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Notre Dame’s Opponents: North Carolina loss clears Irish, Clemson’s path to ACC title game

Sam Howell

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 31: Zane Zandier #0 of the Virginia Cavaliers forces Sam Howell #7 of the North Carolina Tar Heels to fumble in the first half during a game at Scott Stadium on October 31, 2020 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)

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This portion of the week often includes some big-picture synopsis of the ACC. Let’s not pretend. No. 4 Notre Dame (6-0, 5-0 ACC) hosts No. 1 Clemson (7-0, 6-0) tomorrow night (7:30 ET; NBC). There is not enough bandwidth to fret over Pittsburgh at Florida State or Boston College at Syracuse.

There is only one thing that matters, to pull from Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s press conference on Monday.

“Really all that matters is that we get an opportunity to play Clemson this Saturday and compete against them, and who knows, it might not be the only time we play them this year,” he said.

To that point, the ACC championship game will be in Charlotte on Dec. 19. The top two teams in the conference by winning percentage will meet, very likely with a Playoff bid on the line. The tiebreaker scenarios are a bit onerous, but sorting through them is a concern for next week.

All that said, this summation of opponents’ weekends is always very popular, so let’s not skip it entirely ...

Editor’s Note: Yes, this weekly staple normally comes in the first half of the week, but what about this week has been normal? Fortunately, none of the teams herein plays before Saturday. Next week, look forward to a tedious discussion of the ACC tiebreaker procedures because unless Miami loses at North Carolina State tonight (7:30 ET; ESPN), despite being a 10.5-point favorite, those tiebreakers will be the topic of discussion next week, no matter what result comes in South Bend on Saturday.

Clemson (7-0, 6-0): Even without starting linebackers James Skalski and Mike Jones, defensive tackle Tyler Davis and defensive end Justin Foster, not to mention defensive end Xavier Thomas for the first half, the Tigers remain 5-point favorites against the Irish, with a combined point-total over/under of 50.5 points suggesting a 28-23 final score.

Focusing on the number 28, Clemson has been held to 28 or fewer points just six times in the last three seasons, while giving up 28 or more a mere three times. One of those defensive lapses came last week (28 to Boston College, seven points via a 97-yard fumble return for a touchdown), one against the best offense in college football history (last year’s title game against LSU) and the third in a 2018 rivalry game against South Carolina which was still a 56-36 blowout.

Notre Dame should not have intentions of trying to outscore the Tigers; it is more likely the Irish can outlast them.

Boston College (4-3, 3-3): The Eagles come off their bold but disappointing upset bid against Clemson, 34-28, with a trip to Syracuse (2 ET; Watch ESPN) as two-touchdown favorites. Phil Jurkovec & Co. should have little trouble putting up 33 points in their portion of a 52.5 over/under.

North Carolina (4-2, 4-2): The Tar Heels fell out of most ACC title-game scenarios with an inexplicable 44-41 loss to Virginia. Just as in its first loss at Florida State, North Carolina mounted a furious, fourth-quarter rally behind sophomore quarterback Sam Howell, but ran out of time after digging a deep hole.

Rebounding at Duke (12 ET; ESPN2) as 11.5-point favorites with an over/under of 63 should be more than manageable.

Syracuse (1-6, 1-5): The misery continued for the Orange, falling 38-14 against Wake Forest last week.

Wake Forest (4-2, 3-2): The Demon Deacons will enjoy that win for an extra week, an idle week Notre Dame fans spent too much time trying to fill not all that long ago.

Duke (2-5, 1-5 ACC): The Blue Devils had no trouble whatsoever with Charlotte, winning 53-19.

South Florida (1-5): The Bulls got a week off from losing before now heading to Memphis (12 ET; ESPN+) as 18-point underdogs.

Florida State (2-4, 1-4): The Seminoles welcome Pittsburgh (4 ET; ACC Network) as 2-point favorites with an over/under of 52 suggesting a tight 27-25 contest.

Louisville (2-5, 1-5): Coming off a 42-35 loss to Virginia Tech, a defeat partly attributable to a lack of defensive line depth due to coronavirus positive tests and subsequent contact tracing, the Cardinals have now had to postpone their trip to Virginia this weekend due to their outbreak worsening.

Pittsburgh (3-4, 2-4): Panthers veteran quarterback Kenny Pickett has practiced a bit this week, per head coach Pat Narduzzi, but the expectation is he may still be a week or two away from returning from an ankle injury and freshman Joey Yellen will start again at Florida State.

Georgia Tech (2-5, 2-4): The Yellow Jackets get some extra time to think about their 31-13 loss to Notre Dame.

Clemson: 7-0, 6-0 ACCNotre Dame: 6-0, 5-0Miami: 5-1, 4-1North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech: 4-2, 4-2Wake Forest: 4-2, 3-2Boston College: 4-3, 3-3Pittsburgh: 3-4, 2-4Virginia: 2-4, 2-4Georgia Tech: 2-5, 2-4Florida State: 2-4, 1-4Duke, Louisville: 2-5, 1-5Syracuse: 1-6, 1-5

12 ET — North Carolina at Duke, ESPN 2; South Florida at Memphis, ESPN+.2 ET — Syracuse at Boston College, Watch ESPN.4 ET — Pittsburgh at Florida State, ACC Network.7:30 ET — Clemson at Notre Dame, NBC.

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