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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Quality of Clemson and USC remains unknown despite top-10 rankings

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Furman at Clemson

CLEMSON, SC - SEPTEMBER 10: Clemson Tigers quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (5) throws a pass during a college football game between the Furman Paladins and the Clemson Tigers on September 10, 2022, at Clemson Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. (Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Notre Dame’s strength of schedule is usually cited only in comparison to other Playoff contenders, trying to predict what the College Football Playoff selection committee will value. With two losses already under its belt, that consideration is no longer applicable in 2022.

Instead, looking at the Irish schedule is now meant to highlight the current trends of the coming opponents, to highlight what games should still be winnable for Notre Dame, its struggling offense and its defense that has yet to force a turnover this season.

The pessimistic among Irish fans may see a schedule that could lead to a debacle a la 2016, but Notre Dame should still be favored in at least seven of its remaining 10 games. Then again, the Irish were favored in nine games in 2016, being upset six times.

Cal (2-0): The Bears enjoyed a 20-7 lead in the fourth quarter against UNLV, seemingly on the verge of a prototypical Justin Wilcox victory, one inspired entirely by its defense, until the Rebels put together a 4-play, 75-yard touchdown drive halfway through the fourth quarter. UNLV then threatened again, getting to a first-and-goal from the 10-yard line in the closing minutes, before Cal stood up when it mattered most, forcing three incompletions.

The Bears remain 11-point underdogs at Notre Dame, as of midday Wednseday, with PointsBet setting a combined points total Over/Under of 41, suggesting a 26-16 result.

North Carolina (3-0): The Tar Heels faced a second consecutive difficult Sun Belt opponent on the road, and they held off the upset bid for a second consecutive week, topping Georgia State 35-28.

North Carolina gave up 235 rushing yards, including 4.4 yards per carry, but was buoyed to the win by the continued stellar play from sophomore quarterback Drake Maye. His 284 yards and two scores on 19-of-24 passing may seem modest, but Maye’s efficiency and effectiveness are the sole reasons the Tar Heels remain unbeaten heading into an idle week.

No. 12 BYU (2-0): The added eligibility of the universal pandemic eligiblity waiver benefits some programs more than others. Teams that rely on veterans and development have been able to reap those rewards exponentially more than usual, and BYU is clearly one such team. With more experience returning than anyone else entering the season, the Cougars are now knocking on the door of significant national notice. Topping a top-10 team — beating No. 9 Baylor in double overtime, 26-20 — without its two-best receivers gave BYU its first of what could be five Power Five victories this season.

The stiffest of those tests may not be until mid-October (vs. No. 10 Arkansas), but heading to No. 25 Oregon (3:30 ET; FOX) as a 3.5-point underdog this weekend will be the Cougars’ toughest challenge on the road.

Stanford (1-1): The Cardinal are in a more dire place than Notre Dame, not that such is any comfort to any distraught Irish fans. Stanford’s 41-28 loss against USC may not seem overly alarming, but the Cardinal strength should be its offense and NFL-prospect quarterback Tanner McKee. Instead, its first two possessions this weekend ended in interceptions, one gifting the Trojans a short field and the other costing Stanford a trip in the red zone. By the end of the first quarter, USC led 21-0.

The Cardinal is idle this week.

UNLV (1-1): The Rebels nearly upset Cal, and in their mind, they should have.

Alas, UNLV now hosts North Texas (3 ET), favored by a field goal, though that may be by two field goals too many.

Syracuse (2-0): The Orange wallopped Connecticut, 48-14, behind quarterback Garrett Shrader’s 292 yards and three touchdowns on 20-of-23 passing with another two rushing touchdowns. Star running back Sean Tucker added 112 yards and a score on 27 carries.

Nonetheless, Syracuse is favored by only one point at home against Purdue (12 ET; ESPN2). A 58.5-point Over/Under argues for a 29-28 conclusion, which is not giving either the Orange offense or its defense enough credit.

No. 5 Clemson (2-0): The Tigers cruised past FCS-level Furman, 35-12, a win that revealed little about Clemson. That outside bewilderment will persist another week, facing Louisiana Tech (8 ET; ACCN) as a 34-point favorite, but in two weeks the Tigers will head to No. 19 Wake Forest, and a staggering offense then may prove costly.

Navy (0-2): Like at Stanford, things are turning badly at Annapolis. A 37-13 loss to Memphis offered no encouragement, the Midshipmen triple-option gaining only 215 rushing yards on 48 carries, a 3.7 yards per attempt average. Worse yet, Navy gave up three turnovers while forcing none.

It needs the idle week it now enjoys.

Boston College (0-2): The Eagles lost 27-10 at Virginia Tech with Phil Jurkovec throwing for only 135 yards on 15-of-28 passing. And Jurkovec was not happy about it, a common and understandable reaction for a veteran leader.

“I mean, you’d like to have him reel it back,” Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley said. “But sometimes it’s pretty hard when you’re getting hit. Just being honest with you, he’s a competitor, and he wants to win.”

Some could portray Jurkovec’s frustrations as divisive. Hafley hopes for otherwise.

For at least a week, life should be easier for the Eagles, facing FCS-level Maine (7:30 ET; Watch ESPN).

No. 7 USC (2-0): Sure, the Trojans dusted Stanford, and sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns on 20-of-27 passing, but little is known about this uniquely-crafted roster. That will not change against Fresno State (10:30 ET; FOX). USC is favored by 12 points, and it will likely win by more than that, but until the Trojans face an opponent that cannot be described as “middle of the pack, nationally” the margins of victory reveal little.

That will not come until USC heads to Utah on Oct. 15.

No. 3 Ohio State (2-0): The Buckeyes had no trouble with Arkansas State, winning 45-12, behind C.J. Stroud’s 351 yards and four touchdowns on 16-of-24 passing despite receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming remaining sidelined. There is a chance they return to the lineup against Toledo (7 ET; FOX), though Ohio State will once again hardly need them, favored by 32 points.

Marshall (2-0): After upsetting Notre Dame, one of three such upsets at the hands of the Sun Belt on Saturday, the Herd now hosts Bowling Green (5 ET; NFL Network) as a 16.5-point favorite. Some may suggest Marshall could suffer a letdown this week, but that is giving undue credit to the Falcons.

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