Rivalry week is here and the Irish are still right in the thick of the playoff race as they prepare for their final regular season game of the year. Arch rival USC on the other hand is not in quite the same sunny situation as the Irish as they limp in 5-6 after losing to their other rival UCLA last weekend. Here are some storylines to watch tonight as they Irish make their final push for their first playoff bid.
Playoffs on the line for Notre Dame
This one is simple. It’s win and you’re in for Notre Dame. The Irish have been at #3 for weeks and with a 11-0 record and their November resume, the Irish are in with a win today no matter what Armageddon scenario ESPN might be peddling these days.
The other rivalry games can impact the Irish though. If Michigan manages to lose to Ohio State, things will get interesting at the 4th spot. Sixth ranked Oklahoma did win again last night if you can call what they played in a football game. The Sooners outscored West Virginia 59-56 in another game with no defense. #8 Washington State lost in a snowy Apple Cup last night. UCF remained undefeated but lost their starting quarterback to a gruesome injury. Should Michigan lose today, there is going to be one hell of a debate for who moves up. Now if Auburn were to pull the ultimate upset then things get real interesting.
None of that matters of course for Notre Dame fans if the Irish fail to take care of business today. Again, win and you’re in and let the rest take care of itself.
Bowl eligibility on the line for USC
While the Irish are playing for the ultimate goal of the playoffs, USC’s disappointing season comes down to today just to reach bowl eligibility. That will be somewhat of a motivating factor for the Trojans, but just how much remains to be seen. This team has been in major bowl games the last two years and playing for a bottom feeder bowl might not be all that motivating for the USC roster.
It is still something to watch out for today as USC will also be playing to spoil Notre Dame’s season. When they were in the same exact position six years ago the Trojans put up a little bit of a fight but that game was more about Notre Dame failing to score touchdowns in the redzone than it was USC putting up that big of a fight.
Notre Dame is currently a 10+ point favorite
It doesn’t happen often for Notre Dame in this rivalry, but the Irish are currently 10+ favorites in this one. It opened around 8.5 at most sportsbooks and is now all the way up to 11.5 at most. That means all of the money coming in has been on Notre Dame. It’ll be interesting to see if there is any late movement on the line since that tells where all the late money went.
Considering where both of these programs were two years ago when Notre Dame last visited the LA Coliseum, it’s incredible that just two years later Notre Dame enters ranked #3 with an 11-0 record as a 11.5 point favorite.
Ian Book is Back Home
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book returns to his home state of California for the second time as the starting quarterback for the FIghting Irish – Notre Dame played in San Diego a month ago against Navy. Book showed a few signs of rust last weekend against Syracuse after he missed the Florida State game two weeks, but even a bit rusty he was still making some great throws. He hasn’t had more than 2 touchdowns in a game since the Stanford game when he tossed 4 against the Cardinal. Since then he has had exactly 2 in every game he’s started. If Book tops that tonight, Irish eyes should be smiling later tonight.
1,000 yards is in reach for Dexter Williams
Despite missing the first four games of the year due to suspension, Dexter Williams needs 156 yards to reach 1,000 on the season. He has topped that three times in seven games this year. The only problem is he has also been held under 100 yards three times as well. Pitt, Northwestern, and Syracuse all held Williams and the Notre Dame ground game in check.
USC allowed over 300 yards to UCLA last weekend and 289 to Joshua Kelley alone. That bodes well for Williams chances today. The USC defense is also experiencing a number of injuries that have thrust some inexperienced players into action. A back like Dexter Williams can take advantage of inexperience like that with some chunk plays.
Justin Yoon is tied for the all-time Notre Dame field goal lead
Justin Yoon and Kyle Brindza are tied with 57 field goals a piece for the all time Notre Dame record. With one field goal, Justin Yoon will own that record all by himself. Yoon’s had another pretty solid year for the Irish hitting 15 of 19 field goal attempts including connecting on his last six attempts.
Some other superlatives to watch
Here are some other mini milestones Notre Dame players can reach tonight.
- Jerry Tillery comes in with 7.0 sacks. If he has a Stanford like performance, maybe he tops 10. Tillery also had a couple of embarrassing moments the last time he was in this stadium. Look for him to have a big game.
- Miles Boykin has 8 TDs coming in, with a big game he could reach 10 on the season.
- Tevon Coney has 99 tackles and should top 100 by the end of the first USC offensive drive of the game.
- Coney, Tillery, and Drue Tranquill are all at 9.0 TFL this year and can join Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem in double digits if they each get one more today.