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Notre Dame’s Opponents: While Northwestern & USC lost, only Pittsburgh was embarrassed

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It always catches an eye when a losing team handily outgains the winners. It indicates the game was not won as handily as the scoreboard may presume, and speaks to the quality of the defeated with a long view otherwise often overlooked. Keep that in mind when reading the entries below representing Notre Dame’s November opponents.

Michigan (1-1): The Wolverines had even less trouble with Western Michigan than expected, rolling to a 49-3 victory. The Broncos managed that field goal with all of 2:34 remaining in the game, not exactly applying any pressure on Michigan. Karan Higdon led the Wolverines, gaining 156 yards on 13 rushes, part of 308 total rushing yards for the team. Context: Michigan ran for 58 yards against the Irish.

Life does not get much more difficult for the Wolverines, set to host SMU (3:30 p.m. ET; BTN) as 35-point favorites with a combined point total over/under of 53.5. A 44-10 win would only stand out in that the Mustangs would find the end zone at all.

Ball St. (1-1): The Cardinals travel to face another in-state foe this week, heading to 2-0 Indiana as 14-point underdogs (12 p.m. ET; BTN). The 2-0 Hoosiers are coming off a tight win against Virginia, looking to build further momentum before beginning their conference schedule with Michigan State next weekend. Ball State and Indiana last played in 2016, a 30-20 Hoosiers victory. The 57.5-point over/under hints at a 35-21 result.

Vanderbilt (2-0): Yes, the Commodores faced just a Group of Five program, but it was one, Nevada, that is set to have a better-than-expected year. Few other teams, if any, will resoundingly trounce the Wolfpack like Vanderbilt did, 41-10. All but seven of the ‘Dores points came in the first half as their deluge included 468 total yards, 36:02 time of possession and an efficient 23-of-32 for 258 yards and two touchdowns passing from senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur, all while the defense forced four turnovers.

Nonetheless, Vanderbilt will arrive in South Bend as a two touchdown underdog — currently the spread resides at 14.5 with an over/under of 53. Notre Dame would not mind a comfortable 33-19 victory (2:30 p.m. ET; NBC).

Wake Forest junior receiver Greg Dortch returned not one punt for a touchdown last weekend, but two, adding in a receiving score for good measure during a 51-20 victory. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Wake Forest (2-0): Greg Dortch scores touchdowns. It is that simple. This week, the junior receiver caught seven passes for 94 yards and one score, something of a ho-hum offensive performance from the playmaker, so he complemented it with two punt returns for touchdowns in the second quarter, leading the Demon Deacons to a 51-20 triumph against FCS-level Towson. Wake Forest gained 582 yards of total offense, while Towson quarterback Tom Flacco (brother of the eminently-elite Joe) hrew for 345 yards and three scores on 35-of-51 passing.

The Deacons now host Boston College for a Thursday matchup that may or may not happen. As of now, it is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN with the Eagles as touchdown favorites, but Hurricane Florence could change those plans. Category 4 storms are rare enough on their own; no one should feel the impetus to stage a football game within one. If and when the two do play, an over/under of 51.5 would make for a one-possession game in the 20s.

Stanford (2-0): On the surface, the Cardinal had no trouble with USC. The reality is, it outgained the Trojans by only 342 to 332 in winning 17-3. Three turnovers provided the crux of the differential, though senior running back Bryce Love did start to loosen up, gaining 136 yards on 22 rushes.

Love and Stanford will essentially take the week off, hosting FCS-level UC Davis (2 p.m. ET; Pac-12 Network).

Virginia Tech (2-0): The Hokies made efficient work of FCS-level William & Mary, winning 62-17 with 586 yards of total offense, compared to giving up only 266. Quarterback Josh Jackson threw for 217 yards on only 16 attempts, completing 12 of them and scoring once, and Virginia Tech averaged 6.6 yards per carry in rushing for 305 yards.

It may seem another casual week for the Hokies with East Carolina visiting (12:20 p.m. ET; ACC Network), but the Pirates are fresh off an upset of North Carolina. The 28-point spread with a 47.5 over/under suggests Virginia Tech should still cruise to a 38-10 victory.

