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No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 24 Virginia Tech: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much?

Notre Dame v Wake Forest

WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 22: Drue Tranquill #23 celebrates with teammates Khalid Kareem #53 and Jonathan Bonner #55 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish after a sack against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during their game at BB&T Field on September 22, 2018 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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WHO? No. 6 Notre Dame (5-0) at No. 24 Virginia Tech (3-1).

WHAT? Arguably the last Irish chance to bolster its College Football Playoff résumé before the first Playoff poll is released Oct. 30. (No disrespect intended to either Pittsburgh or Navy, but if they want to take it as such, so be it.) No undefeated Power Five team has ever been left out of the Playoff — and the odds the first excluded undefeated team is the one that doesn’t need a conference to be considered “Power Five” are slim-to-none ... and Slim just rode out of town on a horse named Relevance — but it remains possible a total of five could end this season undefeated. The résumé might actually matter.

Furthermore, disappointing October performances from Syracuse and USC could make this the last chance of the season for Notre Dame to add a ranked skin to its proverbial wall.

WHEN? 8:00 ET with kickoff coming about 8:21. Let this be the last reminder of the pregame atmosphere at Lane Stadium. Not only are paratroopers expected this weekend, but the tones of “Enter Sandman” will be featured by ABC as the Hokies take the field, and that is a spectacle Irish fans have never before had a chance to see.

WHERE? Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va. It seats in excess of 66,000, making it not one of the top-25 largest stadiums in college football yet still widely-considered one of the loudest. An inconclusive list of some notable other stadia Notre Dame has never before visited and does not currently have plans to: Wisconsin’s Camp Randall, Iowa State’s Jack Trice Stadium, the scares of Jordan-Hare and Auburn, and most-shockingly … Navy’s Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.

WHY? The method of distribution of the Irish opponents in the annual five-game ACC slate is not known, but it should be credited. Broadly speaking, there are four teams in the conference annually on the national radar, never shocking to see in the top 10: Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech. Working through the ACC’s 15 teams in three-year cycles, it would not be absurd for three of those four to appear on the schedule in the same year. It would be much to Notre Dame’s detriment, though also somewhat to the conference’s.

Now in the fifth year of the agreement, it may have taken some gymnastics to avoid that trap thus far. The streak will hold for another decade before 2028 projects as a miserably-difficult schedule. The Irish will host both Miami and Clemson while also trekking to Virginia Tech (where Notre Dame first returns to in 2021).

Of course, by then the ACC powers could be Pittsburgh, Virginia and North Carolina, but that is hard to predict—okay, that’s absurd.

It is not hard to remember the last time the Hokies and the Irish met, a 34-31 Virginia Tech victory in South Bend in 2016.

That game stands out when looking at Hokies head coach Justin Fuente’s career. In his first two years at Virginia Tech, Fuente led an upset only once in five tries if going off bookmakers’ expectations. It was that afternoon at Notre Dame, with the Hokies as two-point underdogs.

This season, Virginia Tech has twice won as an underdog: +7.5 at Florida State and +6 at Duke, winning both games by three possessions.

Those victories have fit a trend in Fuente’s career: When a one-possession underdog, his team either wins outright or fails to cover the expected spread. Including his four years at Memphis, Fuente is 6-7 as an underdog of seven points or less, only covering the spread in one of those losses.

Those trends speak to this thought process. The Irish are favored by 6.5 points with an expected point total over/under of 55.5, hinting at a 31-24 ending. Given Fuente’s track record, nothing closer than that should be expected unless the Hokies emerge victorious.

Given Notre Dame’s defense, that may be a stretch. Virginia Tech senior quarterback Ryan Willis is better than some may realize. Irish head coach Brian Kelly sees a threat in the backup.

“You wouldn’t know [Willis is playing because of an injury to the starter, Josh Jackson],” Kelly said Tuesday. “... [Willis] is a big athletic kid, transfer from Kansas, that has got escapability and real arm talent.”

He may end up the Jake Fromm to Josh Jackson’s Jacob Eason, quite frankly. But Willis has not successfully faced a defense like Clark Lea’s unit.

As a freshman starter at Kansas back in 2015, Willis did not win a game. The nadir of that eight-game stretch may have been a 49-0 loss to West Virginia. The Mountaineers have exactly never had a stout defense in recent history. Aside from a 55-6 win against Rhode Island to open 2016, Willis did not exactly wow before injury ended his sophomore season.

He has improved on his 12-to-17 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio from those days, standing at 4-to-none this season. He may continue to protect the ball, but a high-scoring output is unlikely, and that is what it takes to beat the Irish since Brian Kelly switched to junior Ian Book at quarterback.

Notre Dame 31, Virginia Tech 16.
(4-1 in pick; 1-4 against the spread, 3-2 point total.)

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