College football spotlight: Notre Dame tunes up for USC, and possibly the playoff
Following the network’s telecast of Notre Dame’s first shutout since 2014, the TV narrative turned toward how its next nationally televised opponent, rival USC, could draw more beauty points for the No. 9-ranked Irish.
“Is this an opportunity for Notre Dame? You saw them against Georgia,” broadcaster Liam McHugh asked earnestly, referencing the Irish’s 23-17 loss two weeks ago, “and now a night game against USC, where they can show the rest of the country that we should be in the conversation, right up there in the playoffs.”
“Yes, I get it, I think we both feel the same way,” analyst Chris Simms answered. “This Notre Dame is talented, it’s really well-coached, we saw them go toe to toe against Georgia … they can’t help their schedule, OK. USC, Stanford, some of these teams are not as good, but when they scheduled these games they thought they’d be big-time matchups.
The next shot was of a graphic showing the next seven games of Notre Dame’s schedule, with a ProFootballFocus.com Win Probability calculation that showed the 4-1 Irish have an 86% edge in the home game against 3-2 USC, which was idle this week.
Still, this was Bowling Green, the Mid-American Conference team who came in as a 45½-point underdog. Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book racked up a school-record five touchdown passes in the first half. He could have tied Brady Quinn’s record of six early into the second half, but missed on a third-down pass to Javon McKinley near the goal line, then left the contest.
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Notre Dame’s 35-0 halftime lead was the greatest it has enjoyed since took 40-0 and 35-0 advantages over Pitt and Rutgers in consecutive weeks in November 1996. Remember what happened then?
Those two games, the Irish pulled off 60-6 and 62-0 wins at home. Then, ranked No. 10, Notre Dame went to L.A. to face the unranked Trojans, and lost 27-20, in overtime.
(USC safety Sammy Knight was a huge difference-maker for John Robinson-coached USC the night USC came from behind to beat ND in OT in the Coliseum on Nov. 30, 1996.)