Notre Dame’s Opponents: Late-October foes not exactly high-profile anymore

Florida State v North Carolina
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Notre Dame’s opponents will not much distract Irish fans during an anticlimactic idle week. In the preseason, it would have been understandable to circle Miami’s trip to North Carolina this weekend as a crash course into the preseason-No. 10 Tar Heels before they travel to South Bend on Halloween Eve.

Instead, neither the ACC Coastal name brand nor the expected upstart is in contention in the wide-open ACC. To hear North Carolina head coach Mack Brown tell it, the Tar Heels’ middling 3-3 record is something short of the media’s fault but at least a poor reflection on the media.

“My expectation is to win every game, so three times we’ve met it and three times we haven’t,” Brown said after North Carolina lost to Florida State on Saturday. “The national media’s expectation, the expectation for us to be a top-10 team, were wrong. So I guess we should all be critical of the media for picking us that high.”

So instead of readying for the most exciting back-to-back games at Notre Dame Stadium since No. 12 USC visited a week before No. 23 North Carolina State, all the Irish can await are two high-profile offenses that have wildly underperformed this season with two Heisman hopefuls now proud owners of three losses apiece.

Florida State (2-4): As three-score underdogs, the Seminoles upset North Carolina, 35-25, in large part because the Tar Heels defense is nothing to fret over, though there was once a time Florida State would have still struggled to move the ball. The Seminoles’ offensive line is finally finding a bit of health and thus chemistry, helping the Florida State running game to 238 yards on 41 carries, a 5.8 yards per rush average.

The Seminoles will get to enjoy that win for an extra week, as well as further the offensive line’s health.

Toledo (3-3): The Rockets never found any version of liftoff against Northern Illinois, losing 22-20 after the Huskies kicked a field goal in the final minute, their fifth field goal of the day. What was supposed to be a strong offense could not find consistency yet again, averaging just 5.56 yards per play, and continuing to fall short of 30 points against any opponent not named UMass.

Toledo will hope to finally crack 30 at Central Michigan (3:30 ET; CBSSN), but being favored by 5.5 points with a combined point total Over/Under of 52, via PointsBet on Wednesday evening, suggests the Rockets will manage only 28 points on Saturday.

Purdue (3-2): After a week off, the Boilermakers have the luxury of heading to No. 2 Iowa (3:30 ET; ABC) this weekend. A week ago this space described that fate as an “inevitable deconstruction,” and that phrasing persists given Purdue is an 11.5-point underdog expected to struggle to score two touchdowns.

Wisconsin (2-3): The good news: The Badgers beat Illinois, 24-0.
The bad news: Wisconsin dismissed running back Jalen Berger, its leading rusher in 2020, reportedly in part because of his malcontent attitude after the Badgers brought in Clemson transfer running back Chez Mellusi, who became their starter.

To draw a comparison to Notre Dame, when Irish head coach Brian Kelly praised sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne a few weeks ago for how he handled the arrival of Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan, Kelly was not offering empty words. Not every program is so fortunate to have players accept lesser roles because of imports.

“Drew Pyne is a great example of, in my opinion, how we do our business in our program,” Kelly said. “We bring in a transfer and he doesn’t put his name in the portal. What he does is he says, ‘You know what, I’m going to prepare myself to be the best version of Drew Pyne and when my number is called, I’m going to be ready.’”

Fittingly, Kelly said that after Notre Dame’s 41-13 win against Wisconsin.

The Badgers now host Army (8 ET; BTN), and while some virtual ink should be spilled noting Wisconsin is favored by two touchdowns, the real eyebrow-raising perspective is that the Over/Under is 39 points.

And that feels high.

No. 3 Cincinnati (5-0): Many suggested the Bearcats would go through the motions against Temple, this space among those many. Cincinnati did no such thing, blowing by the overmatched Owls, 52-3.

That may become a theme for the rest of the year with the Bearcats, both because they are that match better than the rest of the AAC and because impressing the Playoff committee with dominant scores will be a key piece to their postseason résumé. Central Florida (12 ET; ABC) will be the next to fall. Cincinnati is favored by three touchdowns with a total of 57.5 points.

