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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Kyle McCord, Leonard Riley and Cade Klubnik all star against FCS opponents

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Youngstown State at Ohio State

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 09: Quarterback Kyle McCord #6 of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks to pass the ball during the third quarter against the Youngstown State Penguins at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on September 9, 2023. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Only one Notre Dame opponent was genuinely tested by an FCS opponent last week. Considering seven future Irish foes played FCS teams, just one worrying stands out.

And it so happens to be the next Notre Dame opponent that suffered that headache, Central Michigan barely getting by New Hampshire.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN (1-1): The Chippewas needed a last-second field goal to beat FCS-level New Hampshire, 45-42. Quarterback Bert Emanuel Jr. ran for a 66-yard touchdown to open the scoring, tallying four touchdowns total though also throwing two interceptions.

Emanuel is a dynamic player, one that likely will have a highlight at some point at No. 9 Notre Dame (3-0) on Saturday, but he is also inefficient, completing just seven of 19 passes for 193 yards against the Wildcats. Yes, New Hampshire’s athletics nickname is the Wildcats, and yes, it is understandable to be disappointed it is not something more unique rather than the most-used nickname in college athletics.

Anyway, the Irish are favored by 34.5 or 35 points, as of Thursday’s earliest hours, with a pregame combined points total Over/Under of 51.5. Do that quick math and the suggested final score is 43-8.

The Peacock exclusive kicks off at 2:30 ET.

No. 6 OHIO STATE (2-0): The Buckeyes have committed to junior Kyle McCord as their starting quarterback, hardly news after he started the first two games of Ohio State’s season. McCord threw for 258 yards and three touchdowns on 14-of-20 passing in a 35-7 win against FCS-level Youngstown State. Two of those touchdowns were to star receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.

The pair should keep cooking against Western Kentucky (4 ET on Fox), with the Buckeyes favored by 29 points.

No. 21 DUKE (2-0): Let’s rattle off a few quarterback stat lines against FCS opponents. And of them, Riley Leonard’s is the most absurd. The Duke star threw for just 136 yards and one touchdown on 12-of-12 passing in a 42-7 win against Lafayette.

While Northwestern may be struggling this season, Leonard should still throw an incompletion this weekend (3:30 ET on ACCN), though the Blue Devils are favored by 18 points with a total of 48.5.

LOUISVILLE (2-0): The Cardinals may have cruised to a 56-0 win, but quarterback Jack Plummer threw two interceptions. Hype may start to pile onto Louisville in coming weeks, presumed favorites in its next three games before Notre Dame makes the jaunt south, but Plummer having those struggles should be noted.

At Indiana this weekend (12 ET on BTN), the Cardinals are healthy 10-point favorites.

No. 5 USC (3-0): This is going to be a gratuitous shot at Stanford, but it will not be the last time the Cardinal evoke this comparison: Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams joined the ranks of passers excelling against FCS-quality opponents by throwing for three touchdowns and 281 yards on 19-of-21 passing against Stanford in a 56-10 USC victory.

Williams will both enter and exit the Trojans’ idle week as the Heisman favorite.

PITTSBURGH (1-1): The Panthers may have something to worry about, the most fundamental something in college football. Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh 27-21, and it may have been worse than that final score.

The Panthers trailed 27-7 heading into the fourth quarter. They gave up 224 yards on 39 rushes (sacks adjusted), an average of 5.7 yards per rush. On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh managed just 121 yards on 24 rushes, very much the antithesis of the offense Pat Narduzzi seems to want.

Former Notre Dame and former Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec threw for three touchdowns and 179 yards on 10-of-32 passing. That is not a typo. 10-of-32.

The Panthers began the week as favorites against West Virginia (3:30 ET on ABC), but that spread flipped to favoring the Mountaineers by 1.5 points.

CLEMSON (1-1): Quarterbacks that will worry Notre Dame later this season that played FCS opponents last week, Version No. 6: Cade Klubnik threw for 315 yards and four touchdowns in a 66-17 win against Charleston Southern.

Perhaps Klubnik can’t reach those numbers against Florida Atlantic (8 ET on ACCN), but Clemson should hardly have to worry as a 24.5-point favorite.

WAKE FOREST (2-0): The instinct may be to praise the Demon Deacons for beating Vanderbilt, 36-20, but it should be noted they used a fumble return for a touchdown and a field goal off a short field. A 26-20 win would have still been notable but obviously not as impressive, even if also more the reality.

Regardless, expect Wake Forest to cruise past Old Dominion (12 ET on ESPN2) as a two-touchdown favorite.

STANFORD (1-1): The Cardinal may be better than most FCS teams, but realize it averaged 5.29 yards per play against USC, and the Trojans defense is a bit of a laughingstock to this point. For context, averaging 5.29 yards per play across the season in 2022 would have ranked No. 93 in the country, trailing Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan. Stanford is very much that bad.

There may be reason to keep an eye on the Cardinal against Sacramento State (8 ET on the Pac-12 Network) this weekend. Stanford’s new head coach Troy Taylor coached the Hornets last season, and that may be enough incentive for them this weekend to spring an upset. Spreads for FCS vs. FBS games do not come out until late Friday night, but this one should be within a touchdown, though, yes, in the Cardinal’s favor.

NAVY (1-1): The Midshipmen worked past Wagner, 24-0. They now head to Memphis on a short week, kicking off tonight at 7:30 ET on ESPN as two-touchdown underdogs.

TENNESSEE STATE (1-1): The Tigers beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 24-14, and now host Gardner-Webb (6 ET on ESPN+). If trusting some in-house numbers, Tennessee State should be about a touchdown favorite.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE (1-1): The Wolfpack can breathe a bit easier this week, welcoming VMI (2 ET on the CW).

FAVORITES: Ohio State (-29) vs. Western Kentucky; Duke (-18) vs. Northwestern; Louisville (-10) vs. Indiana; Clemson (-24.5) vs. FAU; Wake Forest (-14) at Old Dominion.
UNDERDOGS: Central Michigan (+34.5) at Notre Dame; Pittsburgh (+1.5) at West Virginia; Navy (+14) at Memphis.

THURSDAY
7:30 ET — Navy at Memphis on ESPN.

SATURDAY
12 ET — Louisville at Indiana on BTN; Wake Forest at Old Dominion on ESPN2.
2 ET — North Carolina State vs. VMI on the CW.
2:30 ET — Central Michigan at Notre Dame exclusively on Peacock.
3:30 ET — Duke vs. Northwestern on ACCN.
4 ET — Ohio State vs. Western Kentucky on Fox.
6 ET — Tennessee State vs. Gardner-Webb on ESPN+.
7:30 ET — Pittsburgh at West Virginia on ABC.
8 ET — Clemson vs. FAU on ACCN; Stanford vs. Sacramento State on Pac-12 Network.

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