The Irish open as an 11-point favorite against the USC Trojans. Using overall and unit rankings from SP+, I examine what to expect on primetime Saturday night.
You can jump over to ESPN for a quick primer on SP+ but it’s a method to quantify team and unit efficiency. I decided to compare the relative strengths of each unit as they’ll appear on the field, so looking at Southern Cal’s offensive ranking compared to the Notre Dame defensive ranking (and so on).
The first quick note: there are four teams ranked in the top-30 for offense, defense, and special teams in 2019–they are LSU, Georgia, Auburn….and Notre Dame. Without further ado:
ND Offense vs. SC Defense
First, some good news: when Notre Dame’s 18th-ranked offense is on the field, they should have a substantial advantage over the 51st-best Trojan defense. The Irish run blocking scheme has proven frustrating against top-tier defenses, but there are sufficient weapons on the ground and through the air to leverage this advantage
SC Offense vs. ND Defense
Despite Clay Helton’s ever-warm coaching seat, SC manages to bring in top-shelf offensive production (19th-best SP+) at the skill positions. Their experience and depth should get tested in this game, and the Irish will need to utilize their various weapons on their 27th-ranked defense to create backfield pressure and neutralize the long-ball threat.
Irish fans perpetually hope the game doesn’t rest on special teams (ND: 26th, SC: 35th), although the home team enjoys a slight edge here as well. Long returns or a botched punt attempt could swing momentum in this contest.
Notre Dame is currently ranked 13th in SP+, while USC sits at 29. The Irish haven’t looked dominant against good competition, but have consistently covered the point spread despite failing to sneak out of Athens with a victory. Southern Cal, on the other hand, has fallen victim to inexperience and uneven play against decent-to-good teams, and both Trojan losses (Washington and BYU) are statistically inferior to the 2019 Irish. Let’s hope Irish eyes are smiling come Saturday night.