My final five takes about Notre Dame and its schedule ahead of its matchup against the 18th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
1. It seemed like an impressive win at the time. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said that Florida State had an “infusion of veteran players and they had them playing well.” The Irish won 41-38 in overtime, but it's been downhill for FSU since. The Seminoles (0-3) are off to their worst start since 1976. They lost to Jacksonville State on the final play the week after the Notre Dame game. Wake Forest blew them out 35-14 last week. FSU head coach Mike Norvell is not in a comfortable place. Toledo, which was one of the best MAC teams that Kelly said he’d seen, followed up a 32-29 loss to Notre Dame with a 22-6 loss to a mediocre Colorado State (1-2) team at home. This could be an ominous sign for the Irish for Saturday’s game against Wisconsin.
2. The hope is that the Irish (3-0) offensive line is finally rounding into form. The reality is that no one knows if this line has made a substantive leap after rushing for 120 yards against Purdue. Fifty-one of those yards came on one carry. A win against the Badgers (1-1), who are favored by 6.5 points, would solidify the narrative that Notre Dame is improving upfront. The Irish can’t get off to a slow start offensively as it did against Purdue when it failed to score in the first quarter because Wisconsin will shorten the game. Against Penn State, the Badgers had the ball for 42:10 in a 16-10 loss. In a 34-7 win over Eastern Michigan, Wisconsin held the ball for 39:30.
3. A loss to the Badgers could be the start of a rough stretch for the Irish. They play Cincinnati (3-0), which is ranked eighth by the Associated Press, at Virginia Tech (2-1), a team that was ranked to start the season, then USC (2-1) on Oct. 23, and finally North Carolina (2-1), which is ranked No. 21 on Oct 30. Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, USC and North Carolina all have the week off before they play Notre Dame. The “fire” officially starts on Saturday. It's definitely a difficult stretch.
4. Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan was called a “good egg” by Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said all sorts of flattering stuff about Coan, but ended by saying he hopes he has one bad game this year. Coan would seem to be the perfect quarterback to exploit the Badgers’ defense, which has given up just 111 yards rushing in two games. Notre Dame has to attack Wisconsin’s defense with its passing game. Coan, if he gets into a rhythm, can get hot. See the final drive of the Toledo game or the Florida State game, where he was 26 of 35 for 366 yards with four touchdown passes.
5. I make this prediction with a great deal of uneasiness: Notre Dame 24, Wisconsin 20. It’s impossible to have a good feel for how the Irish will play against what is certainly the toughest opponent on its schedule so far. I like the fact that the Irish didn’t have a week off because its offensive line needs all the work it can get. No one was seriously injured last week and they had their best fourth quarter of the year against Purdue. So, ya, take the Irish but hold your breath.
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