Tuesday night’s initial College Football Playoff rankings will have no effect on Notre Dame’s season, but they do confirm the strength of the Irish schedule in a way that should once again be beyond debate. By those rankings, Notre Dame faces three top-10 teams this season, including two on the road.
The third, of course, is this weekend’s matchup with No. 4 Clemson (8-0) at 7:30 ET on NBC.
No. 4 Clemson (8-0): The Tigers come off an idle week in which they did not change quarterbacks, though some may have assumed that was coming after freshman Cade Klubnik subbed in for junior DJ Uiagalelei late in Clemson’s 27-21 comeback win against Syracuse two weeks ago.
The Tigers do know they have a decent emergency option, though, with Klubnik avoiding any critical errors against the Orange, not that he exactly dazzled, either. Klubnik completed two of four passes for 19 yards and took five rushes for 26 yards (sack adjusted). He also converted a two-point attempt. Clearly, Klubnik was not instant-offense in a can, but among his four drives, he did lead the way to two touchdowns and a field goal.
The real star for Clemson both that day and much of this season was and has been sophomore running back Will Shipley, former longtime Notre Dame recruiting target. After Klubnik stepped in for Uiagalelei against Syracuse, Shipley took nine more rushes for 81 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown. He finished with 172 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, adding 17 more yards on three catches.
Shipley finding success Saturday may be the least-discussed key of the weekend to this point, but it will be vital for the Tigers and, thus obviously, for the Irish defensive front.
“You need to be really patient up front, and when the opportunity presents itself, you got to take it,” Shipley said of facing Notre Dame’s front-seven. “You can’t second-guess yourself.”
Favored by 3.5 as of Wednesday afternoon, with a combined point total Over/Under of 44, Clemson is expected to win a grind of a game Saturday, something to the tune of 24-20.
Navy (3-5): The Midshipmen season went from bad to worse despite beating Temple, 27-20, in overtime. The Navy triple-option is more dependent on its quarterback than the other renditions at Army and Air Force, and it was already struggling with Tai Lavatai leading the way. Now the Midshipmen will be without him after a lower-body injury in the first quarter against the Owls ended Lavatai’s season.
“I think Tai going down kind of kicked us in the gut,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalalo said. “I hate that for that kid. He’s an awesome young man who has worked hard and was getting better.”
In his place, Xavier Arline held on to score the game-winning touchdown in overtime, after Temple stormed back from a 13-0 deficit. An interception on the following drive sealed the game.
— Navy Athletics (@NavyAthletics) October 30, 2022
The Midshipmen now head to Cincinnati (4 ET; ESPNU) as 19.5-point underdogs, a number that seems low considering Navy’s offense may struggle to string together three first downs on any single drive.
Boston College (2-6): The Eagles lost to Connecticut. Let’s say that again. Boston College lost to UConn, 13-3.
Any Notre Dame fans still insisting the Eagles are a threat to once again hand the Irish a shocking loss should reread that paragraph a few times.
Five Boston College turnovers doomed the Eagles more than anything else, but even that does not excuse losing to Connecticut.
Boston College now hosts Duke (7 ET on Friday; ESPN2), with the Blue Devils favored by 10 points. Again, the Eagles are two-possession underdogs to Duke.
No. 9 USC (7-1): The Trojans were bothered by utter officiating incompetence at the end of the first half, but they still beat Arizona, 45-37, a score made closer thanks to a late, meaningless Wildcats touchdown.
For a nice change of pace, the Pac 12 has Playoff hopes with four teams in the top-14, three of them with only one loss. Only one of them is still on USC’s schedule — No. 10 UCLA on Nov. 19 at the Rose Bowl, just before Notre Dame heads west — but the Pac-12 title game should provide a second matchup, if the Trojans are able to get there, that potential trip to Las Vegas a relative pilgrimage for USC compared to the next few weeks.
Trojans are 7-1. Final 4 games are in Los Angeles. pic.twitter.com/8ZqvEvuT7l
— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) October 30, 2022
First they will need to handle business against Cal (10:30 ET; ESPN). Favored by more than three touchdowns, at some point USC’s turnover luck should run out, right?
USC has just 1 turnover this year. They're +16 in TO margin. Opponents have turned the ball over in the red zone FIVE times. And USC has 3 one-possession wins.
