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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Facing a tough weekend after a strong start

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Strength of schedule considerations are difficult to accurately measure, but they come down to one core point: It is beneficial when Notre Dame’s opponents win their other games. They did that this weekend with just one genuine exception, and that was arguably the most-entertaining game of the bunch.

Michigan (0-1): The Wolverines lost. That is well-known by now. They gained a nothing-to-write-home-about 307 total yards, but a large portion of that came when the game was already somewhat decided. Whether that inadequate production was caused by the Irish defense or was merely the tangible effect of an inept offense is an unanswerable debate as long as there is only the one data point.

Fortunately, Western Michigan visits Ann Arbor at 12 p.m. ET (FS1). The Broncos gave up 560 yards and 55 points last week. Most of that damage came on the ground. Even though favored by 27.5 points, Michigan should not be expected to match those totals. Simply exceeding the numbers seen at Notre Dame would speak well of the Irish defense. A combined point total over/under of 51.5 indicates the Wolverines should win 39-13.

Ball St. (1-0): It is a fool’s errand to take too much away from the stats posted during a 42-6 win over FCS-level Central Connecticut State, but it is still impressive to see the Cardinals both rushed and passed for more than 300 yards.

A 33.5-point underdog, Ball State may not reach 300 yards with its total offense at Notre Dame (3:30 ET; NBC). The over/under of 61.5 points sets up for a 47-14 Irish victory.

Vanderbilt (1-0): The Commodores were favored by just a field goal against Middle Tennessee State. They won by 35-7. Little statistically stood out, gaining 346 yards and averaging 4.6 yards per rush are middling numbers, but Vanderbilt scored at least one touchdown in each quarter and controlled the game throughout.

Remembering that original spread, it may feel like an over-correction to see the Commodores now as 10-point favorites against Nevada (12 p.m. ET; SEC Network), but the Wolfpack is nothing but a below-average Mountain West team. Vanderbilt may not score enough to reach the over/under of 61.5, but the Commodores also may not give up enough for Nevada to help that cause, either. Simply put, 31-21 feels too high scoring.

Wake Forest freshman quarterback Sam Hartman’s debut was solid enough to throw further doubt on junior Kendall Hinton reclaiming the role when he returns from a three-game suspension. (AP Photo/Veronica Dominach)

Wake Forest (1-0): On one hand the Demon Deacons needed overtime to survive a trip to Tulane, 23-17. On the other hand, Wake Forest freshman quarterback Sam Hartman threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns on 31-of-51 passing while adding 64 yards on 13 rushes. His debut should be considered nothing less than a success.

Things will actually get easier for Hartman this week, facing FCS-level Towson (12 ET; ACC Network).

Stanford (1-0): The Cardinal got revenge for an early-season loss a year ago by topping San Diego State 31-10, but the attention focused on Bryce Love’s ineffectiveness. The Heisman hopeful took 18 carries for … 29 yards. Yet, Stanford cruised, with much of the credit landing at the feet of receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who caught six passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns.

The Cardinal will look to serve another dish cold with USC’s arrival (8:30 p.m.; Fox). The home-field advantage gives Stanford a 3.5-point edge with an over/under of 54 hinting at a 28-25 conclusion.

Virginia Tech (1-0): Sometimes you get one so right it was actually wrong. Some, including this space, may have expected the Hokies defense to be better than given credit for. (“Underestimating defensive coordinator Bud Foster to the tune of 32 points feels a bit risky.”) No one anticipated Virginia Tech crushing Florida State in front of a Seminoles crowd, 24-3. The win, combined with Miami’s debacle at LSU, establishes the Hokies as an ACC title game contender.

Those hopes will not be endangered this weekend with a visit from William & Mary (2 ET; ACC Network).

