WHO? “No. 7” Notre Dame vs. South Florida.
To be more precise, the Irish are ranked No. 7 among teams currently playing this fall, but that ranking will be adjusted in a week, win or lose, as the polls reincorporate the Big Ten after it releases its schedule this morning.
WHO? — UPDATED: About 90 minutes before kickoff, Notre Dame announced eight players from its two-deep depth chart would be unavailable to play against South Florida. Among them, Irish sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton was the only expected name, having suffered an ankle sprain a week ago.
September 19 – Gameday Update pic.twitter.com/u8OvTHx2rY
— Notre Dame Football PR Team (@NDFootballPR) September 19, 2020
WHAT? Notre Dame’s first-ever non-conference game. Yes, this warrants “first-ever” status. When every game is out of the bounds of a conference, they do not need to be designated as non-conference. Only when playing an AAC opponent becomes an exception does it earn such a nod.
WHEN? Kickoff will come at 2:39 ET. No weather concerns are expected. Much like non-conference notes only arise when a conference exists, standard weather needs to be pointed out only when the opponent is South Florida, the foe in the sole game in Notre Dame Stadium history to be stalled by rain delay, let alone twice.
WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind. A correction should now be offered here: Last week, this space posited, “Time does not need to be spent checking if there has been a game with fewer fans since the Stadium was built in 1930.” Alas, last week’s attendance of 10,097 was not the smallest in Stadium history. Back in 1932, only 8,369 fans watched the Irish open the year with a 73-0 victory against Haskell, and even fewer — 6,663 — saw Notre Dame beat Drake, 62-0, a week later. Depressions and pandemics …
Due to the haphazard nature of rescheduling all sports, the U.S. Open Championship will be on NBC while the Irish and Bulls will be on the USA Network, which should be a part of your basic cable package, as well as streaming online and via the NBC Sports app.
Fox backed out of its U.S. Open deal. Then Fox ran out of games to broadcast for this CFB weekend, so it picked Houston-Baylor, which is now canceled. Now NBC has the U.S. Open, which means Notre Dame plays on USA tomorrow while Fox broadcasts … spikeball? competitive handball?
— Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) September 18, 2020
WHY? When the ACC mandated non-conference games occur only in states containing an ACC team, Notre Dame could no longer travel to Annapolis to play Navy. When the Mid-American Conference postponed its season, Western Michigan came off the list of options. After the SEC opted to play only within its conference, the Irish could not even host the sad situation known as Arkansas.
Thus, director of athletics Jack Swarbrick needed to quickly find an opponent, knowing his only options at the time came from the Big 12, Conference USA, the Sun Belt and the AAC.
The Big 12 was always going to be unlikely from both sides of the equation, at which point the AAC broadly offered the best competition. South Florida may not be the class of the league currently — that would be Central Florida, Memphis and Houston — but it is of enough quality to at least provide a measuring stick for the Notre Dame coaching staff in postgame evaluations.
To anyone frustrated the opponent is South Florida and the best applicable compliment at the moment is that the Bulls are not so bad that their performance on the field is not worth reviewing afterward, let us remember the best ability is availability, and South Florida is available this weekend.
As of 11:30 am PT on 9/18:
29 FBS games played, 16 postponed/canceled.
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) September 18, 2020
BY HOW MUCH?
Initially, the Irish were favored by a tick less than four touchdowns, but that number was quickly deemed aggressive, and as of Friday-turning-to-Saturday, Notre Dame is a 24-point favorite with a combined point total over/under of 48. Quick math sketches out a 36-12 result.
Last season, the Bulls failed to reach that threshold against four ACC opponents and were held to 10 points combined against Wisconsin and Georgia Tech. Admittedly, those failures are part of why head coach Charlie Strong was dispatched, and why first-year head coach Jeff Scott sought out Charlie Weis Jr. as his offensive coordinator.
All the same, this may be a fast-paced offense, but it is hardly expected to be a particularly dangerous one. Even if the Irish are without a defensive starter or two, coordinator Clark Lea should enjoy the riddle of Weis’ tempo and the pleasure of solving it.
Such defensive reliability gives Notre Dame time to work on its passing game chemistry, rhythm and timing. Initially, that sentence seemed best with only one of those vague descriptors, but the fact of the matter is, remedying all of them is a necessity for the Irish season to have the success expected of it.
Notre Dame will thus have reason to keep pushing, even after opening up a lead. That should turn a one-sided but low-scoring affair into a more pleasing sight on the scoreboard, though perhaps not pleasing enough for those focused on that opening number.
Notre Dame 34, South Florida 10.
(1-0 straight up, 1-0 against the spread, 1-0 over/under)
Appreciate Coach @charlieweissr speaking with me this evening. Obviously pulling for @USFFootball this weekend. "Blood is thicker than water," he said. … Won't attend game. "The last thing I want to do is be a sidebar or be a distraction."
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) September 17, 2020
INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
— ACC avoids missteps of Big 12
— And In That Corner … The South Florida Bulls and a familiar name, Charlie Weis Jr.
— 30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: Lightning strikes twice in South Florida’s first visit
— Charlie Weis Jr. is his father’s son, except when it comes to scheme
— Things To Learn: Will Notre Dame, Ian Book pass slow start worries?
— Friday at 4: 40 predictions, ripe with bad memories but better outcomes
INSIDE THE IRISH COVERAGE OF THE DUKE GAME:
— The folly of Notre Dame’s slow start
— Notre Dame loses WR Skowronek for the week, but should return speedster Lenzy
For Notre Dame's first football game on USA Network Saturday, Paul Burmeister will replace Tirico on play-by-play (Tirico has U.S. Open duties) with Tony Dungy and Jac Collinsworth as analysts.
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) September 17, 2020
— South Florida’s KJ Sails on social injustice: I want to do something that will bring people together
— Charlie Weis Jr. Earns Right To Make His Own Mark
— At the heart of the matter, sister inspires Charlie Weis Jr.’s coaching climb
— Charlie Weis Jr. Returns To Notre Dame, Where His Coaching Career Began
— The Charlie Weis Jr. backstory contains a stunning transformation
— Frustrated at Notre Dame, Phil Jurkovec eager for new start at Boston College