With Notre Dame off Saturday for its only bye week of the season, there are a handful of games worth keeping an eye on with the Irish playoff push re-starting on Halloween at Temple:
Focus on: Pittsburgh at Syracuse (11 a.m. CT, ESPNU)
Pat Narduzzi’s Panthers — and Notre Dame’s Week 9 opponent — are 5-1, with that only loss coming on a walk-off field goal at Iowa. Syracuse by no means is a difficult test — the Orange are on a three-game losing streak, including defeats to South Florida and Virginia — but Pitt is ranked in the AP top 25 for the first time since the 2010 preseason, the final year of the Dave Wannstedt era. Let’s see how this group, specifically an offense that’s so far covered for the loss of star running back James Conner, responds at the Carrier Dome.
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Other future opponent scouting: N.C. State at Wake Forest (11 a.m CT, ESPN3), Boston College at Louisville (11:30 a.m. CT, ESPN3)
The two worst offenses Notre Dame has left — and maybe on its entire 2015 schedule — both play in the first block of games Saturday, and unless you’re into three-and-outs, maybe just check the box scores on these.
Commercial break viewing: Clemson at Miami (11 a.m. CT, ABC)
Miami is 4-2 and isn’t the program it once was, but sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya could be good enough to make this game interesting if Clemson struggles offensively — which the Tigers did in their only other road game, a narrow three-point win at Louisville in September.
Focus on: Duke at Virginia Tech (2:30 p.m. CT, ESPNU)
This is a pretty weak slate of afternoon games, so if you’re going to get out of the house, the timeframe between the early and evening games is a good time. If Pitt knocks off Syracuse, though, keep an eye on Duke-Virginia Tech — if Duke loses, it’ll give Pitt some margin for error in the ACC Coastal. Still, Nov. 14’s Duke-Pitt game at Heinz Field will probably determine who plays Clemson/Florida State in the ACC Championship.
Commercial break viewing: UConn at Cincinnati (3:30 p.m. CT, CBS Sports Network)
Old friend Bob Diaco needs to work some magic to get 3-4 UConn eligible for a bowl this year, and beating Brian Kelly’s old team would be a good start.
Focus on: Utah at USC (6:30 p.m. CT, Fox)
Interestingly enough, Utah is a three-point underdog despite being undefeated and a legitimate playoff contender and USC having three losses. That’s a nod to how unimpressive Utah has looked lately and all the big-time talent on USC, and if the Trojans do win, it could spark some important chaos in the Pac-12 that would very much benefit Notre Dame.
Commercial break viewing: Western Kentucky at LSU (6:00 p.m. CT, ESPNU)
Worth noting: Western Kentucky is 6-1 and ranks No. 25 in F/+, while LSU is No. 8. There’s no reason for a team with Leonard Fournette to not beat up on a Group of Five side, but if LSU doesn’t take this game seriously, things could get hairy in Baton Rouge.
Focus on: Washington at Stanford (9:30 p.m. CT, ESPN)
Since that inexplicable season-opening loss at Northwestern (note to Stanford, don't play games that kick off at 9 a.m. PT), the Cardinal have played like one of the four best teams in the country. Christian McCaffrey has barged into the discussion as one of the nation's top running backs, and it's opened up the passing game for Kevin Hogan to operate with solid efficiency. The battle between Stanford's stout offensive line and Washington's disruptive defensive line should be fun to watch, though expect Stanford to win it and cruise past the Huskies.
There's not much else on in the final block of games, so we'll just leave this at the Washington-Stanford game.
The best-case scenario for Notre Dame is Utah loses to USC (or to someone else later in the regular season) and Stanford wins out until its Nov. 28 home date against the Irish. If Notre Dame wins that, and then a two-loss Stanford beats Utah in the Pac-12 Championship, it'd give the Irish the edge for a College Football Playoff spot over the Pac-12. One more conference would still have to be eliminated from the playoff discussion, but given the usual level of November chaos seen in the sport, the door looks open for Notre Dame to reach the four-team tournament provided it wins out.