Virginia Tech (3-2): Things may be about to go from bad to worse for the Hokies. Losing to a top-15 Notre Dame is one thing, even at home. Losing to unranked — if not foolishly unranked — Pittsburgh (3:30 ET; ESPN2) at home will be another. Quarterback Braxton Burmeister will play through the shoulder injury delivered by the Irish, but Virginia Tech is still a 5-point underdog with the total of 57.5 predicting something akin to a 31-26 result. Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett is drawing a touch of Heisman attention, and hanging a gaudy number on the Hokies would catch some afternoon eyes.

USC (3-3): The Trojans’ problems stem from their defense, not their offense. Scoring 28 points may not be enough regularly, but it should have been against Utah. Instead, USC was gashed in every way defensively, giving up 5.1 yards per rush and 10.9 yards per pass attempt. Even the most explosive offense will struggle to keep up with those paces.

The Trojans have the week off before heading to the Midwest.

North Carolina (3-3): After Tyler Buchner’s first extended work started well on Saturday, it may be of note to Notre Dame fans that the Tar Heels gave up 121 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries to Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis, along with 145 yards and three touchdowns on 11-of-13 passing. A modest dual-threat quarterback can find great success against North Carolina’s shoddy defense.

Miami (3:30 ET; ACCN) may not have that tool at its disposal with quarterback D’Eriq King sidelined by a shoulder injury. As a result, the Tar Heels are favored by a touchdown, no matter their recent struggles.

RELATED READING: What’s left for UNC to play for after another disappointing performance against Florida State?

Navy (1-4): An entertaining 21-21 first half slowed to a slog in the second half, but SMU scored the only fourth-quarter touchdown in a 35-24 win against the Midshipmen on Saturday, an impressive performance for Navy given early-season showings, but a loss all the same.

The indications are there, though, that the Midshipmen have turned the corner, or are at least about to. Since the chaos within its coaching staff spurred by the athletic director, Navy has averaged 315.7 yards per game, averaging 4.7 yards per play. That is not excellent, but it is competent.

Given Memphis (7:30 ET Thursday; ESPN) has given up 199 rushing yards per game and 4.23 yards per carry in its last three games, perhaps the Midshipmen should be less than 10.5-point underdogs.

Virginia (4-2): The only team awaiting Notre Dame with a winning record, the Cavaliers nearly fell to .500 by entering the fourth quarter last week trailing Louisville 30-13. Three touchdown drives, including a two-minute drill finding the end zone with 22 seconds remaining, catapulted Virginia to a 34-33 victory.

The Cavaliers may well reach 6-3 or 7-2 before they face the Irish, with Duke (12:30 ET) followed by Georgia Tech and No. 19 BYU. This week, Virginia is favored by 10.5 points against the Blue Devils, an oddly low number.

Georgia Tech (3-3): Speaking of Duke, the Yellow Jackets beat the Blue Devils, 31-27, in a meeting of some of the ACC’s worst. It took a last-minute touchdown for Georgia Tech to beat Duke, but the win makes it nearly impossible for the Ramblin’ Wreck to finish the year at the bottom of the ACC standings.

Georgia Tech will take the week off.

Stanford (3-3): The Cardinal fell 28-10 at No. 22 Arizona State over the weekend, a complete shutdown of what had become a promising offense led by sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee. After averaging 34.5 points per game since the season opener, Stanford managed just one first-quarter touchdown drive. The real undoing came via McKee, who while throwing for 356 yards also threw three interceptions.

McKee’s resolve will be tested this week at Washington State (7:30; ESPNU), an opponent ripe for ridicule off the field but increasingly not terrible on the field, particularly its pass defense as it gives up only 6.49 yards per pass attempt. The Cardinal is favored by 1.5 points on the road.

THURSDAY
7:30 ET — Navy at Memphis, ESPN.

SATURDAY
12 ET — Cincinnati vs. Central Florida, ABC.
12:30 ET — Virginia vs. Duke.
3:30 ET — Toledo at Central Michigan, CBSSN; Purdue at Iowa, ABC; Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburgh, ESPN2; North Carolina vs. Miami, ACCN.
7:30 ET — Stanford at Washington State, ESPNU.
8 ET — Army at Wisconsin, BTN.

Favored: Toledo (-15.5), Wisconsin (-14), Cincinnati (-21), North Carolina (-7), Virginia (-10.5), Stanford (-1.5).
Underdogs: Purdue (+11.5), Virginia Tech (+5), Navy (+10.5).

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner, and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links. All lines as of mid-Thursday afternoon.