The game of the weekend in college football is the neutral site showdown between the no. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the no. 12 Syracuse Orange. Kickoff is set for 2:30 EST on Saturday, November 17, at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. The game will be nationally televised on NBC.
Oddsmakers list Notre Dame as 9-point favorites. That line has moved down slightly after the Fighting Irish began the week favored by 9.5 points. The over/under for the game is set at 66.5 points. Click here to check out a full listing of this week’s college football odds.
The Fighting Irish enter this game with everything on the line. They are a perfect 10-0 on the season and in line for a spot in the College Football Playoff if they can win their two remaining games. However, Syracuse may represent the toughest challenge the Fighting Irish have faced since they beat Michigan the first week of the season. Notre Dame’s fan base believes the team can survive a loss, especially to a top-15 team, and still manage to stay in the top-4. However, there’s no guarantee that they’ll make the CFP with a loss on their resume.
Syracuse, on the other hand, is playing with house money. The Orange are riding a four-game winning streak that has taken them to 8-2 on the season and their highest spot in the rankings since 2001. They have already wrapped up a spot in a bowl game and head coach Dino Babers has made it a point to mention several times this week that this game doesn’t even count in the ACC standings. With a win, the Orange could almost guarantee a New Year’s Six bowl game, but other than that, they’re free to approach this game free and loose.
These two teams have met sporadically over the years, including a shocking upset for the Orange in South Bend in 2008. However, the Fighting Irish have won the last two meetings between the teams in 2014 and 2016. Those games were also played on neutral turf. Of course, it’s safe to say that Syracuse isn’t the same team they were during those games.
I have no doubt that the Orange present a legitimate challenge for Notre Dame. However, the Irish still have an edge in talent and depth over the upstart Orange. The Fighting Irish know what’s at stake in this game and the 12 next to Syracuse means they won’t take the Orange lightly. Syracuse will put up a fight, but Notre Dame will find a way to pull away in the 4th quarter and cover the spread.
The Orange have been led by their offense all season, and with good reason. They are averaging 44 points per game, putting them among the top-5 in the country. Quarterback Eric Dungey is one of the toughest and grittiest runners in the country, and not just among quarterbacks. He’s also a competent passer who is more than capable of hitting on a few deep balls.
The caveat is that the Syracuse offense hasn’t faced many defenses with Notre Dame’s talent. The Irish have the players on the defensive line to put consistent pressure on Dungey and make it difficult for him to hit his targets. Accuracy has been an issue for Dungey at times this season, and that could be the case again if Notre Dame can win the battle at the line of scrimmage.
The one time Syracuse faced a defense with equal or better talent to Notre Dame, they lost to Clemson. To be fair, the Orange nearly pulled off the road upset in that game. However, they had to settle for field goals far too often rather than being able to punch the ball into the end zone. Syracuse was also held to seven points in the 2nd half of that game. With the way the Orange have relied on their offense this season, they can’t afford a similar dry spell against the Irish.
On the other side of the ball, the Irish will get quarterback Ian Book back after he missed last week’s win over Florida State due to injury. Book has completed nearly 75% of his passes this year, posing a huge challenge for a Syracuse secondary that’s a little banged up right now. If there’s hope for the Orange it’s that they’re one of the best in the country at forcing takeaways, collecting 10 during their current four-game winning streak. However, Book has been able to limit himself to just four interceptions this season.
At times, the Syracuse defense has also been vulnerable against the run. Both Clemson and Pitt were able to exploit that weakness in the games Syracuse lost this year. Even with a passer like Book, the Irish are plenty comfortable leaning on running back Dexter Williams, who exploded for over 200 yards last week. Knowing how much Book can hurt them, it may be tough for the Orange defense to focus on stopping Williams as well.
All things considered, Syracuse will need almost everything to go their way to win this game. They’ll need to hold their own at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and win the turnover battle. For the record, it’s possible and the Orange are capable of pulling off the upset. But the safer pick is Notre Dame covering the spread.