Several high-profile games pepper the college football slate this Saturday, but none can match the playoff implications of No. 11 USC (6-1) at No. 13 Notre Dame (5-1).
“It’s kind of an elimination game because both USC and Notre Dame are hoping to play their way (into the playoff) with a winning streak down the stretch,” Notre Dame radio voice Don Criqui said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “But the loser on Saturday night is not going to get there because no two-loss team ever has. So it’s a very big game, that’s for sure.”
The Irish lost, 20-19, at home against then-No. 15, now-No. 3 Georgia in Week 2. That loss, however, looks better given the Bulldogs’ stellar play. Similarly, Notre Dame’s 38-18 win at Michigan State on Sept. 23 looks even better given that Sparty, now ranked 18th, upended then-No. 7 Michigan in Ann Arbor on Oct. 7.
Still, the Irish must beat USC to keep their playoff hopes alive, and the outcome of the game likely hinges on junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Will he be the guy who completed 70 percent of his passes (14-of-20) against Michigan State, or will he be the guy who has completed just 48.6 percent of his passes (54-of-111) in all other games combined?
“Wimbush is a wonderful player,” Criqui said. “I live in New Jersey and he was a high school star here. There’s coaches in New Jersey that say he’s the best high school player they ever saw in New Jersey. He has not had a lot of playing time at Notre Dame. I think he’s going to be a lot better this week. I know he’s had a very good two weeks of practice. He’s got just extraordinary ability and great leadership qualities. But going against USC, you better have those things or you’re not going to win. I think he’s going to have a big game Saturday night.”
Wimbush has been fantastic with his feet, rushing 68 times for 402 yards and eight touchdowns. As a team, Notre Dame is averaging 6.9 yards per carry, 308 rushing yards per game, and has scored 23 rushing touchdowns.
“They’ve gone back to old-time football,” Criqui said. “They’re running the ball first as opposed to Brian Kelly wanting to throw all the time. They’ve got a new coordinator (Chip Long) in now, and the running game has really helped them. They’re a much, much better team than last year.”
Kickoff from South Bend is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET.