Notre Dame’s Opponents: USC finds more possible change with another star QB

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 USC at Washington State
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The context of Brian Kelly’s reference to USC last weekend will get lost in time. It was not meant as a dig at the Trojans. The Irish head coach was discussing his longevity at Notre Dame, his ability to tie Knute Rockne’s school record of 105 wins. He was not stoking the coals more than a month before the annual* matchup.

(*Let’s pretend the Irish traveled out to USC in 2020 and the rivalry was not forced to take a year off.)

But that is not how it will be remembered, especially not since Kelly danced around those three particular letters for some curious reason.

“We’re going to play our rival, and they’ve had a number of different head coaches at their university,” Kelly said as he acknowledged the administration at Notre Dame had not only kept him around as head coach but had also remained unchanged for the last 12+ years. “You know I’m talking about our rival on the West Coast, and this is not to smear them at all. It requires consistency to get to these marks.”

Frankly, Kelly could have also mentioned the Trojans’ quarterback turnover, though he had no idea how chaotic USC’s day had been to that point.

Florida State (0-3): The Seminoles were run off the field at Wake Forest, 35-14. For the first time since Bobby Bowden’s first year in 1976, Florida State is 0-3, partly thanks to six turnovers against the Demon Deacons.

Life might improve for the Seminoles, but that might is doing some heavy lifting. Florida State is a 1.5-point underdog to Louisville (3:30 ET; ESPN2) in Tallahassee, per PointsBet. The combined point total over/under of 61.5 suggests an entertaining 31-29 type game, but if the Seminoles’ offensive line does not find health — starters Thomas Shrader and Maurice Smith have missed recent games — then the Cardinals might turn this into yet another lopsided loss for Florida State.

Toledo (1-2): Rockets head coach Jason Candle insisted his team would not be hungover after the close loss at Notre Dame, but he was wrong, a 22-6 loss to woeful Colorado State dampening Toledo’s expectations greatly.

The good news is, that was out of conference. The Rockets can still run the table in the MAC, beginning at Ball State (2 ET; ESPN+) where Toledo is favored by five. A 31-26 finish would about live up to the over/under of 56, but the Rockets may need something more convincing to truly right their ship. (Pun intended, because it is usually applied only to Navy, but it applies here, as well!)

Purdue (2-1): The Boilermakers are favored by 11 against Illinois (3:30 ET; BTN) which, in its own way, shows how far ahead of average college football teams Notre Dame now is. The Irish would be a three-score favorite against the Big Ten’s lower half.

That alone may serve as recognition of the stability Kelly has brought within his 105 wins. In 2009, Notre Dame played at Michigan, vs. Michigan State and at Purdue, winning the latter two games. All three finished the year with seven losses, the Wolverines going 1-7 in Big Ten play. Not only did the Irish lose to Michigan, they were also only three-point favorites on the road. They were six-point favorites at Purdue, and at home against the Spartans, Notre Dame was a 10.5-point favorite.

Those teams were 2009’s rough equivalent to 2021’s Illinois.

No. 18 Wisconsin (1-1): Far from the Big Ten’s lower half, even though they are 0-1 in conference play, the Badgers are favored by 6.5 points against the Irish in Chicago on Saturday (12 ET; FOX). The over/under of 45 makes it clear this will be a throwback affair, even more so than the opening total of 47.5 thought.

No. 8 Cincinnati (3-0): The Bearcats came back from an early 14-0 deficit to cruise past Indiana 38-24 before an off week.

Virginia Tech (2-1): The Hokies went on the road to West Virginia and very promptly fell out of the rankings after a 27-21 loss. Without playmaking tight end James Mitchell, Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister still went 19-of-31 for 223 yards and two touchdowns. It was instead the Hokies run game that was their undoing, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry.

With FCS-level Richmond on deck (12 ET; ACCN), that run game has a chance to find some rhythm.

USC (2-1): The Trojans fell behind 14-0 early at Washington State, and then junior quarterback Kedon Slovis was injured. After firing Clay Helton last week, USC’s season looked like it was about to absolutely implode.

Enter freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart. Yes, that is actually his name. He threw for 391 yards and four touchdowns on 30-of-46 passing to lead the way to a 45-14 rout.

Now one question dominates the conversation in LA. Who will start at quarterback?

We may not know until the Trojans kick off against Oregon State (10:30 ET; FS1) and as 11-point favorites, it may not matter, but that late-night window is suddenly very intriguing.

UPDATE: Slovis will start. Dart may be done for a while.

North Carolina (2-1): The Tar Heels have gotten back on course after a season-opening loss on national television, scoring 59 points in back-to-back weeks, with the latter of those coming against conference competitor Virginia in a 59-39 win. North Carolina will need Virginia Tech to lose twice in the ACC in order to challenge for the conference championship, but if Sam Howell & Co. get that assist, they may live up to preseason hype.

They should have little trouble with Georgia Tech (7:30 ET; ACCN), even if Clemson did. The Tar Heels are 12.5-point favorites with an over/under of 63.5 — that total is intriguing, given the momentum North Carolina’s offense is building. The Ramblin’ Wreck put in the work to challenge the Tigers. Doubling down this week would be doubly as difficult.

Navy (0-2): Hopefully the Midshipmen enjoyed their idle week, because Houston (7 ET; ESPNU) is a 20-point favorite this week. It is going to be a long, long season for Navy.

Virginia (2-1): That loss to North Carolina may have returned the Cavaliers to the pack in the ACC Coastal after a strong 2-0 start created some buzz. They are still 3.5-point favorites against Wake Forest (Friday 7 ET; ESPN2), though that number has fallen from opening at 4.5.

Georgia Tech (1-2): How did the Yellow Jackets challenge Clemson to a 14-8 loss?

Perhaps they have now blown the element of surprise.

Stanford (2-1): The Cardinal were tied at 14 with Clark Lea’s Vanderbilt with fewer than two minutes left until halftime last week; Stanford led 27-14 at halftime.

That is more a reflection of how rough Lea’s debut campaign is and will be, but the 41-23 Cardinal victory reflects a team that has surprisingly put things together. Quarterback Tanner McKee threw for 218 yards and two touchdowns on just 19-of-29 passing.

That efficient passing game could be a problem for UCLA (6 ET; PAC 12 Network), though the Bruins are favored by 4.5 points.

7 ET — Virginia vs. Wake Forest, ESPN2.

12 ET — Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin in Chicago, FOX; Virginia Tech vs. Richmond, ACCN.
2 ET — Toledo at Ball State, ESPN+.
3:30 ET — Florida State vs. Louisville, ESPN2; Purdue vs. Illinois, BTN.
6 ET — Stanford vs. UCLA, P12N.
7 ET — Navy at Houston, ESPNU.
7:30 ET — North Carolina at Georgia Tech, ACCN.
10:30 ET — USC vs. Oregon State, FS1.

Favored: Toledo (-5), Purdue (-11), Wisconsin (-6.5), USC (-11), North Carolina (-12.5), Virginia (-3.5).
Underdogs: Florida State (+1.5), Navy (+20), Georgia Tech (+12.5), Stanford (+4.5).

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