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Notre Dame’s 2023 Opponents: Ohio State’s sudden efficiency, Pittsburgh’s QB troubles, USC’s control issues

No. 6 Ohio State (3-0): The Buckeyes finally hung a crooked number, topping Western Kentucky 63-10 in large part thanks to a 35-point second quarter. Ohio State managed just 35 points in its entire game two weeks ago against FCS-level Youngstown State, leading to Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day to then criticize the new clock rules that slightly shorten a game, faulting them for Ohio State not pouring on the points against the Penguins.

Clearly, that was misguided, a college football coach griping about something outside his control as many college football coaches tend to do.

Against the Hilltoppers, though, the Buckeyes went 4-of-4 on third-and-shorts, compared to going 3-of-11 in their first two games in those moments. On the season, Ohio State ranks No. 103 in the country in late-down success rate, per, while Notre Dame’s defense ranks No. 42 in the country in those moments.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Irish (7:30 ET on NBC) are 3-point underdogs to the Buckeyes with a combined point total Over/Under of 55.5 suggesting a final score of 30-26.

No. 18 Duke (3-0): The Blue Devils had little trouble with Northwestern, winning 38-14 and continuing to burgeon the hype around quarterback Riley Leonard. The junior threw for 219 yards on 15-of-20 passing while scoring two touchdowns on the ground with 97 rushing yards.

He should continue to further those stats at UConn this weekend (3:30 ET; CBSSN), though some view the spread of 21.5 points in Duke’s favor as a possible lookahead moment, Mike Elko’s team perhaps already thinking about next week’s primetime affair.

Louisville (3-0): The Cardinalls jumped out to a 21-0 lead at Indiana before holding on for a 21-14 win, very genuinely nearly losing to one of the Big Ten’s worst teams, a program cratering toward a new coach in short order. To be more clear there, the Hoosiers are likely to need a new coach soon, Louisville just hired Jeff Brohm.

But his offense is not clicking. Quarterback Jack Plummer completed 13 of his 23 passes Saturday, a rate of 56.5 percent, and the pass-happy Brohm has needed to resort to a ground-based offense to find wins in his first year back at his alma mater.

The Cardinals are 13.5-point favorites against Boston College (3:30 on ACCN), a number that stands out partly because the Eagles are another overmatched foe, yet it would not be a surprise to see Louisville sweat its fourth quarter.

USC (3-0): The Trojans had last week off, yet head coach Lincoln Riley still managed to publicly lose.

Orange County Register reporter Luca Evans was doing his job last week when he wrote a story — a complimentary, human-sided story, at that — on USC freshman running back Quinten Joyner. In a media availability setting, Evans overheard Joyner talking to a teammate, clearly nervous for his first time in front of the press. Evans turned it into the lede of his story on Joyner.

And Riley and the USC athletic department decided Evans overstepped his reach and have banned him from access for two weeks.

At a point when Riley should be coasting on goodwill, enjoying the luxury of coaching the defending Heisman Trophy winner, he is instead attempting to threaten others’ employment because of something outside his control.

The Trojans will paste Arizona State late Saturday (10:30 ET on FOX) as 35-point favorites, and Riley will use those offensive fireworks to avoid acting like an adult in this siutation.

Pittsburgh (1-2): The Panthers not only lost to their biggest rival, falling 17-6 at West Virginia, but they did so in rather ugly fashion, gaining all of 211 yards while committing three turnovers, all interceptions. Perhaps Mountaineers cornerback Beanie Bishop was gloating a bit when he diminished any pregame worries about Pittsburgh quarterback Phil Jurkovec after the former Notre Dame passer went 8-of-20 for 81 yards on Saturday night, but Bishop was direct in his critique.

Jurkovec will need to play far better for the Panthers to have a chance at keeping up with Drake Maye and North Carolina (8 ET on ACCN), rather unlikely, even beyond the Tar Heels being 7.5-point favorites.

Clemson (2-1): On the surface, the Tigers rolled past Florida Atlantic, 48-14.

