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Free College Football Pick
Notre Dame is one win away from a likely chance at a National Championship. As we saw last week with Kansas State and Oregon, staying undefeated is no easy task. The Fighting Irish have some ugly wins, but they also beat Oklahoma by 17 points and Miami (FL) by 38. USC has only lost one home game all year and that was against Oregon in an 11-point loss. USC will have to get it done without starting QB Matt Barkley who is OUT with a shoulder injury. Max Wittek will start in his place. The Irish are currently favored by -6.5
Notre Dame hasn't been a football powerhouse in a while and that shows in the history between these teams. USC has won nine of their last 10 meetings and covered in seven of them. The Fighting Irish won two years ago in Los Angeles as 4.5-point underdogs, but they lost at home last year 31-17. It's hard to take much from that game as ND's defense is a lot better this season and Barkley won't be at the helm in this game.
Leading the way will be freshman QB Max Wittek who actually guaranteed a win over Notre Dame. That's a bold statement for a quarterback getting the first start of his college career against the No. 1 rated defense in the nation. Wittek has seen limited action this year, mainly in blowouts although he was 3-for-3 for 40 yards last week against UCLA. Curtis McNeal has taken over as starting running back of the Trojans and he's running really well. In two games he has 52 carries for 364 yards and two TDs. He will most likely get 20-30 carries once again to limit the amount of mistakes Wittek can make. McNeal had 24 carries for 118 yards in last year's game. The Irish will likely double, if not triple cover Marqise Lee in the passing game. Lee has a ridiculous 107 catches for 1,605 yards and 14 TDs through 11 games. If Wittek doesn't have his best option to throw to, what will he be able to do? That could be Notre Dame's way of thinking at least.
The Trojans haven't really stopped anyone defensively unless you count Colorado or California. That's been their main problem all year. Fortunately, offense has been Notre Dame's main problem this year.
Everett Golson is sort of coming around. His last three games have been his best three games all season with seven TDs coming in them. Granted, the combined record for those three opponents is 11-21. Nevertheless, he has thrown only five interceptions all year compared to 16 touchdowns (five rushing). The Fighting Irish will try and run as much as possible against a beatable defense. Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood will split most of the touches. The two have combined for 1,454 yards this season with eight TDs. USC allowed 171 rushing yards last week at UCLA.
Notre Dame is 2-6 ATS in their last eight games following an ATS win and 1-4 ATS in their last five against the Pac 12. USC is 5-2 ATS in their last seven home games, but 1-5 ATS vs. a team with a winning record. The Fighting Irish are 1-4 ATS in their last five meetings in Southern California. Most numbers point to the under in this game. The under is 7-1-1 in Notre Dame's last nine road games and 6-1 in the Trojans last seven home games. It has hit four times in the past five meetings between these two schools.
Our model has Notre Dame winning this one 21-14 and that's as if Barkley was playing. With Wittek starting, that margin obviously increases. Getting your first start against the #1 defense in the land is a tall order. He may be confident, but he's going to see things he's never seen before this week. Will he be able to scan the field when his primary receiver isn't open? When his next look isn't open? Doubtful. This is really a monumental task for Wittek and USC. Barkley would have had trouble with this "D".
The closest USC has come to this ND defense is their game against Stanford when they managed just 14 points and that was with Barkley. Notre Dame allowed 17 points and held everyone else under 14 points with the exception of Pitt. Call the Pitt game a letdown. That was immediately following ND's huge upset of Oklahoma. There should be no letdown this week. There's lots of talk in college football circles that the Irish don't belong in a title game. That they played a weak schedule and aren't as good as they look. This is a perfect opportunity to prove the doubters wrong with a big win that leaves no doubt.
A little revenge motive for USC's recent dominance in this series doesn't hurt. The feeling here is that if USC comes into this game and immediately takes the reigns off Wittek and allows him to air it out with no fear, it can only lead to a long day filled with turnovers. On the flip side, if they come in with a conservative approach because of the freshman, with a pound the ball approach, the Irish will simply shut it down. At anything less than a TD, we'll side with Notre Dame. Notre Dame -6.5
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