Notre Dame’s Opponents: Just how likely is Round 2 against Clemson?

Trevor Lawrence Clemson
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If Notre Dame had lost to Clemson late Saturday night, researching the ACC tiebreaker policies for 2020 would have led down a rabbit hole focusing on some measure called the Team Rating Score created by some entity known as SportSource Analytics.

Who knows. Notre Dame won.

As a result, any wondering if the No. 2 Irish will face the No. 4 Tigers once again on Dec. 19 in Charlotte comes down to the very top line of those tiebreakers:

1. Head-to-head competition between the two tied teams.

As long as both Clemson and Notre Dame win out, then yes, five weeks from now will feature Round 2, simply because the Tigers beat Miami, 42-17, a month ago. Junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns, adding another on the ground. Senior running back Travis Etienne ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns. The supposed tilt was instead a blowout.

Its lasting effects are two-fold:
— The Hurricanes’ inability to compete with Clemson underscores the shock value of Saturday’s Irish win; it had been so long since an ACC opponent genuinely challenged the five-time defending conference champions.
— The Tigers hold that head-to-head tiebreaker.

Further concerns are simple: If Clemson loses in the next few weeks, then the rematch’s viability will hinge on Miami losing. The same goes for if Notre Dame loses, but that would also include the aforementioned rabbit hole and the intent is to stay above ground the week after the biggest Irish win in 27 years.

Clemson’s remaining schedule: Idle, at Florida State, vs. Pittsburgh, at Virginia Tech.
Miami’s remaining schedule: at Virginia Tech, vs. Georgia Tech, at Wake Forest, vs. North Carolina.

Obviously, the Tigers should cruise through that slate. One might think the Hurricanes will, as well, but they are, in fact, 2-point underdogs this weekend against the Hokies (12 ET; ESPN2). A Virginia Tech win, fresh off a debacle of a loss to Liberty that will linger over head coach Justin Fuente’s tenure for a while, would grant some breathing room atop the ACC and some comfort for anyone who enjoyed Saturday night’s drama, hoping for more.

Frankly, count this scribe as one of those hoping Round 2 becomes reality.

Boston College (5-3, 4-3): The Eagles have their defense to thank for not falling on their face over the weekend, holding Syracuse to 240 total yards in a 16-13 shuffling win. Boston College gained 399 yards, with quarterback Phil Jurkovec throwing for 208 yards and one touchdown. Losing the turnover battle 2-0 complicated matters in a contest in which the Eagles had the ball for nearly 39 minutes.

That control of a game will be much more difficult against the Irish (3:30 ET; ABC), who have held the ball for 34:02 per game this season, No. 7 in the country of teams that have played a minimum of three games. Those two plodding offenses, though, create a situation for a combined points total over/under of 49 on an afternoon when Notre Dame is favored by 13.5. A 31-18 result may feel like a letdown after beating the top team in the country, 47-40, in double overtime, but perhaps a weekend devoid of tension would be good for the Irish starters.

North Carolina (5-2, 5-2): When Sam Howell gets cooking, not much can stop the Tar Heels sophomore quarterback, and he cooked against Duke, accounting for four touchdowns in a 56-24 victory. Consider this advance notice that North Carolina will be at the top of all non-Clemson, ACC hype in 2021.

That will be true whether or not the Tar Heels beat Wake Forest (12 ET; ACC Network) as 13.5-point favorites with an over/under of 66. The Demon Deacons’ defense has improved of late, a bit more so than most analytics have realized …

Syracuse (1-7, 1-6): Even when a chance was at hand, the Orange lost. Now not to doubt the discipline of 18- to 22-year-olds, but one has to wonder how much discipline will linger for a roster in the midst of a spiraling season as it reaches an idle week.

When Syracuse returns from that break, it faces Louisville. If there is a post-off-week outbreak, the timeline would indicate it begins just before facing the Cardinals, and its second wave would impact the Orange in its season finale at Notre Dame.

Wake Forest (4-2, 3-2): Speaking of 2021 ACC darkhorses, the Demon Deacons will not inherently join the conversation, but quarterback Sam Hartman will incur some attention. For that matter, with Jurkovec, Howell and Hartman ahead of the Irish yet this season, Notre Dame’s pass rushers should enjoy their chances to ruin the Saturdays of some drop-back passers.

Duke (2-6, 1-6 ACC): The Blue Devils are not all that much better off than Syracuse, not to sound too cynical.

South Florida (1-6): But think about your thought process if you were an upperclassman in one of your final seasons of football as the proverbial Big Man On Campus, and instead of enjoying the perks that typically come with that status, you were losing 34-33 to Memphis, blowing a 33-20 lead with fewer than four minutes remaining. Would you stay vigilant? Would you avoid the trappings of college life? Or would you risk practical sense and thus endanger yourself, your locker room and your season?

Anyway, South Florida heads to Houston (3 ET; ESPN+) as two-touchdown underdogs.

Florida State (2-5, 1-5): That thinking applies at least a little bit less to underclassmen, even if they are coming off a 41-17 drubbing to Pittsburgh. Junior quarterback Jordan Travis, for example, has reason to keep playing as hard as he can and earning the trust of his coaches and teammates, throwing for 106 yards and rushing for 80 more against the Panthers while heralded freshman Chubba Purdy saw some action, as well. If Travis wants to hold off Purdy next year, that task begins this season.

Purdy will presumably see some work at North Carolina State (7:30 ET; ACC Network), with either him or Travis getting the chance to pull off a clutch-time upset of the Wolfpack. The Seminoles are only touchdown underdogs, a 60-point over/under suggesting a 34-27 result.

Louisville (2-5, 1-5): The Cardinals get another week to gain control of their outbreak, this a scheduled idle week after cancelling a game at Virginia last week.

Pittsburgh (4-4, 3-4): Panthers veteran quarterback Kenny Pickett went from limited action in practice during the week to leading a convincing win at Florida State, running for a touchdown and throwing for 210 yards on 21-of-27 passing. That breakthrough should set up Pittsburgh to cruise past Georgia Tech (7 ET), even if as only 6.5-point favorites. A 50.5-point over/under argues for a 28-22 conclusion, but that feels closer than reality with Pickett back in the mix.

Georgia Tech (2-5, 2-4): See the preceding paragraph.

Clemson (7-1, 6-1): Trevor Lawrence returns behind center … next week. The Tigers have the week off, needed for them to get healthy throughout the defense.

CURRENT ACC STANDINGS:
Notre Dame: 7-0, 6-0 ACC
Clemson: 7-1, 6-1
Miami: 6-1, 5-1
North Carolina: 5-2, 5-2
Virginia Tech: 4-3, 4-2
Wake Forest: 4-2, 3-2
Boston College: 5-3, 4-3
North Carolina State: 4-3, 4-3
Pittsburgh: 4-4, 3-4
Virginia: 2-4, 2-4
Georgia Tech: 2-5, 2-4
Florida State, Louisville: 2-5, 1-5
Duke: 2-6, 1-6
Syracuse: 1-7, 1-6

12 ET — Wake Forest at North Carolina, ACC Network.
3 ET — South Florida at Houston, ESPN+.
3:30 ET — Notre Dame at Boston College, ABC.
7 ET — Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech.
7:30 ET — Florida State at North Carolina St.; ACC Network.

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