Notre Dame’s Opponents: Postponements become cancellations across the country

Sam Howell
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Brian Kelly summed up our broad reality, as well as college football’s, when the Notre Dame head coach said, “The virus is as the virus is, right? It’s out there and you never know.”

That was a full week ago, and since then, the football season has only further disintegrated. In the smaller subset of Irish opponents, only four of seven games were actually played last week. This week’s slate has already been cut in half. The slipping and sliding within schedules shows no signs of abating.

Even the Pac-12 is on the verge of allowing non-conference games simply because it needs more inventories of rosters to put forth something resembling a weekend-full of games only two weeks into its season. No, Notre Dame fans, do not dream of the No. 2 Irish facing No. 20 USC; both would need to share the same abandoned weekend, and the ACC would have to give the go-ahead. Too much to line up there to force the issue.

But that said, it feels less and less likely Notre Dame plays its entire remaining schedule. That would require five teams to remain properly disciplined, and given the extent of the current coronavirus surge across the country, even absolute discipline may not be enough to protect those five locker rooms.

If there is a hope, it is that most campuses are emptying this week. The Irish are in final exams as we write. Beginning this weekend, a pseudo-bubble will form around most colleges. If there is a counter to that optimism, in addition to a general understanding of nationwide trends, it is that woebegone teams have less and less motivation to stay uber-disciplined.

To pull from an example this space has used a few times this year, with some logic to that repetition, how badly does a Syracuse junior want to stay on campus, avoiding parties, for another three weeks just to head to northwestern Indiana to suffer a 10th loss in the snow? If such a player doesn’t bail outright, his vigilance may yet slip, and the hopes of that pseudo-bubble will slip with him.

These are the added dynamics to college football in 2020, which make Notre Dame’s recovery from its September outbreak that much more impressive.

“The early setback that we had forced us to examine procedures and protocols, certainly,” Kelly said. “I do believe that it also was — I want to be careful with the word wake-up call, but more so of a reminder that our players needed to be even more focused on masks and social distancing and the things that go along with handling the virus.

“Since that time, they have been outstanding.”

North Carolina (6-2, 6-2): Sam Howell (pictured at top) was in his bag against Wake Forest, both revealing how prolific the Tar Heels offense can be and how vital that onslaught often is, given North Carolina’s defense gave up 35 first-half points and a 45-24 deficit halfway through the third quarter. Then came Howell. The Heels needed 550 yards and six passing touchdowns, with a seventh on the ground, to come back against the Demon Deacons, 59-53.

North Carolina has the week off before the short week ending with the Irish on Black Friday (3:30 ET; ABC). Let the quiet weekend simmer with anticipation of Howell’s drama.

Syracuse (1-7, 1-6): Not to be a cynic, but the Orange may not take the field at Louisville on Friday (7 ET, ESPN). The Cardinals have been battling coronavirus issues, and subsequent departures from the team, and may not have the numbers available come Friday. The good news is, the game has not been canceled yet, as of Thursday morning.

Syracuse is an 18-point underdog with a combined point total over/under of 56.5 suggesting a 37-19 Cardinals victory, but Louisville will be without at least running back Javin Hawkins (opt out) and possibly star receiver Tutu Atwell, so finding the end zone five times may be a stiff ask.

Wake Forest (4-3, 3-3):

Clemson (7-1, 6-1): Trevor Lawrence returns at Florida State (12 ET; ABC), which should give him plenty of chances to get back into rhythm. The Tigers do not inherently need to run up the score, a la Ohio State or Oregon, to better the optics of a Playoff bid; if they win the ACC, they are in and they know it. But Clemson will still likely play angry and Lawrence will be eager to re-establish himself, thus being favored by 35.5 points with an over/under of 63. On top of that, a Brett Venables defense seems unlikely to give up 14 points to these Seminoles.

SATURDAY MORNING POSTPONEMENT:

Duke (2-6, 1-6 ACC): The Blue Devils had last weekend’s intended game against Virginia postponed, and now they will be off this week thanks to Wake Forest’s coronavirus issues, a contest unlikely to be made up. Much longer and Duke might see fit to fold up the season in the vein of those Syracuse suspicions.

South Florida (1-7): The Bulls were blown out, 56-21, at Houston, and will have to mull that over for a while as their coronavirus issues have postponed a game against Navy that is unlikely to be rescheduled.

Florida State (2-6, 1-6): Falling behind 21-3 at halftime was too much for the Seminoles to overcome in a 38-22 loss at North Carolina State.

Louisville (2-6, 1-6): Those coronavirus issues largely affected the Cardinals’ defensive line, weakening that front to the point Virginia ran against it 42 times in a 31-17 Cavaliers victory. Even with quarterback Malik Cunningham rushing for 197 yards, throwing for 161 and accounting for two touchdowns, Louisville could not mount a consistent offense without its other usual playmakers.

Pittsburgh (4-4, 3-4): A postponement at Georgia Tech may have cost Panthers fans their last chance at seeing veteran quarterback Kenny Pickett in the Pitt script. He has reportedly decided to head to the NFL after the season, a decision that may include opting out of the season early per some indicators. That will become readily apparent against Virginia Tech (4 ET; ACCN). Pittsburgh enters the weekend as a 3-point underdog, perhaps confirming those Pickett suspicions.

Georgia Tech (2-5, 2-4): One postponement follows another, the Yellow Jackets’ trip to Miami already scrapped and rescheduled for Dec. 19, contingent on Miami not playing in the ACC title game.

Boston College (5-4, 4-4): The Eagles will take two weeks off after that loss to the Irish, a scheduling anomaly in a year full of them.

CURRENT ACC STANDINGS:
Notre Dame: 8-0, 7-0 ACC
Clemson, Miami: 7-1, 6-1
North Carolina: 6-2, 6-2
North Carolina State: 5-3, 5-3
Virginia Tech: 4-4, 4-3
Boston College: 5-4, 4-4
Wake Forest: 4-3, 3-3
Pittsburgh: 4-4, 3-4
Virginia: 3-4, 3-4
Georgia Tech: 2-5, 2-4
Duke, Florida State, Louisville: 2-6, 1-6
Syracuse: 1-7, 1-6

Friday, 7 ET: Syracuse at Louisville, ESPN.
Saturday 12 ET: Clemson at Florida State, ABC.
4 ET: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh, ACC Network.

That’s it. That’s all the games Notre Dame’s 11 opponents will play this weekend, and even that might get cut down yet.

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