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    No. 10 USC at No. 21 Notre Dame: Who has the edge?
    • October 13, 2023

    No. 10 USC (6-0) at No. 21 Notre Dame (5-2)

    When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana

    TV/Radio: NBC/790 AM

    Line: Notre Dame by 2½

    Notable injuries: NOTRE DAME: PROBABLE: S Thomas Harper (concussion protocol), WR Jaden Greathouse (hamstring), RT Blake Fisher (hand), USC: QUESTIONABLE: WR Zachariah Branch (undisclosed), LB Mason Cobb (undisclosed, possibly rib)

    What’s at stake: Bowl-game – and potentially College Football Playoff – implications. Not quite as dramatic, and certainly plenty more fluid, than when Notre Dame came to the Coliseum at the end of USC’s 2022 season in the Heisman capper for Trojans QB Caleb Williams, but facts are facts: The Trojans and Fighting Irish drag heavy chips on padded shoulders to a rainy Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday. USC is 6-0, in a record that’s impressed few amid tight games against Colorado and Arizona and never-ending chatter over the defense; Notre Dame is 5-2 and reeling after a disheartening loss to Louisville. Each program can make a national statement Saturday.

    Who’s better? Hey, here’s the first time this question in this space has a sort-of unclear answer! Notre Dame’s offense was rolling behind running back Audric Estime and Wake Forest transfer quarterback Sam Hartman – and then hasn’t scored more than 21 points in three consecutive games. USC has more depth at skill positions, but that’s offset by a drastic gap in defensive results, particularly as Notre Dame wields a strong cornerback duo in Benjamin Morrison and Cam Hart. The edge here – just as in last year’s battle for the Shillelagh – may come down to Williams and uncorked bursts of on-the-fly glorious spontaneity.

    Matchup to watch: Ah. So many. Let’s get specific: Estime vs. USC’s linebacker group. The Trojans have had zero cohesion at the ILB spot, and may have even less Saturday as captain Mason Cobb was absent from media viewing periods at practice Tuesday and Wednesday. Freshman Tackett Curtis got literally bowled over on one play last week by Arizona’s Jonah Coleman, who ran for 143 yards, and Estime is an explosive 227-pound back who’s run for 692 yards in seven games. Perhaps we’ll see more of Eric Gentry, who’s been highly productive in limited snaps over the past few weeks.

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    USC wins if: Caleb Williams continues to show why NFL teams should tank for him (hi, Sean Payton), the Trojans hold Estime to sub-100 yards on the ground (a mark he hasn’t hit in his last three games), and Hartman doesn’t spawn any more TikTok fancams.

    Prediction: USC 31, Notre Dame 28. If Lincoln Riley’s Tuesday speech backing his defense held any weight, Saturday could make him look genius. The world shall see Saturday.

    ​ Orange County Register