Game of the Week: USC vs. Notre Dame
After a wildly entertaining week seven of college football that shook up the College Football Playoff picture, this weekend will feature several matchups that will have major postseason implications.
Even though Notre Dame fans feel ESPN’s College Gameday snubbed them by deciding to travel to Happy Valley for Michigan-Penn State, Notre Dame’s matchup against USC on Saturday night may have higher stakes than any game played so far this season.
Not only will this matchup be another chapter of this historic blue-blood rivalry, but both Clay Helton and Brian Kelly are also well aware that it is basically a College Football Playoff elimination game.
USC has already lost to Washington State, which now looks like a much worse loss after the Cougars’ blowout loss to a mediocre California team last Friday.
Notre Dame’s lone loss came by just one point at home to Georgia in week two. However, now that Georgia looks like a top-three team in the nation, Notre Dame suddenly looks like a team to be taken seriously.
USC came into this season with enormous expectations after winning nine straight games en route to a Rose Bowl victory to close out last season.
A big reason for that is redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold. The Trojans signal caller is as talented of a quarterback as one will find at the college level. Darnold has all the traits of a future NFL franchise quarterback, but has at times been erratic with his decision making this year (nine interceptions).
The Trojans also have been breaking in new pieces along the offensive line and on the perimeter to start this season, so there have been some understandable consistency issues.
First year starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush leads a talented Notre Dame offense. Wimbush is an exciting dual threat quarterback (402 rushing yards, eight rushing TDs) with eye-opening arm talent, but he has struggled at times with his accuracy this year, completing just 51 percent of his passes.
Both teams are loaded at running back. USC’s Ronald Jones is a potential first round NFL Draft pick, while Notre Dame’s Josh Adams is averaging over nine yards per carry. Notre Dame’s offensive line is also one of the best in college football, led by potential first round draft picks in Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson.
The Trojans will be without several key offensive players. True freshman running back Stephen Carr is out with a foot injury, while starting guard Viane Talamaivao is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Both starting offensive tackles for USC are questionable as well.
Darnold also could be without his reliable tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe for another week. They will, however, will likely have top receiver Denotay Burnett back in the lineup to help out a young USC receiving corps that has struggled the past couple of weeks.
Another player to watch for Notre Dame is junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, who is averaging 14.1 yards per catch this season. Alzie Mack and Durham Smythe are also two very good tight ends to watch.
As if the Trojans injury situation already sounded bad enough, three of their starting defensive linemen in Rasheem Green (ankle), Malik Dorton (knee) and Josh Fatu (knee), are also questionable to play on Saturday.
To make things even worse, their top outside linebacker Porter Gustin also may not play due to toe and bicep injuries.
The one unit where the Trojans seem to be at full strength right now is in the secondary, but they rank just 90th in the nation defending the pass coming into this week.
Notre Dame’s defense has been much improved this season after having one of the worst in college football a year ago. They are still far from an elite unit, but an area where they have been substantially better is creating turnovers.
Last season the Irish ranked just 104th among FBS teams in takeaways. This year they have catapulted all the way up to 17th in that category under new defensive coordinator Mike Elko.
It is pretty remarkable to think that after a miserable 4-8 season in South Bend a year ago that Notre Dame is 5-1 and has a chance to crash the College Football Playoff party if it keeps winning.
Brian Kelly has done a great job of turning things around this season after being a popular name at the top of every coaching hot seat list to start the season.
With Sam Darnold, USC will have a chance in every game they play, but the absurd number of injuries for the Trojans right now is awfully concerning.
Notre Dame is playing with a lot of confidence right now and will be in front of an electric atmosphere at home on Saturday night.
The Irish will win a close one at home, dismantling USC’s preseason College Football Playoff hopes and Brian Kelly will earn a huge win to remove him from the coaching hot seat discussion.
Prediction: Notre Dame 33, USC 30
Will Desautelle is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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