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.

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Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility


Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

“One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

“I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success
Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need


Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
Four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr.’s commitment gives Notre Dame some receiver hope for 2023
Four-star Texas receiver Braylon James gives Notre Dame needed offensive piece in class of 2023

CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023

Notre Dame v North Carolina
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Perhaps earlier than expected, Notre Dame has already received good news this offseason. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will return for a fifth year in South Bend, though he will not put on pads for the Irish in any bowl game, he announced Tuesday evening.

“Due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during the Boston College Game [sic], I could not participate in our final regular season game and will not be able to participate in this year’s bowl game,” Hart wrote on Twitter. “Consequently, I believe my time here isn’t necessarily complete. Choosing to attend the University of Nore Dame has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

“In light of that, I’ve decided to return for a fifth season and look forward to taking the field with my brothers in 2023!”

Hart’s 2023 return should give the Irish four returning cornerbacks with starting experience, only fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy a notable departure from this year’s cornerbacks group.

Note: The use of “should” is not meant to imply anything about other possibilities. The conditional verb is chosen as recognition of the constantly changing rosters in college football in 2022.

Hart took part in Notre Dame’s Senior Day festivities before facing Boston College, which suggested he was at least considering jumping to the NFL. This quick announcement indicates the injury ruled out that thought process, though the injury had plagued him at points earlier in the season.

A shoulder injury first flared up for Hart this year in the spring of 2022, costing him spring practices. A concern had previously cost him some of 2019, as he adapted from playing receiver in high school. He nonetheless played in 11 games in 2022, starting 10 and making 25 tackles with three for loss and breaking up four passes.

His passes defensed fell from nine in 2021, along with two interceptions, in part because opposing quarterbacks were less enticed to test the increasingly-experienced cornerback. His 6-foot-2 ½ length made Hart something just short of a shutdown cornerback.

With current freshman Benjamin Morrison surging to close this season and classmate Jaden Mickey stepping in for Hart at USC, Notre Dame should enjoy a plethora of tested cornerbacks in 2023. (Current junior Clarence Lewis is the aforementioned fourth.)

In many respects, this will allow the Irish defense to begin the 2023 season with the same calm it had in 2022, when Hart, Lewis and Bracy provided experienced pass defense.

“You have three older veteran corners that can really play at any moment, which makes you feel good,” head coach Marcus Freeman said in August. “Those three guys can play those two corner spots and I don’t feel there will be a drop off with any of them.”

There are a few key decisions left on Notre Dame’s defense — most notably, defensive end Justin Ademilola and safety Brandon Joseph could return in 2023 — but most of them may come after any Irish bowl game. Hart’s choice was presumably expedited by his apparent exclusion from the bowl game due to this injury.

2020: 8 games; 3 tackles, 2 passes defended.
2021: 13 games, 10 starts; 42 tackles with four for loss, 9 passes defended and two interceptions.
2022: 11 games, 10 starts; 25 tackles with three for loss, 4 passes defended.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter

Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s offensive shortcomings again highlighted by an explosive counterpart

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There are two ways to look at USC’s 38-27 win against Notre Dame on Saturday, and they both tie back to the Trojans’ being the best Irish measuring stick.

USC beat Notre Dame in a way that underscores how short-handed the Irish always were this season. When Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams began to cement his status as the Heisman frontrunner with a performance that will be long remembered, Notre Dame had no way to consistently counter him.

“We didn’t stop them,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said simply enough.

Without the offensive skill position players needed to match Williams’ explosive play for explosive play, Notre Dame needed its defense to play perfectly, clearly an unfair ask against a Lincoln Riley offense.

“USC is a great team,” Irish quarterback Drew Pyne said. “That was a really good team we played out there. They’re going to go on and do great things for the rest of their season. Caleb Williams is a great player.”

If the Irish had not had junior tight end Michael Mayer — eight catches on nine targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns — they may not have been able to stay in even vague distance of the Trojans. Three heaves to Deion Colzie gained 75 yards and three first downs, but each felt like Pyne was hoping more than anything else.

Notre Dame still made it a game, but the discrepancy in offensive playmakers stood out in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

And while both programs will undergo some turnover — most notably Mayer for the Irish; receiver Jordan Addison and running back Austin Jones will both likely be at the next level next year, among Trojans’ contributors this weekend — Notre Dame will need to close that gap to compete with USC next season.

The variance of a schedule may keep the Irish from too staunchly improving on their 8-4 record this year, but a certainty is that Williams will be ready to dazzle again in South Bend on Oct. 14, 2023.

Notre Dame right now does not have the offensive firepower to keep up with such a dynamic attack. As soon as the Irish gifted the Trojans chances to take a lead, their running game was mitigated and Notre Dame’s best hopes were reduced to Mayer and those heaves to Colzie.

Williams can dance his way through any defense, perhaps shy of Georgia’s. Even if the Irish secondary had been fully healthy, Williams’ rhythmic scrambles still would have broken down the defense. If Utah helms him in this weekend, it may be as much due to a USC letdown as it is to any Utes’ scheme. His stardom is an extreme, but this is college football in 2022, again aside from Georgia.

Many will instinctively point to Pyne’s shortcomings, ignoring how well he played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He made two mistakes, yes, but one of them (the cross-body interception) came as Notre Dame was more and more desperate and the other (the fumbled exchange) was in part a result of the Irish abandoning their ground game as they fell further behind.

Pyne finished 23-of-26 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Every version of breaking down those stats yields praise for Pyne. A reality of a loss and a reality when the opposing quarterback broke through as a national star, no time was spent in postgame press conferences discussing Pyne’s efficient night.

But it was, regardless.

His final incompletion, the interception from Notre Dame’s own red zone, also overshadowed the second-most accurate day in Irish passing history, but it was an understandable mistake. Notre Dame was trailing by two scores with only five minutes remaining. Wasting a play on a throwaway was low on Pyne’s priority list.

If Pyne had established more of a season-long rapport with Colzie, maybe he sees him down the left sideline as highlighted by Kirk Herbstreit on the broadcast. If Braden Lenzy is a bit less worn down by a season-long receiver shortage, maybe he is able to charge into Pyne’s ill-advised pass rather than try to settle in for a low catch. If … maybe, if … maybe.

Only twice this season has USC managed as few as 31 genuine points — discounting the short-field touchdown in the final three minutes courtesy of Pyne’s pick, though not all that necessary given the Trojans fell short of 40 points just twice in their first 11 games. Oregon State and Washington State had the luxuries of facing Williams before he had reached the peak of his powers with this new, transfer-obtained complement of receivers.

The Irish defense did its part against USC. Notre Dame’s offense just could not match the star of the season.

Williams will star again next year. The Irish defense will most likely still be stout. Those truths this season will carry over. Notre Dame then has to wonder only if its offense can develop and/or find more playmakers, a known need this entire season and now the pressing concern entering the offseason, a need emphasized by the Trojans’ offense, the foe that should again define 2023.