Those who have watched USC closely might be surprised that Notre Dame is only favored by a touchdown here, but the Fighting Irish have three of their five victories by just a field goal each over Florida State, Toledo and Virginia Tech. This isn’t the same Notre Dame team that we’re used to seeing. Of course, neither are the Trojans.
USC at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-7, 57 1/2)
Kedon Slovis is set to start at quarterback for USC with Jaxson Dart's status for the game undetermined as he continues to recover from meniscus surgery. There are more questions for Notre Dame, but Jack Coan is the answer, at least for the first snap.
Notre Dame will start Coan, but freshman Tyler Buchner is also expected to play. Coan has played well, for the most part, with a 62.1% completion rate and a 10 to three touchdown-interception ratio, but the Irish offense lacks explosiveness with him behind center. Buchner, a four-star quarterback out of Helix High in La Mesa, Calif., did get an offer from USC, but opted to go to Notre Dame. He had two passes intercepted last time out against Virginia Tech and it was Coan who saved the day by orchestrating two fourth-quarter scoring drives.
Coan gives Notre Dame the best chance to win, but coach Brian Kelly’s insistence on seeing what he has in the freshman seems suggestive of what he thinks about his team. Buchner has completed nine-of-20 passes for 191 yards with two touchdowns and three picks so far.
Notre Dame came into the week 95th in yards per play nationally with 5.22. USC is 38th with 6.24. The USC defense has been the biggest problem area for the team with 6.18 yards per play allowed. USC ranks 106th in that department, while Notre Dame’s defense is 47th. The Fighting Irish are only +0.04 in yards per play differential and USC is +0.06.
One major concern for Kelly has to be that his secondary hasn't really been tested. The Irish have 10 interceptions and have limited opponents to a 56.4% completion rate, but teams like Toledo, Wisconsin and Virginia Tech don’t have good passing offenses. Notre Dame did shut down Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell, who led the Boilermakers to the big upset of Iowa, but he played uncharacteristically bad against the Irish.
Slovis will be the best quarterback the Irish have faced by far. He threw for over 400 yards in the loss to Utah, but his lone pick was a big one and put the game out of reach for USC.
The one really interesting thing about USC’s season is that none of the games have been close. The Trojans have won by 23, 31 and 23 points and have lost by 14, 18 and 16.
Lost in Notre Dame’s quarterback carousel is that the Irish are only gaining 2.77 yards per carry on the ground, which ranked 123rd in the nation going into Week 8. This limited offense could very well allow USC to hang around, as long as Slovis can take care of the ball.
Pick: USC Trojans +7
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.