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Big Game Hunting: A Notre Dame-BC surprise? Brian Kelly says his best team yet will be ready

By Friday afternoon, at least 15 FBS games were on ice or off the season calendar altogether due to COVID-19 flare-ups. But the No. 2 Irish were set to play on.

Clemson v Notre Dame
Running back Kyren Williams celebrates a score against Clemson.
Photo by Matt Cashore-Pool/Getty Images

Maybe this whole college football thing wasn’t such a good idea.

Have you taken a look at the Week 11 schedule? There are more postponed or canceled games around the country than there are tall tales of voter fraud. If the Southeastern Conference had a mascot, it would be a tumbleweed for all the stadiums that will sit empty on Saturday. It definitely wouldn’t be a mask, but let’s not get into that here.

By Friday afternoon, at least 15 FBS games were on ice or off the season calendar altogether due to COVID-19 flare-ups. The Top 25 slate was like a breakfast buffet without the bacon and eggs. No. 1 Alabama at LSU: postponed. No. 3 Ohio State at Maryland: canceled. No. 5 Texas A&M at Tennessee, No. 12 Georgia at Missouri, No. 15 Coastal Carolina at Troy, No. 24 Auburn at Mississippi State — not on your plate this weekend, pal.

Which raises a question: Coastal Who? But we kid the Chanticleers. (No, we most certainly did not just google “Coastal Carolina nickname.”)

The real question: What, if anything, does this mean to Notre Dame? The answer is nothing, really. The Irish, 7-0 overall and 6-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play, put themselves on a pristine path to the playoff by beating then-No. 1 Clemson last weekend. They could win out and get the top seed. They could lose a game — any remaining game — and still get into the four-team field. They’ve given themselves some margin for error.

And speaking of that margin: No. 2 Notre Dame (-13½) at Boston College (2:30 p.m., Ch. 7, 1000-AM) is a dangerous game for the Irish. Don’t forget the Eagles (5-3) nearly won at Clemson two weeks ago after taking a 28-10 second-quarter lead.

Under-the-radar Jeff Hafley is doing strong work in his first season as coach. The Eagles defense has gone from awful against the pass in 2019 to very good under Hafley, who was a secondary coach for three NFL teams and later Ohio State. An even bigger improvement in the passing game has been made by BC’s offense. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec — a transfer from Notre Dame — has been on fire, and Zay Flowers and Hunter Long are doing things receivers haven’t done in Chestnut Hill since Matt Ryan was BMOC.

Also: With the Irish coming off the high of a double-overtime upset of Clemson, this is the classic trap-game scenario. Or maybe the Irish are just plain too good to screw this up. According to coach Brian Kelly, they’re better “across the board” than they were in 2018, when they reached the playoff, or in 2012, when they played in the BCS title game.

“Overall, on all three levels, it’s a more physical, faster football team,” Kelly said.

It’s important to note that BC can’t run the ball and the Irish are pretty much impossible to run on, anyway. That puts a ton of pressure on Jurkovec.

Pristine path? Yes. Easy street? No. Irish in a 27-20 dogfight.

OTHER WEEK 11 PICKS

Illinois (+7) at Rutgers (noon, BTN, 890-AM): From 2012 to 2015, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 19-45. Their coaches were Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith. In 2020, Schiano’s Scarlet Knights and Smith’s Illini are a combined 1-5. The Illini are 0-3, with a scoring differential of minus-72.

“The thing that jumps out at you on the tape is they play really hard and they’re the best ball-disruption team that I’ve seen in a long time,” Schiano said.

Where did he get this tape? Illini by three.

No. 23 Northwestern (-2½) at Purdue (6:30 p.m., BTN, 720-AM): The Wildcats are 3-0. The Boilermakers are 2-0. This is a lot more fun than it was when the teams were a combined 2-10 in the Big Ten heading into last year’s meeting.

“This will be a great opportunity for us to see how we stack it up and measure up against the top team in our division,” Boilers coach Jeff Brohm said.

The top team? That has a nice ring to it. But can Northwestern’s gritty defense handle explosive offensive playmakers David Bell and — if he plays — Rondale Moore? ’Cats, 24-23.

No. 10 Indiana (-7) at Michigan State (11 a.m., Ch. 7): The Hoosiers are the real deal. Football school 34, basketball school 24.

No. 13 Wisconsin (-4½) at Michigan (6:30 p.m., Ch. 7): Who knows what the Badgers will look like in their first game since the season opener? We’ve seen plenty of the Wolverines, on the other hand. Bucky by a touchdown.

Arkansas (+17) at No. 6 Florida (6 p.m., ESPN): The Hogs aren’t pushovers anymore, but the Gators’ passing game is sick. Good sick. Gators, 38-23.

My favorite favorite: No. 11 Oregon (-10) at Washington State (6 p.m., Fox-32): Too soon to hand the Ducks another Pac-12 title? Maybe not.

My favorite underdog: Arizona (+15) vs. No. 20 USC (2:30 p.m., Fox-32): The Wildcats have enough offense to keep this one entertaining throughout.

Last week: 5-3 straight-up, 5-3 vs. the spread.

Season to date: 16-10 straight-up, 12-13-1 vs. the spread.