This season I’ll be breaking down a few of college football’s biggest games each week and giving out at least one bet I like from each matchup.
Let’s take a look at a classic rivalry game between Notre Dame and USC.
Notre Dame vs USC Spread, current line:
Notre Dame vs USC Best Bet Prediction:
Notre Dame has improved through the year, but so has USC’s defense 一 expect the Trojans to pull away in the second half and take the USC at -5.5 against the spread.
When Notre Dame is on Offense
Notre Dame has adjusted its strategy in recent weeks to become an offense built entirely around the power run game. According to Campus2Canton, since Week 8 (the UNLV game), Notre Dame has run the ball at a 71% clip in neutral situations.
Due to the extreme commitment to the run game, the Irish have also run into a stacked box on 85% of their carries over the last five games.
According to Sports Info Solutions, USC is giving up 5.5 yards per attempt with a stacked box, which ranks 116th. However, the Trojans have improved throughout the season.
Take a look at USC’s run defense with a stacked box this year:
- Weeks 1-3 (Rice, Stanford, Fresno State): 6.5 yards per attempt
- Since Week 4: 3.1 yards per attempt
Perhaps the most notable performance to demonstrate its improvement came against Utah, when the Trojans limited the Utes to 28 yards on 11 carries into a stacked box 一 USC lost the game due to other issues, but the run defense certainly showed signs of growth.
Another key data point came last week against UCLA, when USC contacted Zach Charbonnet at or behind the line of scrimmage on 53% of his carries 一 far above his season average of 25% entering the game, per Sports Info Solutions.
To drive home this point further, USC ranks 110th in opponent-adjusted yards before contact allowed overall, but ranks 40th since Week 4.
No one would argue USC has a good run defense, but it’s no longer among the worst in the country.
If USC does find a way to slow down the Notre Dame rushing attack, Drew Pyne will need to elevate his production against a vulnerable USC pass defense.
Fortunately for Pyne, Notre Dame’s pass protection appears to hold an edge based on these opponent-adjusted numbers from Sports Info Solutions:
- Notre Dame ranks 16th in pressure rate allowed
- USC ranks 38th in pressure rate generated
The Irish should also benefit from USC’s low blitz rate (14.5%, ranked 126th). Notre Dame allows the fifth-lowest pressure rate when teams do not blitz, per Sports Info Solutions.
Pyne’s overall numbers are adequate, but he tends to struggle when Notre Dame finds itself in obvious passing situations.
Here’s a look at Pyne’s numbers on third down with five or more yards to go, via Sports Info Solutions:
- 50% completion rate (ranked 77th out of 102)
- 66% catchable pass rate (ranked 101st)
- 53% rate of -1 EPA or worse (ranked 101st)
Once USC builds a lead, expect Pyne to struggle to keep up 一 and those negative plays could bury the Irish.
When USC is on Offense
USC leans on its passing attack with a 56% pass rate in neutral situations, but also relies on a steady run game.
In last week’s USC preview, I provided some numbers to suggest there would not be a drop-off in production with Austin Jones taking over for the injured Travis Dye at running back.
Sure enough, Jones carried the ball 21 times for 120 yards against a respectable UCLA run defense.
Notre Dame’s run defense likely does not pose a serious challenge based on these opponent-adjusted numbers:
- USC ranks 12th in yards before contact
- Notre Dame ranks 60th in yards before contact allowed
Unfortunately for the Irish, injuries could be a factor in containing Caleb Williams and the Trojans’ passing attack. Cornerback Cam Hart (shoulder) is listed as questionable and safety Brandon Joseph (ankle) is listed as probable, but missed the last two weeks.
Even when healthy, this is not a dominant Notre Dame secondary.
The Irish are allowing a 43% completion rate on throws 15 or more yards downfield, which ranks 63rd, per Sports Info Solutions.
Another concerning factor for Notre Dame’s defense is its inability to make plays on the ball.
When opposing quarterbacks throw 10 or more yards downfield, Notre Dame generates a ball-hawk rate of 9.6% 一 the worst rate in the nation and far below the FBS average of 20%.
In terms of creating pressure, Notre Dame typically relies on the blitz 一 its 34% blitz rate ranks 23rd in the nation.
However, teams typically don’t blitz Williams, and Notre Dame has dialed back its blitz against other formidable passing offenses (most notably North Carolina, with a season-low 19% blitz rate).
Without the blitz, Notre Dame’s defense ranks 67th with a 24% pressure rate generated, per Sports Info Solutions.
Final Thoughts on Notre Dame vs USC Best Bets
Notre Dame’s win over Clemson is likely playing a significant role in this low spread. But Clemson and USC are not comparable opponents by anything other than national ranking.
Clemson’s strengths and weaknesses paired well with Notre Dame 一 both teams had issues in the passing game, which leveled the playing field.
USC, however, is perfectly suited to exploit all of Notre Dame’s weaknesses.
Marcus Freeman and his coaching staff deserve a ton of praise for in-season adjustments to salvage this campaign for the Irish, but this is just a bad matchup 一 expect the Trojans to pull away in the second half and cruise to an easy win.