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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Could a third Playoff contender be emerging on the Irish schedule?

Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne talks with Corey Robinson about how he spent the bye week, his relationship with Tyler Buchner, what he's looking for against BYU and more.

This space’s preseason predictions unequivocally argued two Notre Dame opponents would make the College Football Playoff in 2022, and increasingly the only worry to that prediction may be that more than two do.

Ohio State, Clemson and USC are all gaining steam. The Trojans still have plenty of Pac-12 worries to overcome, namely at Utah in two weeks and at UCLA in the season’s penultimate game, but they look more and more like a Playoff contender.

The key word there is “contender.” USC remains well below the Buckeyes and Tigers, but it may still jeopardize that preseason prediction.

No. 16 BYU (4-1): The Cougars beat Utah State, 38-26, a week ago. But let’s dig a bit deeper and acknowledge that one of the Aggies’ scores came on a possession that lost yardage, and another six points came via a garbage-time touchdown. A 38-20 score would be more reflective of the game, if largely because BYU was +3 on turnovers.

The Cougars now obviously face Notre Dame in Las Vegas (7:30 ET; NBC) as 3.5-point underdogs, per PointsBet early on Thursday morning. The combined points total Over/Under of 51.0 suggests a 27-24 result.

The Irish have not given up 24 offensive points in competitive time yet this season, since North Carolina’s final two touchdowns came when trailing by four possessions.

Stanford (1-3): The Cardinal lost 45-27 at Oregon. Without running back EJ Smith (out for the season), Stanford averaged just 3.7 yards on 34 carries. It was outgained 515 yards to 332. Quarterback Tanner McKee went 19-of-33 for 166 yards and two touchdowns. The Cardinal will struggle to find any consistency with this one-dimensional offense.

That struggle will continue against Oregon State (11 ET; ESPN), with the Beavers favored by a touchdown.

UNLV (4-1): The Rebels beat New Mexico, 31-20, their third straight win. UNLV last won three straight games in 2013, a streak that reached as high as four, though one of them was against FCS-level Western Illinois.

This streak is unlikely to get that far, with the Rebels touchdown underdogs at San Jose State (Friday 10:30 ET; CBSSN). Let that speak to the chaos of the Mountain West, along with how early-season wins like UNLV’s are factored in only so much by those in big shiny buildings in the desert when compared to preseason projections.

No. 22 Syracuse (5-0): The Orange beat FCS-level Wagner, 59-0. Running back Sean Tucker took 23 carries for 232 yards and three touchdowns. That rout may as well mean Syracuse got to enjoy a two-week idle stretch.

No. 5 Clemson (5-0): The Tigers beat No. 10 North Carolina State, 30-20, and the game never felt that tight. Clemson allowed just 34 rushing yards on 21 carries, all without star defensive tackle Bryan Bresee, while quarterback DJ Uiagalelei gained 209 yards and a touchdown on 21-of-30 passing, adding 73 yards and two scores on 14 carries.

Look at the rest of the Tigers’ schedule. They host No. 22 Syracuse, head to Notre Dame and also face Miami. Will Clemson lose any of those?

It almost certainly will not falter at Boston College (7:30 ET; ABC), despite this weekend being the Eagles’ annual Red Bandanna Game. The Tigers are favored by 20.5, and that defensive line could force three short fields on its own given Boston College’s injury-depleted offensive line.

Navy (1-3): The Midshipmen lost only 13-10 at Air Force, but that kind of close score is largely the result of a service-academy matchup. The Falcons never trailed and led for 52 minutes, outgaining Navy 356 yards to 243. It may have been close, but it was not a moment that restored faith in the Midshipmen triple-option attack.

Nonetheless, Navy has shown improvement in the two weeks since its off week. Maintaining that would mean covering a 6-point spread favoring Tulsa (3:30 ET; CBSSN).

Boston College (2-3): The Eagles upset Louisville, 34-33, thanks to a field goal in the final two minutes. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns on 18-of-21 passing. Despite the win and Jurkovec’s stat line, the passing game was not entirely efficient, given he was sacked three times for a total of 48 yards.

That kind of weakness will be exploited aggressively by Clemson.

No. 6 USC (5-0): The Trojans gained 485 total yards in their 45-25 win against Arizona State, with 348 of them coming through the air on 9.7 yards per attempt.

Oregon State offered a template to stopping the USC offense just two weeks ago, but the Trojans moved forward plenty quickly. Washington State (7:30 ET; FOX) may not be the one to slow that attack, especially not as a 13-point underdog after the line opened at just 10 points, but USC does head to No. 11 Utah in a week.

No. 3 Ohio State (5-0): The Buckeyes beat Rutgers, 40-10. Remember how brief the above discussion was of Syracuse’s win against Wagner? This feels a lot like that.

Ohio State now heads to Michigan State (4 ET; ABC), favored by 27 points. The chaos-loving fan may hope for one of those vintage Buckeyes’ stumbles, but it should be remembered that has not happened since 2018. And that was a trip to Purdue as a 12-point favorite, coming a year after a trip to Iowa as an 18-point favorite turned into an upset. Those were middling-to-good Big Ten teams, not ones in a free fall like the Spartans are at the moment.

Marshall (3-2): The Herd beat FCS-level Gardner-Webb, 28-7, halting a two-game losing streak. Marshall ran for 236 yards on 53 carries, a 4.5-yard average, and now enters an idle week.

Cal (3-2): The Bears followed up their encouraging 49-31 win against Arizona with a 28-9 faceplant at Washington State. Sure, the Cougars are a fringe Pac-12 contender, but Cal breakout running back Jadyn Ott ran for just 69 yards on 16 carries. The Bears should return to winning ways after their idle week, thanks to a trip to Colorado.

North Carolina (4-1): The Tar Heels walloped Virginia Tech, 41-10, gaining 527 yards. They averaged 9.0 yards per pass attempt and 5.0 yards per rush with quarterback Drake Maye totaling five touchdowns and 436 combined yards.

More shockingly — in fact, that offensive eruption wasn’t shocking at all — the Hokies managed just 10 points against North Carolina’s tepid defense.

Miami (4 ET; ESPN2) should fare better than that, favored by 3.5 points against the Heels and looking for an offensive salve.

Friday 10:30 ET — UNLV at San Jose State (CBSSN)Saturday 3:30 ET — Navy vs. Tulsa (CBSSN)4:00 ET — Ohio State at Michigan State (ABC); North Carolina at Miami (ESPN2)
7:30 ET — BYU vs. Notre Dame (NBC); Clemson at Boston College (ABC); Washington State at USC (FOX)11:00 ET — Stanford vs. Oregon State (ESPN)

Underdogs: BYU (+3.5) vs. Notre Dame; Stanford (+7) vs. Oregon State; UNLV (+7) at San Jose State; Navy (+6) vs. Tulsa; Boston College (+20.5) vs. Clemson; North Carolina (+3.5) at MiamiFavorites: Clemson (-20.5) at Boston College; USC (-13) vs. Washington State; Ohio State (-27) at Michigan State

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