CHICAGO — Some weeks there is time for a meandering, illustrative intro to open this preview. Not this week. Not when No. 12 Notre Dame (3-0) kicks off at 11 a.m. local time, not when the press box opens barely an hour after sunrise. Not when No. 18 Wisconsin awaits the Irish in Chicago.
TIME: Yes, Notre Dame and the Badgers will kick off at 12 ET, as part of FOX’s push to have the nation’s eyeballs for at least one viewing window of the day. Do not delay today, run those errands first thing.
TV: This is your Big Noon Saturday game of the week, meaning it is on FOX nationally. It should be available via any FOX streaming app.
Why is this on FOX instead of NBC? Technically, this is a Wisconsin home game. Yes, the Irish playing in Chicago is an away game for Notre Dame.
The reasoning is rather simple. When this series was initially scheduled — a “home-and-home” in 2020 and 2021 at Lambeau Field and Soldier Field — the Irish owed NBC one more broadcast game in 2020 while the Badgers owed their broadcast partners one in 2021. For whatever logistical reasons, the Green Bay game needed to come before the Chicago game.
Thus, technically, today is a Wisconsin home game. Aside from the broadcast, though, it will have absolutely no effect.
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) September 23, 2021
PREVIEW: A number of off-field storylines offer a unique flavor to this matchup, though they should all be remembered as off-field storylines.
Notre Dame and Wisconsin have not met since 1964, a stretch delayed by a year by the pandemic. Yet, there is familiarity between the rosters with former Badgers quarterback Jack Coan now leading the Irish.
Make no mistake, though, Coan did not leave Wisconsin on bad terms. A foot injury sidelined him before the 2020 season, and then-sophomore Graham Mertz impressed enough to secure the gig; there was no direct competition between the two. It only made sense for Coan to head elsewhere for his final year of eligibility.
“We have respect for Jack,” Badgers head coach Paul Chryst said. “We appreciated who he was as a player, person and teammate here. But it’s Wisconsin versus Notre Dame.”
Indeed, it is Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame, which is far more interesting than Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame in Chicago (where the Irish have never lost, going 10-0-2 over the last 90-plus years) or Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame in the Shamrock Series (the neutral-site series in which the Irish are 9-0 since it began in 2009).
On the field, the biggest Badgers question may be if senior cornerback Faion Hicks and senior safety Collin Wilder will return to the lineup after spending Wisconsin’s last game — a 34-7 win against Eastern Michigan two weeks ago — on the sidelines. Chryst has indicated all players should be available this week, but since no reason was ever given for their absence against the Eagles, some speculation may linger.
Hicks and Wilder could be needed assets to stop the big plays that have driven the Irish to date. Notre Dame has relied on explosive scoring plays (touchdowns of at least 20 yards) for 28 percent of its offense through three games.
On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame will be without fifth-year defensive tackle Kurt Hinish, which may lead to a struggle in stopping the Badgers’ ball-control offense. Wisconsin has run the ball 58 and 55 times in its first two games.
Sources have confirmed to Irish Illustrated that NT-Kurt Hinish is not expected to play for #NotreDame in today’s Shamrock Series game against Wisconsin.
— Irish Illustrated (@timprister) September 25, 2021
PREDICTION: Wisconsin remains a 6.5-point favorite against the Irish, per PointsBet, with a combined point total over/under of 45.
In other words, this afternoon may be a slow one.
Unless, that is, Notre Dame hits on one of those big plays. In an admittedly small sample size, the Badgers have given up 33 rushing yards per game this season. More notably, they have allowed 1.83 yards per carry. Particularly with the Irish offensive line struggles the last few weeks, Notre Dame may need to turn away from the run quickly in Soldier Field.
One such early big-play connection — be it a catch-and-rumble from junior tight end Michael Mayer, a post down the middle of the field to fifth-year receiver Avery Davis or a successful screen to junior running back Kyren Williams — would put Wisconsin in an uncomfortable position.
Across their last six games, the Badgers have averaged just 14 points. While the Irish defense has given up a handful of big plays this season, it is not so porous on even its worst day that such a plodding offense should find explosiveness, especially given Wisconsin’s red-zone troubles. Through two games, the Badgers have scored touchdowns on only half their possessions inside the 20-yard-line, undone by a few Mertz miscues more than anything else.
These troubles readily explain how Wisconsin has gone Under the total in six straight regular-season games. For that matter, Notre Dame’s total has gone Under in four of its last seven games.
To continue with these trends, the Badgers have lost three of their last six as favorites of more than a field goal, part of a long-term habit in which they have lost six such games since the start of 2018 (and gone 10-14 against the spread in those spots).
The Irish do not have much experience as underdogs of late, expected to lose by a field goal or more just three times in the regular season since the start of 2017, winning two of those outright (Michigan in 2018 and Clemson in 2020, the loss coming at Georgia in 2019).
That mindset, one unfamiliar with even being an underdog, should set Notre Dame toward an early long-range touchdown, and at that point, it will no longer be an underdog in anyone’s mind.
Notre Dame 24, Wisconsin 17.
(Straight up — 3-0; Against the spread — 2-1; Over/under — 3-0.)
When you have an office in Ireland, you are 𝙡𝙚𝙜𝙖𝙡𝙡𝙮 𝙧𝙚𝙦𝙪𝙞𝙧𝙚𝙙 to get their take on all Notre Dame games 🤣
PointsBet's Irish traders weigh in on ND 🆚 Wisconsin with the Irish Minute 🍀 pic.twitter.com/b016gAnMbb
— PointsBet Sportsbook (@PointsBetUSA) September 24, 2021
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INSIDE THE IRISH
— Notre Dame’s ‘urgency’ reminiscent of 2018, as are light-hearted postgame barbs
— And In That Corner … The No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers present a familiar challenge
— Notre Dame’s Opponents: USC finds more possible change with another star QB
— Drew White’s on- and off-field growth has Notre Dame primed for Wisconsin ground game
— Things To Learn: Defense, big-play threats will need to shine for Jack Coan to beat his old team
— Why the Badgers offense needs to account for ND star safety Kyle Hamilton on every play
— Soldier Field showdown is another Chicago chapter for Irish
— The story of the ’emotional’ day Notre Dame QB Jack Coan moved out of Wisconsin
— How Badgers QB Graham Mertz blocked out the noise before playing Jack Coan
— Can the Badgers continue shutting down the middle of the field against Notre Dame
— 2023 RB Sedrick Irvin Jr. commits to Notre Dame
— Stronger with Saint Mary’s
— College Football Week 4 Odds: Two-way money on Notre Dame vs Wisconsin
— There’s a reason Northwestern branded itself “Chicago’s Big Ten Team”
— Title IX probe finds USC Song Girls coach Lori Nelson body shamed, harassed dancers
— USC QB Jaxson Dart undergoes surgery for meniscus injury
The connections between Notre Dame football and the city of Chicago date back to the Knute Rockne era. With a win in Soldier Field on Saturday, Brian Kelly would pass Rockne to become the winningest coach in program history.
— Caroline Pineda (@carolinepineda_) September 23, 2021