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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Irish schedule continues slide toward mediocrity

Oregon v Stanford

PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 21: Head coach David Shaw of the Stanford Cardinal looks on from the sidelines against the Oregon Ducks during the first quarter of an NCAA football game at Stanford Stadium on September 21, 2019 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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Another USC quarterback injured, another dud from Michigan, another paltry showing from Stanford. Of those expected to fill the second half of Notre Dame’s schedule with challenges, they all seem to be falling further and further away from preseason projections.

These things can always change, but No. 18 Virginia (3:30 ET; NBC) certainly looks to be the toughest Irish opponent remaining.

Louisville (2-2): After falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter at Florida State, the Cardinals took a 24-21 lead early in the fourth quarter. They had all the momentum and familiar second-half struggles were seemingly shutting down the Seminoles, until Louisville gave up a 60-yard touchdown pass to Florida State backup quarterback and Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook. The Seminoles added an insurance touchdown in the closing minutes of a 35-24 victory.

Of the Cardinals’ eight remaining foes, only in-state rival Kentucky does not have a winning record, sitting at 2-2. Louisville gets an off week to begin preparing for that stretch of presumed struggles.

New Mexico (2-1): The Lobos got 355 passing yards and three touchdowns from starting quarterback Tevaka Tuioti in his 2019 debut after missing much of the preseason to spend time with his ailing grandfather. Even with Tuioti’s explosion, New Mexico barely held off rival New Mexico State in a 55-52 victory, nearly blowing a 55-38 lead in the fourth quarter.

Much like Louisville, life is about to get much more difficult for the Lobos, starting with a trip to Liberty (6 ET; ESPN+) as 7.5-point underdogs as of early Wednesday morning. A combined point total over/under of 71 implies a 39-32 conclusion. New Mexico is unlikely to pull off such an upset, but it may keep things closer than that forecast touchdown, in part thanks to Tuioti.

Georgia (4-0): The No. 3 Bulldogs get a week to savor their victory over Notre Dame. Both their secondary and their offensive line are presumably grateful for the time, given multiple injuries limiting both units Saturday night.

Virginia (4-0): The No. 18 Cavaliers spotted Old Dominion a 17-0 lead before ticking off 28 unanswered points in a 28-17 victory. Looking at the box score, it is a bit hard to believe Virginia won, as it was outgained by 26 yards, committed two more penalties for 30 additional yards, averaged 2.4 yards per rush and had only 24:44 of possession. Then again, the Cavaliers won the turnover battle, held the Monarchs to 1.5 yards per rush and put three short fields to good use.

Virginia will next arrive in South Bend as not only underdogs for the first time this season, but as sizable 12.5-point underdogs. A point total over/under of 49 suggests respect for Bronco Mendenhall’s defensive schemes, and deservedly so. But coming off the loss in Athens, the Irish would not mind a 31-18 victory, even if devoid of true offensive fireworks.

Bowling Green (1-3): Few mistake Kent State as good this year, picked fourth in its MAC division in a preseason media poll. Yet, the Golden Flashes hung 62 points on the Falcons in a 62-20 rout. Now ready for the real WOW stat? Brace yourself …

Brian VanGorder’s defense gave up 750 yards of offense to Kent State, including 375 yards on 31-of-36 passing. If your mind has drifted to Oct. 5, that is only natural.

Bowling Green’s minds are already drifting to that afternoon, as well, with a weekend off between now and then.

Utah v USC

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 20: Quarterback Matt Fink #19 of the USC Trojans runs the ball in the game against the Utah Utes at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 20, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

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USC (3-1): Trojans freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis took a rough hit on Friday night’s first drive, suffering a concussion. In stepped junior Matt Fink to the tune of 351 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-23 upset at No. 10 Utah, thus bumping USC back into the AP poll at No. 21. The hype has since praised Fink to no end, ignoring the fact that many of his biggest plays were ugly throws, snatched away from Utah defenders by his athletic receivers. Better safety play from the Utes could have easily flipped the result.

With Slovis not yet cleared, Fink will take those risks to No. 17 Washington (3:30 ET; FOX) as a 10-point underdog. If Chris Petersen has shown a penchant for anything, it is developing defensive backs. This will be a chance to prove that true once again, keeping the Trojans well short of their expected 25 points courtesy of a 59-point over/under.

Michigan (2-1): Frankly, the Wolverines’ 35-14 loss to Wisconsin was not as close as the score indicates, with the Badgers getting out to a 35-0 lead before easing up. They had absolutely no trouble running through Don Brown’s defense, gaining 359 yards on 57 carries, a 6.3 yards per rush average. Michigan, meanwhile, gained 40 yards on 19 rush attempts.

The Wolverines now get a reprieve courtesy of a visit from Rutgers (12 ET; BTN). If Michigan wants to hold onto its No. 20 ranking, it will have to live up to a 27.5-point spread in its favor, simply because public perception is already tilting so quickly away from Jim Harbaugh & Co. A 48-point over/under indicates a 38-10 result.

Virginia Tech (2-1); Duke (2-1): Both the Hokies and the Blue Devils had idle weeks before their coming Friday night matchup (7 ET; ESPN). The bookmakers favor Virginia Tech, the home team, by three points with a 51.5 over/under making for a 27-24 expected result. There are worse ways to spend a Friday night than watching Ryan Willis and Quentin Harris match touchdowns.

Navy (2-0): How about some Thursday night football? The Midshipmen will head to Memphis (8 ET; ESPN) as 11-point underdogs with an over/under of 53.5. That math points to a 32-21 conclusion. Fun fact: Since joining the AAC entering the 2015 season, Navy has been an underdog against Memphis every year, and covered that spread all four years, including three outright victories. It should be noted, Mike Norvell has been the Tigers’ head coach for the last three of those four seasons.

Boston College (2-1): The Eagles recovered from the worst loss of Steve Addazio’s seven years with a 30-16 win at Rutgers, led by junior running back AJ Dillon’s 150 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. Boston College rushed for 277 yards total while giving up only 76.

Now it faces an offense more keen on the pass, and Wake Forest (3:30 ET; ACCN) has been exceptionally efficient in that aspect of the game, part of why the Deacons are 6.5-point favorites with an over/under of 69 points. If for no other reason than deference to Wake Forest’s offense, averaging 38 points per game, let’s expect this to go beyond a 38-31 ending.

Stanford (1-3): The last time the Cardinal began a season 1-3? Jim Harbaugh’s first season, 2007, a year that ended at 4-8. Thanks to a 21-6 loss to No. 16 Oregon, that is the situation Stanford finds itself in once again.

A dozen years ago, those three losses came against teams ranked Nos. 14, 13 and 23. This season, they have come against Nos. 17 and 16, as well as then-unranked USC, who used that victory to debut in the top 25.

This story will not continue on the same path as that one, partly due to a lack of opportunity. In 2007, the Cardinal next sprung one of the biggest upsets in college football history with a 24-23 victory at No. 2 USC. This time around, they travel to lowly Oregon State (7 ET; Pac 12 Network) as four-point favorites in a game projected to finish 31-27. It will not be as dramatic, but it is just as needed a win for Stanford as it was in 2007.