On the sideline, Clemson’s best player appears frustrated at not getting the chances to reach the end zone he feels he has earned. In junior running back Will Shipley’s defense, that could have been a moment of personal frustration at being stopped on the play prior and seeking some redemption, akin to Notre Dame junior running back Audric Estimé scoring a 17-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-1 last week, after being stopped on 3rd-and-1, and upon reaching the sideline immediately saying he had needed to make up for that third down.

And to Shipley’s credit, he was on the field on the next Tigers possession. But nonetheless, this was not a great visual for an offense that has struggled for the past two years.

That will all be forgotten if Clemson can upset No. 4 Florida State (12 ET on ABC), a 2.5-point underdog and the first time the Tigers have been underdogs at home since Lamar Jackson and Louisville visited Death Valley in 2017.

Wake Forest (3-0): The Demon Deacons flirted with disaster at Old Dominion, a pair of Monarchs’ defensive touchdowns putting Wake Forest on its heels. But Mitch Griffis led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to escape with a 27-24 win, coming back from a 24-7 deficit after he threw an interception returned for a touchdown.

If Griffis has that kind of showing again, the Deacons will almost assuredly lose against Georgia Tech (6:30 ET on the CW) despite being 3.5-point favorites.

Stanford (1-2): Cardinal head coach Troy Taylor suffered an embarrassment of his own making, to his credit. He is the one who built up the FCS-level Sacramento State program and took it on multiple deep playoff runs. He is the one who filled it with talent and deployed that talent in a unique offense, an offense that Stanford does not quite have the personnel to run in Taylor’s first year. And thus, he can perhaps take some painful pride in the Hornets upsetting the Cardinal, 30-23, thanks to a fourth-down touchdown in the final minutes.

If Stanford is going to get another win this season, this weekend will be one of its better chances, hosting Arizona (7 ET on Pac-12 Network), though as a 12-point underdog.

Navy (1-2): The Midshipmen and Memphis engaged in a comedy of errors only for the game to end as expected, with Navy losing, 28-24. If the Midshipmen were ahead on Notre Dame’s schedule, some time would be spent detailing those late-game mishaps, to underscore how frustrating the Midshipmen will be this season, but at this point, that would be hundreds of words for little purpose.

Navy will now enjoy its second idle week of the month, underscoring why Notre Dame went to the effort of playing an FCS opponent upon returning from the transatlantic trip to open the season.

Tennessee State (2-1): The Tigers beat Gardner-Webb, 27-25, thanks to a 50-yard field goal in the final seconds. Tennessee State now has an idle week.

North Carolina State (2-1): The Wolfpack raced past FCS-level VMI, 45-7, and should make it two wins in a row with a trip to Virginia (7:30 ET on Friday on ESPN), a team that unfortunately too often looks like an FCS-level program. North Carolina State is a 9.5-point favorite.

Central Michigan (1-2): The Chippewas are looking at a likely two-game losing streak as 15-point underdogs at South Alabama (5 ET on ESPN+).

Favorites: Ohio State (-3) at Notre Dame; Duke (-21.5) at UConn; Louisville (-13.5) vs. Boston College; USC (-35) at Arizona State; Wake Forest (-3.5) vs. Georgia Tech; North Carolina State (-9.5) at Virginia.
Underdogs: Pittsburgh (+7.5) vs. North Carolina; Clemson (+2.5) vs. Florida State; Stanford (+12) vs. Arizona; Central Michigan (+15) at South Alabama.

7:30 ET — North Carolina State at Virginia on ESPN.

12:00 ET — Clemson vs. Florida State on ABC.
3:30 ET — Duke at UConn on CBSSN; Louisville vs. Boston College on ACCN.
5:00 ET — Central Michigan at South Alabama on ESPN+.
6:30 ET — Wake Forest vs. Georgia Tech on the CW.
7:00 ET — Stanford vs. Arizona on the Pac-12 Network.
7:30 ET — Ohio State at Notre Dame on NBC.
8:00 ET — Pittsburgh vs. North Carolina on ACCN.
10:30 ET — USC at Arizona State on FOX.

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