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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Widespread chaos positions Irish or Cincinnati for Playoff contention

Jac Collinsworth talks with wideout Braden Lenzy about Notre Dame's win against Wisconsin, the evolution of the Irish offense and more.

When looking at Notre Dame’s schedule, Saturday’s tilt against No. 7 Cincinnati (2:30 ET; NBC) takes on an increasingly notable role. Frankly, the same could be said for the Bearcats and facing the No. 9 Irish (4-0), but that was always anticipated.

Cincinnati long expected Notre Dame to be its last, and likely only, ranked opponent this season. While relying on the description of “ranked opponent” is lazy and largely meaningless — the difference between No. 20 and the fifth team in others receiving votes is negligible on the field — the pertinent aspect of this being a top-10 matchup holds merit. Frankly, it being a top-15 or top-20 matchup would hold merit for the Irish at this point.

No other Notre Dame opponent remains in the polls. What was supposed to be an October gauntlet now includes just this weekend and two opponents deep into the “others receiving votes” listings, along with the powerhouse formerly known as UC. While it will still be challenging, only beating the Bearcats will impress the masses.

In other words, win on Saturday and suddenly the Irish will be the third team mentioned in any Playoff conversation, behind No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Georgia. If Cincinnati wins, it will be in the same position, albeit with every imaginable Group of Five fret included.

Florida State (0-4): The Seminoles are not far from going UMass-and-11 this season after falling 31-23 against Louisville last week. Florida State made that a game in the second half after trailing 31-13 at halftime, but some of that tied to the Cardinals easing up.

If the Seminoles cannot beat Syracuse (3:30 ET; ACCN) as 4.5-point favorites, per PointsBet on Thursday afternoon, then facing UMass in two weeks may be their only chance at a win, given the remaining Florida State schedule still includes three ranked opponents and three more ACC-title hopefuls.

Toledo (2-2): The Rockets got off to their wanted start in MAC play with a 22-12 win at Ball State, one of their better challengers in the conference. Before continuing toward the MAC championship, Toledo will have to dispatch UMass (12 ET), which should not be an issue as a 27-point favorite. The combined point total Over/Under of 56.5 points suggests a 42-14 walloping. Honestly, the Rockets should score more than 42 points against an epically bad defense.

Purdue (3-1): The Boilermakers beat Illinois, 13-9, in a game all would be better off forgetting ever happened. Despite the win, Purdue would love to pretend it never happened, as it cost the offense running back King Doerue, already stepping in for an injury to starter Zander Horvath.

Without a rushing attack, the Boilermakers may struggle against Minnesota (12 ET; BTN), even as 2.5-point favorites.

Wisconsin (2-2): The Badgers will look to rebound against No. 14 Michigan (12 ET; FOX) as 2-point favorites. As is typical with Wisconsin at this point, a slog is expected, the Over/Under of 43.5 points discounting the chances of more pick-sixes from Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz. As long as that does not comically happen again, then a 23-21 result would at least be a tense finish.

Cincinnati (3-0): The Bearcats had the week off before heading to Notre Dame Stadium as 1.5-point favorites, a relative rarity for the Irish not to be favored at home.

The total of 50.5 projects a 26-24 result, and while 26 is hardly a common final score, nothing should be ruled out on an afternoon when points will be at a premium.

Regarding Cincinnati’s idle week immediately before facing Notre Dame, the same was true of Wisconsin. In fact, since the Irish began their resurgence in 2017, they have gone 10-0 against opponents who had a week off beforehand.

Virginia Tech (2-1): The Hokies beat FCS-level Richmond, 21-10, and now have this week off. So that previous factoid will have reason to be brought up again next week, no matter how Notre Dame fares Saturday.

USC (2-2): Words cannot do justice how easily Oregon State dispatched the Trojans, 45-27, late Saturday night. Numbers hardly do it justice. The Beavers gained 535 yards, including 322 on the ground on 51 carries, a 6.3 yards per rush average. They completed 15-of-19 passes, averaging 11.2 yards per pass attempt. Oregon State converted 50 percent of its third downs and scored on seven of 11 genuine possessions.

USC can hope to regain its footing at Colorado (2 ET; Pac 12 Network), but nothing should be taken for granted with these Trojans anymore, not even when they have a massive edge in raw talent, as illustrated by being favored by 7.5 points.

North Carolina (2-2): The Tar Heels fell out of the rankings, likely for a good while, after losing at Georgia Tech, 45-22. Star North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell lost three fumbles, which the Ramblin’ Wreck turned into 17 points. The fumbles were more a reflection of a porous offensive line than Howell’s maverick approach, while the points off turnovers showcased that the Tar Heels defense may yet have quick-change problems.

The North Carolina offensive line has given up 17 sacks while Howell has attempted 121 passes. Obviously, that ratio is inexact, as on some plays Howell has been under pressure and turned that into a scramble, but when factoring in 11 additional quarterback hurries, it is clear Howell is on the run an abundance of the time. (Context: Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan has been sacked 20 times this season, with 10 additional quarterback hurries, on 128 total pass attempts.)

Despite those woes, the Tar Heels should have no trouble against Duke (12 ET; ESPN2), favored by 20 points, partly because the Blue Devils have managed just five sacks this season.

Navy (0-3): A 28-20 loss at Houston may have been a step in the right direction for the Midshipmen, despite their winless status. They gained 197 yards on 55 rushes, a borderline manageable average of 3.6 yards per carry), but they could not slow down the Cougars passing attack.

That problem will linger against Central Florida (3:30 ET; CBSSN). The Knights have a much better passing attack than Houston, hence being favored by 16.5 points.

Virginia (2-2): The Cavaliers fell 37-17 to Wake Forest, which should lead to some credit being given to the Demon Deacons. Virginia now heads to Miami (Thursday at 7:30 ET; ESPN) as a 5.5-point underdog.

Georgia Tech (2-2): The Yellow Jackets can continue their unexpectedly decent season — particularly after opening it with a loss to Northern Illinois — by winning against Pittsburgh (12 ET; ACCN). The simple fact that Georgia Tech is only a 3.5-point underdog against the Panthers speaks to how quickly this season has turned around in Atlanta.

Stanford (2-2): The Cardinal were brought back to reality with a 35-24 loss against UCLA, though quarterback Tanner McKee did throw for three touchdowns on 19-of-32 passing with 293 yards. The Stanford ground game may be stagnant — 67 yards on just 22 carries — but the offense will score through the air.

Scoring against No. 3 Oregon (3:30 ET; ABC) will be vital. The Cardinal is an 8-point underdog with a total of 57.5, setting up a 33-25 expectation.

7:30 ET — Virginia at Miami, ESPN2.

12 ET — Toledo at UMass, Flo; Purdue vs. Minnesota, BTN; Wisconsin vs. Michigan, FOX; North Carolina vs. Duke, ESPN2; Georgia Tech vs. Pittsburgh, ACCN.2 ET — USC at Colorado, Pac 12 Network.
2:30 ET — Cincinnati at Notre Dame, NBC.
3:30 ET — Florida State vs. Syracuse, ACCN; Navy vs. Central Florida, CBSSN; Stanford vs. Oregon, ABC.

Favored: Florida State (-4.5), Toledo (-27), Purdue (-2.5), Wisconsin (-2), Cincinnati (-1.5), USC (-7.5), North Carolina (-20).Underdogs: Navy (+16.5), Virginia (+5.5), Georgia Tech (+3.5), Stanford (+8).

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner, and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links. All lines as of mid-Thursday afternoon.

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