wolverines have gone 45-8 before facing the Spartans, but are 25-29 after the matchup. There is some scheduling noise to that discrepancy, but it stands out, nonetheless.
Ball St. (3-4): A 36-yard field goal with 47 seconds remaining gave the Cardinals a 24-23 victory against Central Michigan. The last-minute heroics capped off a 17-3 fourth quarter for Ball State.
This weekend should feature another one-possession game for the Cardinals, but that is largely a reflection of their upcoming opponent. Eastern Michigan (3 ET; ESPN+) has played in six consecutive one-possession games and is favored by three with an over/under of 51.5. Given the Eagles’ experience in such situations, perhaps differ to them in the presumed 27-24 conclusion.
Vanderbilt (3-4): The Commodores lost 37-27 against Florida, but the story was about the coaches, not the game. Derek Mason and Dan Mullen got into a heated shouting match shortly after a Gator was ejected for targeting. The SEC opted to handle the situation behind closed doors, but it was not a good look for anyone involved and is the second time this year Mason has exchanged barbs with an opposing coach, even if his banter with Brian Kelly came days after their game.
Vanderbilt now heads to Kentucky (7:30 ET; SEC Network) to face one of the country’s top defenses — don’t laugh, it’s true; S&P+ considers the Wildcats to be the No. 2 defense in the country, behind only Michigan’s. As 11-point favorites with an over/under of 48.5, the math suggests Kentucky to give up 19 to the ‘Dores. That feels ambitious.
Wake Forest (3-3): After an idle week, the Deacons have the treat of traveling to Florida State (3:30 ET; ESPN2) as 10.5-point underdogs. With an over/under of 60, at least a 35-25 result would be entertaining.
Stanford (4-2): Stanford’s idle week sets the Cardinal up for two breaks. A Thursday trip to Arizona State (9 ET; ESPN) will make for another long week following. In order to avoid another stretch of regretting a loss, Stanford will need to make good on the bookmakers’ expectations of favoring the road team by 2.5 in a 28-26 contest.
Virginia Tech (4-2): The good news: The Hokies beat North Carolina 22-19 to become one of two teams in the ACC at 3-0 with Clemson the other.
The bad news: Virginia Tech needed a one-yard Ryan Willis touchdown pass with 19 seconds to top Larry Fedora’s debacle. The Hokies gave up 522 total yards to the Tar Heels, who average 406.6. In many ways, this victory was more confounding than Virginia Tech’s three-score loss to Notre Dame.
But at least the Hokies enter their idle week with a win.
Pittsburgh (3-4): The Panthers will not have that luxury. For what it’s worth, Pittsburgh is 1-2 in the games after idle weeks under Pat Narduzzi’s watch, including a 31-34 loss to North Carolina last season when the Panthers were favored by nine points.
Navy (2-4): Things may be going from bad to worse for the Midshipmen. A 24-17 loss to Temple all but ends Navy’s hopes of going bowling this year, which will be only the second time it has missed out on postseason play since 2002. The Midshipmen were outgained 209 yards to 284 and converted only 5 of 13 third downs.
Want the real shocker? Navy attempted 11 passes, turning to senior quarterback Garrett Lewis to try and spark the offense. He took 12 carries for 56 yards and one touchdown.
The Midshipmen are now 12.5-point underdogs against Houston (3:30 ET; CBSSN). The over/under of 60.5 indicates Navy should manage 24 points.
Northwestern (3-3): The Wildcats are not playing well, yet they are 3-1 in the Big Ten, the only loss coming to Michigan after Northwestern snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. This week’s 34-31 overtime win against Nebraska should never have been that close, but the Wildcats’ complete and utter lack of a run game makes the offense obtusely one-dimensional. Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson attempted 64 passes, completing 41 of them for 455 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Meanwhile, 19 handoffs amounted to 39 yards with a long of eight.
Maybe Northwestern can find a ground game at Rutgers (12 ET; Big Ten Network), favored by 20.5 points with an over/under of 49. A 34-14 rout would go a long way toward establishing some semblance of momentum for the Wildcats.
Florida State (3-4): The Seminoles could return to .500 if they see through bookmakers’ thoughts against Wake Forest. Any ACC hopes of glory have long since passed, but this would at least be a return to respectability.
Syracuse (4-2): Who gets Larry Fedora next? The Orange do, favored by 9.5 against North Carolina (12:20 ET) with an over/under of 65. There may be many more points than that.
USC (4-2): The Trojans gave up 14 points in competitive time and 265 total yards while forcing three turnovers. That led to a 31-20 victory against the Buffaloes and kept USC in the driver’s seat in the chaotic Pac-12 South.
That could change quickly with a loss at Utah (8 ET; Pac 12 Network), where the Trojans are 6.5-point underdogs. An over/under of 49 suggests a 28-21 dose of anarchy into the Pac-12 South Stew.
Thursday 9 p.m. ET: Stanford at Arizona State on ESPN. Saturday 12 p.m. ET: Michigan at Michigan State on FOX; Northwestern at Rutgers on Big Ten Network. 12:20 p.m. ET: Syracuse vs. North Carolina. 3 ET: Ball State vs. Eastern Michigan. 3:30 ET: Wake Forest at Florida State on ESPN3; Navy vs. Houston on CBS SN. 7:30 ET: Vanderbilt at Kentucky on SEC Network. 8 ET: USC at Utah
Favorites: Michigan -7; Stanford -2.5; Northwestern -20.5; Florida State -10.5; Syracuse -9.5. Underdogs: Ball State +3; Vanderbilt +11; Wake Forest +10.5; Navy +12.5; USC +6.5.