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No. 16 Notre Dame vs. Virginia Tech: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much

USC v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 12: Notre Dame Fighting Irish marchers take the field after a game against the USC Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium on October 12, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated USC 30-27. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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WHO? No. 16 Notre Dame (5-2) vs. Virginia Tech (5-2).

WHAT? A rematch not only from last year’s 45-23 Irish victory at Lane Stadium but also of the last time Notre Dame lost to an unranked opponent, the 2016 home finale. That run of 19 games has established a floor for Irish success, though one about to be tested with Notre Dame coming off a humbling at the hands of now-No. 14 Michigan. If the Irish cannot regather themselves quickly, that streak against unranked foes could be the victim.

WHEN? 2:30 ET. It’ll be a typical November afternoon, one tolerable but far from pleasant.

There has been no official word of a flyover before kickoff, but there has been a photo worth a thousand words …

WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.

NBC will have the national broadcast, with the game streaming online and via the NBC Sports app. As always, NBC Sports Gold is available to international fans.

The venue can hold 77,622, and the University claims sellouts in each of the last 272 Irish home games, a stretch reaching back to 1973. At some point, the means used to prolong that streak — help from sponsors, influxes in gameday sales, spurious group purchases — will be depleted and it will end. That day will probably not be this day, but it may be.

WHY? Much time has been spent this week pondering Notre Dame’s motivation for the rest of the season now that any and all Playoff hopes have been ruined. Let’s instead use this space to explain why the Hokies are 5-2 on paper only, not in reality. If Virginia Tech wants to prolong its 26-year bowl streak, it will need to win two more games, not just the one typically supposed. The reasoning goes back to weather more than a year ago.

Last season, Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc on schedules throughout the Southeast. East Carolina was supposed to visit Virginia Tech but expressed concern over the hurricane. Tech repeatedly suggested proceeding as planned until closer to the weekend, but East Carolina outright declared it would not make the trip, canceling the game.

Conversations, maybe they became negotiations, between the two athletic departments about that decision and subsequent rescheduling attempts became so contentious, the Hokies canceled this season’s game at East Carolina, as well as the rest of the series reaching well into the coming decade.

That left Virginia Tech with an open date in 2019 on short notice. FCS-level Rhode Island filled that slot, joining FCS-level Furman on the Hokies schedule. When considering bowl eligibility, only one victory against an FCS opponent can be counted. Thus, Virginia Tech has only four wins for bowl purposes.

Its next four games include only one moment of relief, putting that bowl streak in genuine jeopardy. (vs. Wake Forest, at Georgia Tech, vs. Pittsburgh, at Virginia.)

BY HOW MUCH? There is a phrase often used to explain the inexplicable, “Vegas knows. Vegas always knows.” It is meant to acknowledge sometimes the smartest people in the room know better than to assume the obvious.

The obvious in this instance puts faith in Hokies sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker, who in three starts has spurred Virginia Tech to 39.67 points per game. The obvious knows the Irish are reeling after the Ann Arbor mishap. The obvious ponders if the Hokies may be seeking revenge for that loss a year ago.

The obvious knows Virginia Tech has lost only two turnovers in the last three games. The obvious saw Notre Dame’s defense implode last week for the first time in defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s tenure. The obvious hears all the same criticisms Irish senior quarterback Ian Book hears.

Thus, it seems every handicapper out there expects the Hokies to cover the 17.5-point spread, a number that has hardly moved since opening Sunday, at least not as of the end of the Mavericks-Lakers game early Saturday morning. They all predict Virginia Tech will fare better than the 38-21 result projected by a combined point total over/under of 58.5.

Contrary to popular belief, this space does not go contrarian simply for contrarian’s sake, especially not in these regards. But when seemingly everyone leans on the obvious …

The contrarian realizes Hooker’s offense had its first three touchdowns at Miami essentially gifted to it and scored only 31 points in regulation against North Carolina; that makes for a mild 26 point average in Hooker’s two games against FBS opponents. The contrarian knows the Irish responded well after their loss at Georgia. The contrarian remembers how easily Notre Dame dispatched the Hokies only a year ago.

The contrarian knows those two Virginia Tech lost turnovers in Hooker’s starts both came in the most recent of those. The contrarian puts more stock in the previous 19 games under Lea than the sample size of one. The contrarian recognizes that Book is undefeated in South Bend.

Notre Dame 31, Virginia Tech 13.
(6-1 in pick; 3-4 against the spread, 2-5 point total.)

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