For all the struggles of Notre Dame’s opponents, five of them remain in genuine contention to win their divisions in their respective conferences. That is, as much as anything else, a reflection of concentrated pockets of mediocrity across the country, but it remains the case. Northwestern, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and USC could all still end their seasons with one-off chances at a conference title. Obviously, Michigan joins that group, as well, though the Wolverines have their eyes on bigger fish than a Big Ten championship at this point.
Michigan (8-1): When an offense gets shut down, it makes sense for it to fall down the national rankings in output. Thus, one would think what the Wolverines defense did in a 42-7 victory against Penn State would lead to the Nittany Lions no longer rating among the nation’s offensive leaders. Nonetheless, even though Michigan held them to seven points, they remain No. 23 in the country in scoring offense at 37.2 points per game. Rushing for only 2.3 yards per carry dropped Penn State all the way to No. 21, still averaging 5.35 yards per rush.
The Wolverines gave up 186 yards to one of the most-potent offenses in the country. This defense is playing at an exceptionally high level.
It will continue to do so at Rutgers (3:30 ET; Big Ten Network). Bookmakers nearly predict a shutout, something they will never actually literally do. Michigan is favored by 37.5 with a combined points total over/under of 48.5. That math produces a projected 43-6 conclusion.
Ball St. (3-7): Without senior quarterback Riley Neal (knee), the Cardinals lost 45-13 at Toledo, and with the game, they also lost any hopes of bowl eligibility. In a bit of an oddity, both teams had five turnovers.
Ball State did see some of its future in sophomore quarterback Drew Plitt’s performance, completing 27-of-49 passes for 340 yards and a touchdown, though with two interceptions. Neither Plitt nor Neal will be needed this week as the Cardinals enjoy a break.
Vanderbilt (4-5): After a week off, the Commodores head to Missouri as 17-point underdogs (12 ET; SEC Network). A bowl game remains possible for Vanderbilt, but it will take an upset either this week or next against Ole Miss. The latter is far more likely.
Wake Forest (4-5): The Deacons took a 10-0 lead against Syracuse before giving up four unanswered touchdowns to the Orange in an eventual 41-24 loss. Things got only worse when freshman quarterback Sam Hartman was knocked out for the season with a foot injury.
Without Hartman, Wake Forest is a 17-point underdog at NC State on Thursday (7:30 ET; ESPN). The over/under of 67.5 at least means it should be entertaining weeknight football.
Stanford (5-4): The Cardinal saw any conference title pipe dreams dashed by a 27-23 loss at Washington. While Bryce Love managed all of 71 yards on 18 rushes, quarterback KJ Costello threw for 347 yards on 29-of-43 passing. He also threw three interceptions while Stanford’s defense forced no turnovers.
Things should get better for the Cardinal, and with them should come bowl eligibility. Stanford enjoys a projected 23.5-point cushion against Oregon State (9 ET; Pac-12 Network) with an over/under of 59, a 41-18 theoretical finish.
Virginia Tech (4-4): A nondescript 31-21 loss to Boston College knocked the Hokies from pole position in the ACC Coastal division, though they are still in the mix along with the next entry. Eagles running back A.J. Dillon ran for 96 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries in his second week of extended action (32 rushes, 149 yards and a score against Miami a week ago) since an ankle injury kept him sidelined. Is it too soon to start thinking about Dillon’s arrival in South Bend next November?
Virginia Tech can re-establish its Coastal chances by upsetting Pittsburgh (3:30 ET; ESPNU) this weekend as 2.5-point underdogs. As hard as it is to believe on the surface, the hosting Panthers are expected to walk away with a 27-24 victory.
Pittsburgh (5-4): The Panthers caused much of this Coastal chaos with a 23-13 win at Virginia on Friday despite throwing for just 61 yards on 7-of-14 passing. How did they then win by two possessions? Taking 42 rushes for 254 yards, an average of 6.0 yards per carry, certainly had something to do with it. As did giving up only 44 yards on 26 rushes.
Navy (2-7):The Midshipmen will not be going bowling for just the second time in Ken Niumatalolo’s 11-year tenure thanks to a 42-0 loss at Cincinnati in which Navy gained a total of 171 yards.
Central Florida (12 ET; ESPN2) may not offer as much of a rout by the book’s thoughts, but a 25.5-point spread is hardly something to scoff at. The 63.5-point over/under hints at a mere 45-19 Midshipmen loss.
Northwestern (5-4): A 31-21 loss to Notre Dame does not affect the Wildcats’ Big Ten West concerns, hopes which can be all-but solidified with an upset at Iowa (3:30 ET; FOX). As 10-point underdogs on the road, that may be a bit of a reach for Northwestern, but winning the two games after that would still send the Wildcats to Indianapolis.
Florida State (4-5): A 47-28 loss to NC State does not sound as bad as it should. The scoreboard perspective was brightened by a Seminoles score with 40 seconds remaining, but the statistical nightmare cannot be hidden. Florida State rushed 20 times … for 24 yards.
Notre Dame’s defensive front should lick its chops at the reality of facing this Seminoles’ offensive line. When considering the disparities between those two units, the 18-point spread in the Irish favor may not seem like enough, though it makes for easy math with an over/under of 54.5. (7:30 ET; NBC)
Syracuse (7-2): The high-flying Orange took to the ground to beat Wake Forest. Compared to 35 pass attempts, Syracuse rushed 60 times for 264 yards, an average of 4.4 yards per carry.
That mentality should pay even more dividends against Brian VanGorder’s Louisville defense on Friday (7 ET; ESPN2). The 21-point spread will not be enough in Bobby Petrino’s penultimate game at Louisville, though the Orange could reach the 69-point over/under all on its own. After all, Clemson did just hang 77 on the Cardinals, less than a month after Georgia Tech torched them for 66.
USC (5-4): The Trojans found their footing, if only for a week, with a 38-21 win at Oregon State. Aca’Cedric Ware (pictured at top) led the way with 205 yards and three touchdowns on 17 rushes, part of a team effort for 332 rushing yards on a 7.5 yards per carry average.
USC remains favored this week, by 5.5 to exact, and needs to beat Cal (10:30 ET; ESPN) to keep pace in the utterly-middling Pac-12 South.
Thursday, 7:30 ET: Wake Forest at NC State on ESPN.
Friday, 7 ET: Syracuse vs. Louisville on ESPN2.
Saturday, 12 ET: Vanderbilt at Missouri on SEC Network; Navy at Central Florida on ESPN2.
3:30 ET: Michigan at Rutgers on the Big Ten Network; Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh on ESPNU; Northwestern at Iowa on FOX.
7:30 ET: Florida State at Notre Dame on NBC.
9 ET: Stanford vs. Oregon State on the Pac-12 Network.
10:30 ET: USC vs. Cal on ESPN.
Favorites: Michigan -37.5; Stanford -23.5; Pittsburgh -2.5; Syracuse -21; USC -5.5.
Underdogs: Vanderbilt +17; Wake Forest +17; Virginia Tech +2.5; Navy +25.5; Northwestern +10; Florida State +18.