I was extremely slow to come around on Notre Dame this season, but I’ve been getting there since it dealt out woodshed treatment at Oklahoma. Now to be clear, I still don’t think the Fighting Irish are one of the top two or three teams in America, but it is one win away from getting a shot to prove otherwise.
Notre Dame (11-0 straight up, 6-5 against the spread) has double-digit wins for the first time since 2006, including scalps of solid squads like OU, Stanford and Michigan. Brian Kelly’s team can complete a 12-0 regular season Saturday night with a victory against Southern Cal at The Coliseum.
As of late Friday afternoon, most betting shops had Notre Dame installed as a 5 ½-point ‘chalk’ with the total anywhere from 45 ½ to 47. Gamblers can take the Trojans to win outright for a plus-190 return (risk $100 to win $190).
Back in August, many pundits figured this game would have national-title implications. However, those thoughts centered upon USC (7-4 SU, 3-8 ATS) needing a victory to go to Miami for the BCS Championship Game.
Instead, while Notre Dame has been the nation’s biggest surprise, Lane Kiffin’s team has been one of the country’s biggest disappointments. USC lost a 21-14 decision at Stanford as a 9 ½-point favorite in Week 3.
The Trojans responded with four consecutive wins, but they have now lost three of their last four. UCLA beat up on USC last weekend, capturing a 38-28 win as a four-point underdog. In the process, the Bruins injured Matt Barkley, who will have to sit out Saturday night due to a shoulder injury.
Barkley, the senior signal caller who returned to school for a chance to lead USC to a national title, has not had the season he envisioned. Barkley has thrown for 3,273 yards and 36 touchdowns, but he has a career-high 15 interceptions.
Max Wittek, a redshirt freshman, will get his first career start in a pressure-packed situation. In relief of Barkley, Wittek completed all three of his passes for 40 yards last week in the loss to UCLA. For the season, he’s connected on 8-of-9 throws for 95 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions.
Wittek will have plenty of weapons at his disposal, including a pair of stud running backs in Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal. Redd has rushed for 740 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. McNeal has 658 rushing yards and a pair of TD, averaging 6.3 YPC.
Wittek has two of the nation’s premier WRs, Marquise Lee and Robert Woods. Lee has 107 receptions for 1,605 yards and 14 TDs, while Woods has made 66 catches for 721 yards and 10 TDs.
Notre Dame’s stellar campaign has been sparked by a salty defense that’s ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, surrendering merely 10.1 points per game. Manti Te’o is the catalyst for this unit. Te’o, the senior linebacker and Maxwell Award finalist, has 96 tackles, six interceptions and two sacks.
Notre Dame’s offense has been pedestrian at times but has done enough to stay unbeaten. Redshirt freshman QB Everett Golson has an 11/5 TD-INT ratio and has also rushed for 258 yards and five touchdowns.
Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood have split the bulk of the rushing load, combining for 1,454 yards and eight TDs. Wood is averaging 7.1 YPC.
During Kiffin’s three-year tenure, USC has been a home underdog three times, going 0-3 both SU and ATS. Meanwhile, Notre Dame owns a 2-4 spread record in six games as a road favorite on Kelly’s watch.
The ‘under’ is 9-2 overall for the Irish, 3-0 in its road assignments. USC has watched the ‘under’ go 6-5 overall, but the ‘over’ is 3-1 in its last four games. The ‘under’ has cashed at a 4-1 clip in the Trojans’ five home games.
When these teams met last year in South Bend, USC captured a 31-17 win as a 9 ½-point road ‘chalk.’ Barkley threw for 224 yards and three TDs with Woods bringing down two of those TD grabs. McNeal rushed for 118 yards. The 48 combined points dipped ‘under’ the 57-point tally.
The ‘under’ is 6-2 in the last eight head-to-head meetings between these storied programs.
Kickoff is slated for 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ABC.
Brian Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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