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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Two future top-10 opponents face stiff tests for a change

As of this week, Notre Dame has faced the toughest schedule in the country, per Phil Steele. Given the Irish (3-2) played Marshall and Cal, that might be a surprise, but it is inherent to independent scheduling. While Notre Dame is playing North Carolina and then-No. 16 BYU, most other teams add in an extra Sun Belt foe and perhaps an FCS dalliance.

The Irish are unlikely to remain atop Steele’s scheduling rankings, given the next teams on the list are all about to face teams tougher than Stanford (7:30 ET; NBC), with Colorado playing Cal, Arkansas at BYU and Michigan State hosting Wisconsin.

The real shock of this ranking is that Notre Dame still has two top-10 opponents to face. No. 4 Clemson has two challenging games coming up, but it would have to lose both to fall out of the top 10 before it arrives in South Bend on Nov. 5. No. 7 USC is an underdog at No. 20 Utah this weekend, but if it can navigate that hurdle before facing No. 11 UCLA in November, then the Trojans should also be a top-10 foe, if not more than that, when the Irish head west.

Those are future concerns, though.

Stanford (1-4): The Cardinal lost its 11th straight FBS game, through no one’s fault but its own. Stanford led Oregon State 24-10 entering the fourth quarter and kicked a field goal to go up 27-22 with less than a minute left.

Then, the Cardinal snagged defeat from the jaws of victory, not only allowing a completion but also blowing multiple tackles to give up a game-winning touchdown to the Beavers.

As of Thursday late morning, the Irish remain 17-point favorites against Stanford this weekend, per PointsBet, with a combined points total Over/Under of 53.5. Do that quick math and Notre Dame is projected to win 35-18. The Cardinal have not yet played a defense as considerable as the Irish, but Notre Dame has faced a defense comparable to Stanford’s. SP+ ranks the Cardinal at No. 97 among defenses, just four slots ahead of North Carolina, on whom the Irish scored 45 points.

UNLV (4-2): The Rebels were raced off the field by San José State on Friday, and while the Spartans were favored, a 40-7 win was never expected. This was the UNLV long foreseen entering the season. It gained 52 rushing yards on 27 attempts while giving up 203 yards on 36 attempts, the kind of disparity that should be ripe for Notre Dame’s picking in a week.

It should also be ripe for Air Force (10:30 ET; CBSSN) on Saturday night, though the Falcons are only 10-point favorites. This can once again, just like last week, underscore how long-held analytics factor into those metrics more than recent results.

No. 18 Syracuse (5-0): The Orange took the week off before a daunting three-week slate, facing No. 15 North Carolina State (3:30 ET; ACCN), No. 4 Clemson and Notre Dame in a row. Syracuse is favored by 3.5 against the Wolfpack, a number that defies distinct comprehension to this point.

No. 4 Clemson (6-0): Boston College never stood a chance. That may sound reductive, but the Tigers were able to hold the Eagles to 25 rushing yards on 30 carries. Even if adjusting for sacks, 68 rushing yards on 26 carries is hardly the sign of a balanced offense in a 31-3 loss. Without an explosive offense of its own, Boston College had no chance of keeping up as Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei threw three touchdown passes.

The Tigers now head to Florida State (7:30 ET; ABC) as 3.5-point favorites, another ACC spread that feels suppressed and is thus uneasiness-inducing.

Navy (2-3): The Midshipmen have turned their season around in a distinctly unexpected fashion. Beating Tulsa 53-21 was Navy’s second win in the three weeks since its idle week, the loss a tight 13-10 defeat at Air Force. More notably, this was the Midshipmen’s first strong rushing showing, gaining 455 yards on 69 carries, a 6.6 yards per rush average.

How much of this success is sustainable? Who knows. Heading to SMU (7:30 ET on Friday; ESPN) may shed some light. With Navy as an underdog all along, the line rose as high as +13.5 before settling at +12.5 late in the week.

Boston College (2-4): The Eagles reach their idle week looking to strike a unique balance, something that will not save their season but could tilt them back toward a few wins late in the year.

No. 7 USC (6-0): On the one hand, the Trojans managed only 369 yards and 30 points against Washington State. On the other, they held the Cougars to 5.2 yards per play and 14 points without relying on any turnovers for the defensive showing. USC quarterback Caleb Williams threw for just 188 yards on 15-of-29 passing, but he still threw two touchdowns.

It remains difficult to nail down how good the Trojans are or are not, this roster pieced together over the summer, not yet thoroughly tested. No. 20 Utah (8 ET; FOX) may not strike some as that staunch of a test, but the Utes are at least a known and proven commodity. With Utah favored by 3.5 points, this may finally be the moment USC becomes a real contender … or an also-ran.

No. 2 Ohio State (6-0): Beating up on Michigan State is going to become a Big Ten past-time in 2022, so the Buckeyes’ 49-20 win need not be praised too much. They now take a week off.

Marshall (3-3): The Herd did not play over the weekend in order to slip in a Wednesday night game against Louisiana, in which Marshall fell flat. A double-digit favorite by kickoff, the Herd lost 23-13. Suddenly a supposed one-time Sun Belt contender is 0-2 in the conference.

Cal (3-2): After an idle week, the Bears travel to Colorado (2 ET; Pac-12 Network) for what should be a fun time. The Buffaloes are that bad. Cal is now a 15-point favorite, a number that might yet reach -17, quite frankly, an unusual occurrence in the Justin Wilcox era. Since Wilcox took over in 2017, the Bears have been favored by more than two touchdowns against exactly zero FBS opponents

North Carolina (5-1): Are the Tar Heels an ACC title contender? Winning on the road at Miami, 27-24, puts North Carolina at 2-0 in the conference, so there is obviously a long way to go yet, but it has a decided leg up on the rest of the Coastal division having logged that second win. Pitt is 1-1, and with a tiebreaker over Miami (0-1 in the conference), the Heels may need to focus on only the Panthers in two weeks.

North Carolina should have little trouble at Duke (8 ET; ACCN), no matter how well Mike Elko’s first season is going. The Heels are touchdown favorites.

BYU (4-2): After the loss to Notre Dame, the Cougars host another Power Five opponent, Arkansas (3:30 ET; ESPN). The line has fallen to a pick’em, despite favoring BYU most of the week.

Friday at 7:30 ET — Navy at SMU (ESPN)
Saturday at 2 ET — Cal at Colorado (P12N)
3:30 ET — North Carolina State at Syracuse (ACCN); Arkansas at BYU (ESPN)
7:30 ET — Stanford at Notre Dame (NBC); Clemson at Florida State (ABC)8 ET — USC at Utah (FOX); North Carolina at Duke (ACCN)10:30 ET — Air Force at UNLV (CBSSN)

Favorites: Syracuse (-3.5) vs. North Carolina State; Clemson (-3.5) at Florida State; Cal (-15) at Colorado; North Carolina (-7) at Duke; BYU (pk) vs. Arkansas.
Underdogs: Stanford (+17) at Notre Dame; UNLV (+10) vs. Air Force; Navy (+12.5) at SMU; USC (-3.5) at Utah.

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