Notre Dame's 2023 Opponents: November routs await the Irish, so October statements are imperative

Duke dodged the most costly of losses in the final minute against Notre Dame, even if the Blue Devils lost their dramatic upset bid. Pittsburgh’s defense is a distinct debacle, if only it could face North Carolina State’s offense, now needing a quarterback change.

But the most notable piece of Notre Dame’s schedule at this point might be how terrible the last two Irish opponents are. As far as making a postseason argument goes, Notre Dame better make an emphatic one early because there will be little to show late.

No. 25 Louisville (5-0): The Cardinals scrapped to a 13-10 win at North Carolina State, recovering from a 10-0 first-half deficit. As has been Louisville’s mainstay, an explosive touchdown kept the Cardinals winning. Without those, their offense would be toothless.

Quarterback Jack Plummer — about to face Notre Dame for the third time in three seasons on a third different team — threw for 286 yards and a touchdown on 21-of-35 passing, though also throwing two interceptions, bringing his season totals to 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.

The Irish are 6-point favorites against Louisville (7:30 ET on ABC) with a combined point total Over/Under of 54, as of Wednesday afternoon, suggesting a final score in the range of 30-24.

No. 9 USC (5-0): The Trojans continue to refuse to play defense, letting Colorado score 14 fourth-quarter points to make a 48-41 USC win more interesting than it needed to be. The Trojans had some thoughts of defensive improvement this year, having yet to give up 400 yards in a game, before the Buffaloes found their way to 562. USC had not played a potent offense, but it was still a measure of improvement for a team that last year gave up 414 yards to Stanford, 421 to Fresno State, 543 to Arizona and 469 to Cal. The Cardinal gained 349 against the Trojans this season, for a direct comparison.

Another direct comparison point will offer itself Saturday night against Arizona (10:30 ET on ESPN), USC favored by 21.5 points but the real question simply being, will the Wildcats score 30 points?

Pittsburgh (1-4): The Panthers did a thing no respectable team in the Power Five should do in 2023: Lose to Virginia Tech. The Hokies showed a bit more of a pulse with Kyron Drones at quarterback, scoring five total touchdowns, but that may be more a reflection of Pittsburgh’s defense, currently ranked No. 79 in overall expected points added per snap against and No. 114 against dropbacks, opponents gaining an average of 0.299 points on their projected final score on passing plays.

The Panthers offense did show signs of life, a 75-yard touchdown pass right in the breadbasket from Phil Jurkovec, but inconsistency is still the theme of his season, completing exactly half his passes at Virginia Tech.

Pittsburgh now has the week off.

Clemson (3-2): The Tigers took care of all business at Syracuse, 31-14, another reflection that Clemson is better than its record states. To draw from one source, SP+ currently ranks the Tigers as the No. 14 best team in the country. That is not saying Clemson should be ranked; it is saying that the Tigers would be favored against all but 13 other teams in the country on a neutral field.

Yes, Notre Dame is one of those 13, ranked at No. 8 in those considerations, about a 3.5-point favorite against Clemson on a neutral field, suggesting the Nov. 4 game in Death Valley would currently be about a pick’em.

The Tigers are heavily favored against Wake Forest this week (3:30 ET on ACCN), by 21.5 points, and they will probably cruise in all regards.

Wake Forest (3-1): The Demon Deacons had the week off, but prepare for a Clemson shellacking this week to begin a conversation about how low Wake Forest’s floor might be in conference play this year. Losing by two touchdowns to Georgia Tech before the idle week will do that, particularly now that the Yellow Jackets lost by two possessions to Bowling Green.

Stanford (1-4): The 2023 schedule may spark a new Notre Dame debate. Usually the fret is that the Irish have only 12 data points, compared to teams that play in conference championships having 13, but that has always been a flawed argument. A playoff bid is not determined by whether a team plays Navy, Tennessee State and Central Michigan or UT-Martin, Ball State, UAB and Vanderbilt. That 13th data point has never been the conference championship, it has always been an additional patsy.

But now Notre Dame will close the season with two walkovers. Stanford losing 42-6 to Oregon last week cements that. The Cardinal led 6-0 before the onslaught began, the Ducks not much worried about their Palo Alto hosts.

Optimistically, Wake Forest and Stanford could combine to finish the year 7-17. No matter how much the Irish beat them by, those routs will do only so much to impress.

At least the Cardinal cannot lose this week.

Navy (1-3): The Midshipmen took one on the chin, losing at home to South Florida, 44-30. Navy opened with a quick 14-0 lead before giving up 21 straight. Surprisingly, the Midshipmen attempted a two-point conversion to take a 22-21 lead late in the second quarter, only for the Bulls to run it the other way for a 23-20 lead.

That was far from the difference in the game. Perhaps the most notable piece to it was the aggressive mindset from former defensive coordinator and first-year Navy head coach Brian Newsberry. Usually, a former defensive coordinator is adverse to that kind of risk in his first season as a head coach.

The Midshipmen now host North Texas as 6-point favorites (3:30 ET on CBSSN).

Tennessee State (2-2): The Tigers lost to UT-Martin, 20-10, and now head to Kennesaw State (3 ET on ESPN+). The Tigers will be about 10-point underdogs when those markets open Saturday morning.

North Carolina State (3-2): In an attempt to revive its season, the Wolfpack announced sophomore MJ Morris will replace Virginia transfer Brennan Armstrong as the starting quarterback. Armstrong was one of the most notable transfers this offseason, his reunion with former Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae expected to spark North Carolina State to a decent season. Instead, the Wolfpack are No. 97 in EPA per dropback, per, behind the likes of Iowa State (playing without its expected starting quarterback due to offseason gambling suspensions) and Kent State (arguably the least-talented roster in the country).

Morris will face a decent challenge this week against Marshall (2 ET on the CW), though NC State is favored by 6.5.

Central Michigan (3-2): The Chippewas held off Eastern Michigan, 26-23, thanks to an Eagles missed field goal in the final minute. Midweek MACtion will not begin until Halloween, so Central Michigan heads to Buffalo on Saturday (2 ET on ESPN+) as a 3-point favorite.

No. 4 Ohio State (4-0): The Buckeyes had the week off after slipping past Notre Dame, now hosting Maryland (12 ET on FOX) as 20-point favorites. The Terrapins present enough variance on offense, a successful passing game and a big-play dependent rushing attack, that they could put Ohio State on its heels. While unlikely, that may be something to keep an eye on early Saturday afternoon.

No. 19 Duke (4-1): The Blue Devils have the week off. The only thing they are worried bout presently is the severity of quarterback Riley Leonard’s high ankle sprain.

Favorites: USC (-21.5) vs. Arizona; Clemson (-21) vs. Wake Forest; Navy (-6) vs North Texas; North Carolina State (-6.5) vs. Marshall; Central Michigan (-3) at Buffalo; Ohio State (-20) vs. Maryland.
Underdogs: Louisville (+6) vs. Notre Dame; Wake Forest (+21) at Clemson.

12:00 ET — Ohio State vs. Maryland on FOX.
2:00 ET — North Carolina State vs. Marshall on the CW; Central Michigan at Buffalo on ESPN+.
3:00 ET — Tennessee State at Kennesaw State on ESPN+.
3:30 ET — Clemson vs. Wake Forest on the ACC Network; Navy vs. North Texas on CBSSN.
7:30 ET — Louisville vs. Notre Dame on ABC.
10:30 ETUSC vs. Arizona on ESPN.

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