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College football spotlight: Notre Dame tunes up for USC, and possibly the playoff

Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool (83) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown in the first half against Bowling Green on Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool (83) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown in the first half against Bowling Green on Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
(Quinn Harris / Getty Images)

As long as Notre Dame can channel attention to its football program through the colorful prism of NBC’s peacock feathers, even victories like Saturday’s 52-0 subjugation of Bowling Green can be colored as important steps toward a possible national playoff spot.

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.

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“Either way, it’s USC-Notre Dame, all eyeballs will be on the game next week and it’s another opportunity for ... Notre Dame to go, ‘No we got athletes, we’re legit, and we are a contender as far as the college football playoff.’”

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.

College football roundup Week 6: No. 19 Michigan hands No. 14 Iowa its first loss, while No. 4 Ohio State rolls past No. 25 Michigan State.

“Coach challenged us this week to just focus on ourselves,” Book said. “He talks about every week having a faceless opponent. Great teams go out there and win no matter what. Respect for Bowling Green, but we wanted to go out there and put up a lot of points and just really focus on the small details.”

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And big results. The Irish had 573 total yards and put up their second 52-point victory of the season, matching a 66-14 trouncing of New Mexico in Week 2.

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 faced the unranked Trojans, and lost 27-20, in overtime.

STILL CLEAN

No. 24 SMU was playing as a ranked team for the first time since 1986, just prior to a crippling so-called death penalty by the NCAA set the program back for decades. Saturday’s 43-37 comeback victory against visiting Tulsa in triple-overtime sends the Mustangs (6-0, 2-0 American), who trailed 30-9 after three quarters, to their best start since Eric Dickerson and Craig James formed the “Pony Express” backfield in 1982.

Minnesota’s 40-17 win over visiting Illinois means the Gophers (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) have won seven straight games dating to last season and are 5-0 for the first time since 2004.

“We want to be balanced,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said of his team that had 322 yards rushing and 155 passing. “I think the teams that can be balanced at any moment, and can control and sustain the balance, are going to be the most dangerous teams.”

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Meanwhile, Baylor (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) chalked up its first conference road win since 2017, 31-12 at Kansas State, and had 426 yards of offense with only 23 minutes of possession. However, quarterback Charlie Brewer, who threw for 230 yards and a touchdown, was injured early in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. Brewer has thrown for 11 touchdowns without an interception this season.

HEDGING THEIR BETS

Rutgers quarterback Art Sitkowski and running back Raheem Blackshear were held out of Saturday’s 48-7 home loss to Maryland, a request they made to interim coach Nunzio Campanile so they could stay within an NCAA rule that allows players to compete in four games but still be able to preserve a year of eligibility. Saturday was Rutgers’ fifth game.

“Am I disappointed by it? Incredibly,” said Campanile, who replaced the fired Chris Ash after a 1-3 start. “Do I understand it? I guess so. I guess that’s the way of the world now.”

SHOWING UNIFORMITY

No. 10 Florida broke out 1960s throwback uniforms during its 24-13 homecoming win against No. 7 Auburn, complete with white helmets adorned with a blue block “F” inside an orange circle. The Gators’ blue tops and white pants were neatly paired with black cleats and white shoelaces.

Before outslugging Boston College, 41-39, Louisville donned all-white alternative uniforms with a black arched font and black stripe on the pants as a tribute to famous alum Muhammad Ali and the pre-boxing match robe and signature trunks he wore. Cardinals players also sported red gloves as a nod to the color of Ali’s boxing gloves.

CHASING HISTORY

*Navy’s 34-25 win over visiting Air Force, thanks to quarterback Malcolm Perry’s three-yard touchdown run with 23 seconds left, means the 3-1 Midshipmen can win the Commander-In-Chief Trophy with a season-ending triumph over Army on Dec. 14.

*The 13 total points from Michigan’s 10-3 win over Iowa made for the lowest-scoring Big Ten conference game since 2009 when Iowa beat Minnesota 12-0.

*With its 48-0 triumph over Kent State, No. 8 Wisconsin recorded its third shutout of the season in only its fifth game. The last time the Badgers had three shutouts was during the 1937 season.

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BRYANT INJURED

Missouri senior quarterback Kelly Bryant, the transfer from Clemson, missed the second half of a 42-10 win over Troy with an apparent knee injury after defensive tackle Travis Sailo landed on Bryant’s left leg, just after Bryant released a six-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up 42-7 in the second quarter.

Coach Barry Odom and players were cautiously optimistic after talking to Bryant following the game.

”He was in great spirits, and our docs seemed like it was good news, but I don’t want to go there until I get it confirmed,” Odom said.


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