This is not sustainable.
— 💫🅰️♈️🆔 (@ADavidHaleJoint) October 30, 2022
No. 2 Ohio State (8-0): The Buckeyes let Penn State hang around for a while, trailing 21-16 five minutes into the fourth quarter. And then, quite literally 69 seconds later, Ohio State led 30-21 on its way to a 44-31 win that was more truly a 44-24 victory.
The Big Ten will challenge the Buckeyes at some point, but it will not be at Northwestern (12 ET; ABC) this weekend, not with Ohio State favored by 38 points.
Marshall (4-4): The Herd fell 24-13 to Coastal Carolina. Mathematically speaking, Marshall has been one of the most unlucky teams this season, giving it reason to think a bowl game is still on the horizon, beginning by beating Old Dominion (2 ET; ESPN+) this weekend, favored by a field goal. That loss to the Chanticleers, though, doomed any lingering Herd hopes of winning the Sun Belt, now effectively trailing Coastal Carolina by four games in the division standings with only three conference games to play.
Cal (3-5): A missed field goal cost anyone believing in the Bears, losing 42-24 to Oregon.
No. 17 North Carolina (7-1): Despite having the only defense to make Notre Dame’s offense look thoroughly good, the Tar Heels continue to win. They came back from an early deficit against Pittsburgh to win 42-24, largely thanks to a 21-0 fourth quarter. North Carolina is on a direct path to face Clemson in the ACC title game; the Heels would need to lose three of their last four conference games to miss out on that chance, and given that slate begins at Virginia (12 ET; ACCN), consider it unlikely. North Carolina is favored by 7.5.
And now let's chuckle at Gene Chizik …
ND had a 17.1 percent explosive rate at North Carolina. 7 rushes of 12+ yards, 7 passes of 16+ yards.
Irish haven't had more than five plays in either category in a week since. Topped out at 12.2 % explosive rate against UNLV.
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) November 1, 2022
BYU (4-5): The Cougars’ freefall continued with a 27-24 loss to East Carolina. It is not about to stop at Boise State (7 ET; FS2), with the resurgent Broncos favored by 7.5.
Stanford (3-5): On a weekend filled with Pac-12 backdoor covers, the Cardinal could not get close enough to consider one at UCLA, losing 38-13. Continuing to doubt in Stanford should make some sense against Washington State (3:30 ET; Pac-12 Network), the Cougars favored by 5.
UNLV (4-4): The Rebels needed an off week, now expecting quarterback Doug Brumfield back behind center at San Diego State (7 ET; CBSSN). That alone may gave reason to think UNLV is undervalued on a weekend when it is a 6.5-point underdog.
No. 20 Syracuse (6-2): Ranked, yes, but also on a two-game losing streak with its starting quarterback hobbled, the Orange is a 3.5-point underdog at Pittsburgh (3:30 ET; ACCN), a team that should be able to exploit Syracuse’s weak run defense.
“Certain opponents (Shrader) may have been able to play the entire game, but not against those cats,” Orange head coach Dino Babers said. “You could tell that the stuff we needed him to do he was not going to be as effective against those guys as other people, so I made the decision to make a change at quarterback.
Friday at 7 ET — Duke at Boston College (ESPN2)
Saturday at 12 ET — No. 2 Ohio State at Northwestern (ABC); North Carolina at Virginia (ACCN)
2 ET — Marshall at Old Dominion (ESPN+)
3:30 ET — Washington State at Stanford (P12N); Syracuse at Pittsburgh (ACCN)
4 ET — Navy at Cincinnati (ESPNU)
7 ET — BYU at Boise State (FS2); UNLV at San Diego State (CBSSN)
7:30 ET — No. 4 Clemson at Notre Dame (NBC)
10:30 ET — Cal at No. 9 USC (ESPN)
Favorites: Clemson (-3.5) at Notre Dame; USC (-21.5) vs. Cal; Ohio State (-38) at Northwestern; Marshall (-3) at Old Dominion; North Carolina (-7.5) at Virginia.
Underdogs: Navy (+19.5) at Cincinnati; Boston College (+10) vs. Duke; Cal (+21.5) at USC; BYU (+7.5) at Boise State; Stanford (+5) vs. Washington State; UNLV (+6.5) at San Diego State; Syracuse (+3.5) at Pittsburgh.