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No. 10 Notre Dame vs. Duke: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much?

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WHO? “No. 10” Notre Dame vs. Duke.
To be more precise, the Irish are ranked No. 7 among teams playing this fall, and that ranking adjustment will go into effect come Sunday.

WHAT? Notre Dame’s first-ever conference game. Sure, it took a pandemic to force the Irish football program into a conference, and yes, we all understand the situation, but it is notable all the same. There are not many firsts left for a program in its 133rd season.

More than that, this is a football game in a pandemic. Even the most optimistic of us are not sure how many more of those we will get — and if many more teams act like Memphis, it will assuredly be few. There may be only 15,525 fans in the stands, but let’s enjoy the occasion all the same.

WHEN? 2:30 ET. Remember that part in the previous paragraph about, “this is a football game in a pandemic”? Cross your fingers. Forecasts call for scattered thunderstorms beginning right around kickoff, and their likelihood only increases into the night.

Checks schedule.

Yep, this game is against Duke. South Florida visits next weekend.

WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind. It will be a different visual than ever before. A Stadium that boasted a sellout streak dating from 1973 to 2019 will now hold only 20 percent capacity. Time does not need to be spent checking if there has been a game with fewer fans since the Stadium was built in 1930. Not counting interhall football championship games, this will assuredly be the smallest crowd to watch a game in the “House That Rockne Built” in its 90 years.

NBC will have the national broadcast for the 30th year, with the game streaming online and via the NBC Sports app.

Before you ask, yes, there is an intention to resume the “30 Years of ND on NBC” series in this space. If looking to catch up, you can find the initial 10 entries here.

WHY? Why play a football game in the midst of a global pandemic, a national race discussion and a contentious presidential election when the first two generational events impact nearly every aspect of our daily lives and the quadrennial occasion too often overshadows them in the headlines? To quote junior defensive tackle Ja’Mion Franklin in a “RALLY” video released Friday by Notre Dame:

“What you love about us on Saturdays, we’ve got every other day of the week, too. Football is not just our sport, it’s our family, it’s our voice.”

BY HOW MUCH?
Favored by a touch less than three touchdowns with a combined point total over/under of 52.5 suggests the Irish should win 36-16. Turn that into more of a football score and 35-14 seems reasonable.

The last time Notre Dame was favored by three possessions in a season opener was … last year at Louisville, when the Irish failed to cover a 19-point spread despite winning 35-17. Before that, a 2017 visit from Temple with a 19.5-point expected advantage. It is not an exceptionally rare occurrence.

Failing to win against that spread would not be a Notre Dame failure. Rather, it would likely go hand-in-hand with falling short of that point total.

Duke’s preseason was not as long as the Irish version, and that latter rendition included an interruption as the University scrambled to control a campus-wide coronavirus outbreak. Neither team boasts experienced receiving corps. These similarities lead to coincidental incentives to lean on the ground game.

Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe is one of the most experienced and savvy coaches in college football. He will recognize the talent gap on hand in this most unique of circumstances. To minimize its effects, he will want to shorten the game by keeping the clock rolling, a la Navy minus the triple-option emphasis.

Meanwhile, first-year Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees will recognize the talent gap on hand in the trenches, where Notre Dame returns all five starting offensive linemen. Even when the Irish were without two of them in the Camping World Bowl, Rees spent his play-calling audition focusing more on the run than Notre Dame had done all season, rushing on 56.9 percent of the plays, compared to 52.9 percent in the previous 12 games.

Perhaps some of those runs utilize No. 0 Braden Lenzy’s speed, and yes this possibility was included here just to be sure to mention the junior receiver changed his number to the NCAA’s newest digit. However the Irish do it, their surest pathway to victory against Duke is on the ground, though that will also diminish their chances of beating the number.

Notre Dame 31, Duke 13.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
Notre Dame is back and ‘focused’ … and so are we
Notre Dame’s Opponents: South Florida aside, it’s ACC-or-bust
And In That Corner … The Duke Blue Devils, Notre Dame’s first-ever conference opponent
Notre Dame’s and Jack Swarbrick’s path to this ACC schedule
Things To Learn: What does Notre Dame look like these days? On and off the field …
Friday at 4: 40 predictions, beginning with the obvious

OUTSIDE READING:
Memphis pauses football activities due to COVID-19; next game in jeopardy
Rutgers president on Big Ten’s reboot and college sports in a pandemic
Clemson’s Brent Venables realizes ‘time is approaching’ for head coaching job
An open letter to the University’s leadership
Where will College GameDay visit each week of the 2020 season? (Covid Edition)