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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Idle weeks and no sign of on-field transmission give ACC season hope

Phil Jurkovec

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - SEPTEMBER 26: Phil Jurkovec #5 of the Boston College Eagles looks to throw during the first half of a game against the Texas State Bobcats at Alumni Stadium on September 26, 2020 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

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Notre Dame’s 11 opponents will play only six games this weekend. That is embellished slightly by Boston College playing North Carolina, but the fact that four Irish foes have the same idle week stands out.

It reinforces the ACC’s intent this season, building in myriad chances for possible rescheduling and certain general recovery given the shortened and staggered preseason. Notre Dame utilizing one of those off weeks to cycle through a round of positive coronavirus tests and subsequent contact tracing is not ideal, but it is far from unforeseen.

ESPN’s Heather Dinich spoke with Irish head coach Brian Kelly on Tuesday and, per Kelly’s estimate, 90 percent of Notre Dame’s roster could be available to practice this coming Saturday, despite 39 players currently being in isolation or quarantine. That timing suggests the crux of those 25 total positive tests came no later than Thursday.

“They can rebound from this, but it’s not the ideal situation,” Kelly said. “You don’t want to start your season and then have to take a few weeks off. From that perspective, we’ve got to get our timing back, and certainly we’ll have to have a great week of practice, and we expect to be able to do that.”

That is all good news for the Irish, obviously, but the most important part of Dinich’s conversation with Kelly pertains to South Florida. Notre Dame believes there was not much, if any, in the way of on-field transmission of the coronavirus to the Bulls. If that understanding holds up, then college football’s likelihood of continuing through this season increases dramatically.

And more of those frequent off weeks can be spent on internal issues, be they conditioning, depth chart reshuffling or scouting pregame meal locations.

Duke (0-3, 0-3 ACC): The Blue Devils fell at Virginia, 38-20, and suddenly find themselves on the bottom of the ACC standings both literally and in perception. Duke led 20-17 entering the fourth quarter before the Cavaliers rattled off three touchdowns, part of a day in which they outgained the Blue Devils 450 yards to 342. Compounding Duke’s uncertainty, head coach David Cutcliffe tried to change things up with backup quarterback Chris Katrenick on the Blue Devils’ final possession, sitting Clemson graduate transfer Chase Brice.

One may assume Brice will take the lead again against Virginia Tech (4 ET; ACCN), but that doubt has been planted, and if Duke cannot fare much better than the 10.5-point deficit sportsbooks expect, with a combined point total over/under of 53.5, then a 32-21 loss may doom Brice’s attempt at a career away from Trevor Lawrence’s shadow.

South Florida (1-1): After postponing its game at Florida Atlantic as a precaution given the Irish outbreak, the Bulls will return to action at No. 15 Cincinnati (3:30 ET; ESPN+) as 22-point underdogs. At least a 33-11 drubbing would be a better showing than South Florida managed in South Bend.

Florida State (0-2, 0-2): The Seminoles’ 52-10 loss at Miami on national television prompted another week of column after column wondering how much worse this spell will get for Florida State. The Seminoles clearly do not have the talent in the trenches needed to stabilize yet another season, though they should fare just fine against FCS-level Jacksonville State (4 ET).

Louisville (1-2, 0-2): A 23-20 loss at Pittsburgh doomed the Cardinals’ hopes of being an ACC darkhorse in Scott Satterfield’s second season. The star of the show was the Panthers’ defense, holding Louisville to 223 yards and notching seven sacks.

The Cardinals now get a week off to regroup after that struggle.

Pittsburgh (3-0, 2-0): That dominant defensive afternoon established the Panthers as the savvy ACC contender, albeit arguably a one-sided one. Louisville’s defense is hardly renowned, yet Pittsburgh averaged less than 5.0 yards per play against it, a troublesome sign for whenever the Panthers run into a worthwhile defense, perhaps one coached by Clark Lea, for example.

Until then, Pittsburgh should have little-to-no trouble against North Carolina State (12 ET; ACCN) as two-touchdown favorites with an over/under of 47 suggesting a 30-17 final.

Georgia Tech (1-2, 1-1): The Yellow Jackets’ encouraging ACC start has frayed on both ends. Not only does beating Florida State look less and less impressive, but falling at Syracuse, 37-20, is undeniably discouraging on its own. Four interceptions did in Georgia Tech, undoing the progress implied by out-gaining the Orange by nearly 100 yards.

With a week off, the Ramblin’ Wreck can reconsider such sloppiness.

Clemson (2-0, 1-0): The Tigers return from a week off against Virginia (8 ET; ACCN) in a contest that will hardly stress Clemson more than the idle time did, favored by four touchdowns with an over/under of 55 hinting at a 42-13 rout that would, frankly, be surprising given the Cavaliers would need to score at least twice to keep Saturday that close.

Boston College (2-0, 1-0): On the plus side, former Irish quarterback Phil Jurkovec showed he could lead two scoring drives in the final three minutes to earn the Eagles a 24-21 victory. On the negative side, Boston College needed Jurkovec to lead two scoring drives in the final three minutes to beat Texas State.

Such a margin of error will not be available against North Carolina (3:30 ET; ABC), particularly as two-touchdown underdogs hoping to reverse a 34-21 hypothetical result.

North Carolina (1-0, 1-0): The Eagles’ best hope may be the Tar Heels showing some rust after a nearly three-week layoff, the result of Charlotte canceling a game and then this past week’s scheduled idle. Much like Virginia Tech this past week, there may be a lesson to be learned for Notre Dame in watching how North Carolina handles the week, particularly the fourth quarter.

Syracuse (1-2, 1-2): The Orange got up off the mat Saturday, and it gets to relish that win against Georgia Tech for an additional week now.

Wake Forest (0-2, 0-2): To avoid going three weeks between games in the wake of the Irish postponement, the Demon Deacons convinced FCS-level Campbell (7 ET; ACCN) to move their scheduled game to this Friday, from Oct. 10. No matter the timing, Wake Forest should have no trouble with the Fighting Camels (yes, really), favored by five touchdowns.

Miami, Pitt: 3-0, 2-0 ACCBoston College, Clemson, Notre Dame: 2-0, 1-0North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech: 1-0, 1-0NC State: 1-1, 1-1Georgia Tech, Syracuse: 1-2, 1-2Louisville: 0-2, 1-2Florida State, Wake Forest: 0-2, 0-2Duke: 0-3, 0-3

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