The 12th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-0) head to Chicago this weekend to take on the 18th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. Despite this game being on a neutral field and the Irish being ranked higher, Brian Kelly's squad is almost a touchdown underdog.
We've spent all week breaking down the game and now it is time for Irish Breakdown to make our final predictions.
BRYAN DRISKELL, PUBLISHER
Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Wisconsin 19
I am not happy about making a prediction for a competitive game, but that's where we are right now. Last week I felt Notre Dame would break out on offense and finally show what the unit can do, but it was a third straight week of regression. Is Notre Dame capable of putting more points on the board? Absolutely, but it will require the line to play much better than it has through the season's first three games.
Notre Dame will need to rip off big plays in this game if it can't get the ground game going, and Wisconsin works hard to limit giving up those big plays. At the end of the day I think enough big plays happen and the Irish offense gets enough short fields thanks to the defense to score enough to win.
Wisconsin will get some yards but the Irish will hold them to field goals for much of the game and the pass rush will get to quarterback Graham Mertz in the second half.
VINCE DEDARIO, FOOTBALL ANALYST
Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Wisconsin 17
My ultimate faith in the Irish defense is what drives this pick. I just do not see ND giving up a bunch of touchdowns in this game. Field goals maybe, nut not touchdowns. It will be up to the Notre Dame offense to put some points on the board and I think they can do that with heir big play ability. I have he Irish scoring 27 but if they can somehow get to thirty they are definitely winning this game.
GRANT DELVECCHIO, STAFF WRITER
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Wisconsin 21
This will be the game Notre Dame's season takes off. The Irish looked the most complete as a team that they have all season last week against Purdue, and I think the team takes another big step forward against a tough and talented Wisconsin team. Though it's true the Badgers have a strong rushing attack and the Irish are giving up close to 150 rushing yards per game for the season, Notre Dame is beginning to crescendo defensively.
It'll be an emotional game for Jack Coan and I expect the Irish QB to have a big day to go along with another improved performance by the Irish offensive line. It will be a physical battle from start to finish, in the end, I believe Notre Dame has the better playmakers on both sides of the ball and that the bye week won't end up working in Wisconsin's favor.
ANDREW McDONOUGH, IB CONTRIBUTOR
Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Wisconsin 13
To me, this game feels very similar to the 2012 Oklahoma game, so I’m going to go with the same final score. In that game, Notre Dame was undefeated but was listed as an underdog by Vegas against an opponent with a loss, was led by one of the top defensive players in the nation, and sported an offense that even though had playmakers, had been inconsistent and was using a two-quarterback system to highlight each QB’s strengths. ND used big plays and timely defensive stops to turn what was a close game into a blowout, and that is what will happen here too.
Notre Dame has two things on its side heading on Saturday – history and talent.
From a historical perspective, Notre Dame has never lost a game at Soldier Field and holds a 10-0-2 record. They have beaten Wisconsin once before at Soldier Field too, back in 1929 en route to Knute Rockne’s second national title. Speaking of Rockne, with a win against Wisconsin, Brian Kelly will pass the legendary coach for the most wins in Notre Dame history. However, Kelly hasn’t won a national title and will need one to truly cement his legacy. Which team did Rockne knock off during the season he won his first national title at ND? You guessed it – Wisconsin – in a 38-3 victory back in 1924, which also was the first time the Irish beat the Badgers.
Fun historical nuggets aside, Notre Dame is the more talented football team, and though Wisconsin is extremely well-coached, if the Irish play their game, they will win. Wisconsin’s defense will make life difficult for the ND offense, but Notre Dame’s offense is too explosive and has too many playmakers to be kept down the entire game. Case in point was last week against Purdue when Notre Dame scored 27 points despite Michael Mayer and Kevin Austin combining or just one catch for five yards.
Wisconsin has no margin for error on defense as their loss to Penn State showed – they shut the Nittany Lions down most of the game, but eventually Penn State was able to break through with some big plays and the Wisconsin offense wasn’t good enough to answer, scoring only 10 points despite running 95 plays and holding the ball for over 42 minutes. I expect the Notre Dame defense to make life difficult for Wisconsin’s offense and force QB Graham Mertz to beat them, which he has not been able to do against top opponents. This will buy the Irish offense time to settle in and eventually break through and hit some long pass plays against a Wisconsin secondary that is the weakness of their defense.
SHAUN DAVIS, ESPN CHICAGO
Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Wisconsin 17
The first quarter may be the key to this game. Both offensive units have struggled early in games. The Badgers have outscored opponents 7-0 in the first quarter, and the Irish have been outscored 16-14 in the opening act. Jim Leonhard and Marcus Freeman have aggressive blitz schemes that might be even more creative to create turnovers in a game where points will be at a premium.
The Badgers are holding opponents to a 20% conversion rate on third downs, and their defensive line will have an advantage against a struggling Irish offensive line. The Irish should get plenty of opportunities for big plays to counter the Badgers blitzes, and if Jack Coan can get the time to survey the scene, Mayer and Co. could produce the chunk plays needed to come away with a victory.
RYAN ROBERTS, RISENDRAFT
Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Wisconsin 21
Heading to Soldier field, the Badgers are the favorites according to the experts. This is your traditional Wisconsin team, they play a physical brand of defense and try to control the football on offense. The difference would be which team can create some big plays. Notre Dame squeaks this one out, seeing some huge plays in the passing game to Michael Mayer and others.
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