Pittsburgh (1-1): The Panthers wanted to believe they could compete in a renewal of their rivalry with Penn State, but it was made quite clear they could not during a 51-6 shellacking. Pittsburgh threw for 55 passing yards on 18 attempts. The Nittany Lions scored 44 unanswered points. Nothing about the trouncing was, if you will, stately.

The Panthers have a tough ask ahead of them in bouncing back from that in the first place, let alone immediately readying to face the triple-option attack of Georgia Tech (12:30 p.m. ET). The Yellow Jackets are favored by three with a 28-25 conclusion likely.

Navy (1-1): The Midshipmen needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to come back from a 21-9 deficit and prevail 22-21 against Memphis, even though Navy had the ball for 42:47. Life should be easier for the week with FCS-level Lehigh visiting (3:30 p.m. ET; CBSSN).

Northwestern (1-1): One bad, even terrible, second quarter did in the Wildcats against Duke, giving up 21 points in that one frame to fall 21-7. Northwestern outgained Duke 381 yards to 301 and managed 23 first downs to the Blue Devils’ 14. Yet, a negative-two turnover differential was too much to overcome.

If granting the premise that the Wildcats are more akin to the team represented on the stat sheet than the one depicted by the score alone, then it may be safe to think Northwestern will beat Akron by more than the expected 21 points (7:30 p.m. ET; BTN). A 33-13 result may make sense if considering the over/under of 45.5, but it should not be that close, quite frankly.

Florida State (1-1): Maybe the Seminoles were still staggering from their opening drubbing by Virginia Tech. Perhaps they simply overlooked FCS-level Samford. Or, possibly, Florida State is genuinely terrible this season. Figuring which of those three is most precise is an irresolvable debate this week, as the Seminoles did end up winning 36-26, and a win is a win is a [insert four-syllable pause] win.

Samford outgained Florida State 525 yards to 454, using 475 passing yards to keep things interesting. The Bulldogs undoing? Four interceptions.

The Seminoles now head up to the Carrier Dome, where Syracuse seems to notch at least one upset a year (12 p.m. ET; ESPN). By the bookmaker, this would qualify, with Florida State favored by 3.5 points, but that is plausibly an underreaction to the Seminoles’ trouble this week. A 33-29 result would be thrilling, if nothing else.

Syracuse (2-0): The Orange, meanwhile, had no trouble with its FCS-level patsy, dispatching Wagner with a 62-10 loss, led by quarterback Eric Dungey’s 218 yards and five touchdowns on 23-of-32 passing.

Let’s do away with the vague suggestions: Syracuse will beat Florida State this weekend, furthering a miserable September for first-year Seminoles head coach Willie Taggart.

Stanford running back Bryce Love set the tone for the Cardinal offensively in a 17-3 victory against USC, gaining 136 yards with one touchdown on 22 carries. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

USC (1-1): Not only did the Trojans nearly outgain Stanford, they actually did manage more first downs, 20 to 13. It was not that freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels  had trouble moving the ball (16-of-34, 215 yards), he just threw two interceptions to counteract that. Freshman receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown caught only two passes for 39 yards.

Daniels suffered a hand injury and is currently questionable for the trip to raucous Texas (8 p.m. ET; FOX), where USC is considered a three-point underdog. If Daniels is healthy, the Trojans should cover that and likely push the total past the over/under of 49.

7:30 p.m. Thursday: Wake Forest vs. Boston College on ESPN, pending any possible hurricane-related scheduling changes.
12 p.m. ET Saturday: Ball State at Indiana on BTN; Florida State at Syracuse on ESPN.
12:20 p.m. ET: Virginia Tech vs. East Carolina on ACCN.
12:30 ET: Pittsburgh vs. Georgia Tech.
2 ET: Stanford vs. UC Davis on the Pac-12 Network.
2:30 ET: Vanderbilt at Notre Dame on NBC.
3:30 ET: Michigan vs. SMU on BTN; Navy vs. Lehigh on CBSSN.
7:30 ET: Northwestern vs. Akron on BTN.
8 ET: USC at Texas on FOX.

Favorites: Florida State -3.5; Virginia Tech -28; Michigan -35; Northwestern -21.
Underdogs: Wake Forest +7; Ball State +14; Syracuse +3.5; Pittsburgh +3; Vanderbilt +14.5; USC +3.