Pittsburgh (1-0): Panthers fans may be feeling a bit confident after they cruised past Albany, 33-7, and watched Penn State struggle to slip past Appalachian State. That overlooks two facts: Pittsburgh’s win was not as utterly-lopsided as that score may indicate, boosted by a touchdown return on the opening kickoff and lacking any second-half points. And the Mountaineers are a tough FBS-level team at this point, consistently favored to win the Sun Belt. They are no longer an FCS shocker a la 2007.

That Pennsylvania pride should come crashing down to earth Saturday (8 ET; ABC). Do not be surprised to see the Nittany Lions cover the 8.5-point edge easily. If the game approaches the over/under of 58, it will not be in line with a 33-24 final, but rather Penn State will approach or break 40.

Navy (0-1): As expected, flying halfway across an ocean to face a team already with a game under its belt bode poorly for the Midshipmen, losing 59-41 at Hawaii. They gave up an uncharacteristic 522 yards, largely spurred by the Warriors’ passing game. Hawaii averaged 10.4 yards per attempt while gaining 436 through the air.

Memphis likes to pass, too, finishing 2017 averaging 335 yards through the air per game, seventh in the country. While trouncing Mercer last week, the Tigers threw for 428. They look likely to beat Navy by more than the expected 4.5 points, though the game should also top the over/under of 71 (3:30 ET; CBSSN).

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson did not play all of the Wildcats’ season opener. Until he does, questions and concerns about his ACL will linger. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Northwestern (1-0): Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald created more questions than he did provide answers when he rotated senior quarterback Clayton Thorson with junior T. J. Green in Thursday’s 31-27 victory at Purdue. Fitzgerald said Thorson was not on a pitch count, but perhaps a series count. Either way, the offense struggled with Green, keeping the Boilermakers around longer than necessary.

More than how Northwestern fares against Duke (12 p.m. ET; ESPNU), despite being favored by three with an over/under of 48.5 making a 26-23 final logical, it will be more worthwhile to note how much Thorson does — or, more precisely, does not — play.

Florida State (0-1): The Seminoles looked every part the 7-6 team they were last year, returned quarterback and new coaching staff notwithstanding, as Virginia Tech rolled to that 24-3 victory. It should not be a concern this week, though, with a visit from FCS-level Samford (7:20 ET; ACC Network).

Syracuse (1-0): The Orange opened the season on the road at a tough Group of Five opponent and had little trouble beating Western Michigan, 55-42. Syracuse jumped out to a 34-7 halftime lead, at which point head coach Dino Babers sat senior quarterback Eric Dungey. As the Broncos mounted a comeback, Babers waited to return to Dungey to, as he put it afterward, test his team’s response to adversity.

It was good enough, but perhaps not by as much as it should have been. That will not be tested again this weekend with a visit from Wagner (3:30 ET; ACC Network).

USC (1-0): Heralded-freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels did not throw his first touchdown pass until the fourth quarter against UNLV, but at that point the Trojans still needed it, leading only 19-14 before Daniels connected with freshman receiver and high school teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown. Daniels finished with 282 yards on 22-of-35 passing with St. Brown catching seven of those for 98 yards, both team-highs.

The trip to Stanford should test both, certainly more than the Rebels did, despite their best efforts to keep it close through three quarters. A 43-21 final does not exactly sound like USC squeaked by.

12 p.m. ET Saturday: Western Michigan at Michigan on FS1; Nevada at Vanderbilt on SECN; Towson at Wake Forest on ACCN; Duke at Northwestern on ESPNU.
2 p.m. ET: William & Mary at Virginia Tech on ACCN.
3:30 ET: Ball State at Notre Dame on NBC; Memphis at Navy on CBSSN; Wagner at Syracuse on ACCN.
7:20 ET: Samford at Florida State on ACCN.
8 ET: Penn State at Pittsburgh on ABC.
8:30 ET: USC at Stanford on Fox.

Favorites: Michigan -27.5; Vanderbilt -10; Stanford -3.5; Northwestern -3.
Underdogs: Ball St. +33.5; Pittsburgh +8.5; Navy +4.5; USC +3.5.