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Big Game Hunting: A trap? Notre Dame better be ready for Syracuse in the Bronx

It’s one of the emptiest, lamest, most overused expressions in the college football business: “trap game.”

Team A really shouldn’t lose to Team B, but you know what? Trap game. What’s the only thing that could derail the Blue Blood Express now? Trap game. How do I write about this matchup without being even more boring than usual? Trap game.

Oh, please.

If there’s one thing No. 3 Notre Dame (-10½) vs. No. 12 Syracuse (1:30 p.m., Ch. 5, 1000-AM) is not, it’s a — say it with me — trap game. The 10-0 Irish have better players, more to play for and have long since proved they’re a team that knows how to show up on Saturday ready to get the job done.

Notre Dame's Ian Book celebrates as he scores a touchdown against Northwestern. | Jim Young/AP Photo

Then again, there’s zero pressure on the upstart Orange. Come to think of it, the 8-2 Orange have scored 50 or more points in half of their games. And then there’s the fact that the Orange are fired up as all get-out to take their swings at Yankee Stadium, whereas not everyone at Notre Dame is thrilled to have to travel to the Bronx for a game that originally was scheduled to take place in South Bend.

And isn’t it possibly the case that some of the Irish are looking ahead to next weekend’s game at rival USC, which sets up as the potential clincher in this drive toward the College Football Playoff?

OK, so maybe it’s kind of a trap game.

Here’s why I think Syracuse can hang in this game: Its passing attack is the best — by a mile — the Irish have faced all season. Eric Dungey is a prolific quarterback. He has three of the top 10 receivers in the ACC in Jamal Custis, Sean Riley and Nykiem Johnson. And not only that, but the Orange bring offensive balance with 32 rushing touchdowns and opportunism with a plus-13 turnover differential.

But, again, the Irish have better players, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They have no excuse not to be locked-in with the playoff so close they can smell it. And they should have quarterback Ian Book back from injury and raring to go. Irish win by a score of 4-3. (Sorry, just a little Yankee Stadium baseball joke.) Make that 40-30.

BEST OF THE REST

The ugly truth: Week 12 might be the worst of the season in terms of marquee matchups. Aside from Notre Dame-Syracuse, there are only two games in which ranked teams are playing each other — and neither of those games is a genuine needle mover.

Yet we soldier on.

No. 16 Iowa State (+3) at No. 15 Texas (7 p.m., Longhorn Network): It’s Senior Night in Austin. It’s the Longhorns, my preseason pick to win the Big 12. As it turns out, it’s a league title elimination game for both teams. But I don’t like how banged up Texas is, and I’m loving the rise of these pass-happy Cyclones. Upset alert.

No. 24 Cincinnati (+7) at No. 11 UCF (7 p.m., Ch. 7): To get to 23 wins in a row, the Knights will have to topple a tough Cincy team that’s relishing a chance to go through Orlando en route to an AAC title. Sneakily, this could be one of the games of the year across the country. Knights in overtime.

USC (-3½) at UCLA (2:30 p.m., Fox-32): I refuse to apologize for including a game between the 5-5 Trojans and the 2-8 Bruins. I’m not saying I shouldn’t apologize, just that I won’t. Trojans, 24-17.

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No. 20 Boston College (-1½) at Florida State (2:30 p.m., ESPN2): The Seminoles are 4-6, their 36-year bowl streak — the longest in the nation — at stake. Will they rise heroically to vanquish the Eagles before upsetting rival Florida to salvage the season? Sure, dudes. BC all day.

Miami (-5½) at Virginia Tech (2:30 p.m., ESPN): The 5-5 Hurricanes are the biggest flops in college football. The 4-5 Hokies have the next-longest bowl streak — 25 years — after FSU. Because of the Sept. 15 cancellation of a game due to Hurricane Florence, Virginia Tech is actually shopping for a 12th game in hopes of preserving the postseason run. Kind of sad, actually. The other Hurricanes by 14.

My favorite favorite: Stanford (-2) at California
(6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network): Cardinal make it nine in a row in the Big Game.

My favorite underdog: Nebraska (+2) vs. Michigan State (11 a.m., Fox-32): Scott Frost and the Huskers have been angling for a signature win all season. They’re finally ready to pull it off.

Last week: 8-1 straight-up; 5-2-2 vs. the spread.

Season to date: 56-24 straight-up; 39-38-3 vs. the spread.

THE LOCALS

NORTHWESTERN AT MINNESOTA

The facts: 11 a.m., BTN, 720-AM.

The records: Northwestern 6-4, 6-1 Big Ten; Minnesota 5-5, 2-5 Big Ten.

The storyline: No doubt, the Gophers turned heads with last weekend’s 31-point blowout of Purdue in Minneapolis. But if they really want to impress us, they’re going to have to start winning essentially every league game like the Wildcats do. There has been speculation that Northwestern might take its foot off the gas with a division title clinched and “nothing to gain,” as the expression goes, but it’s football — isn’t there always something, even the symbolic or the perceived, worth scrapping for? If Minnesota had an “East” or a “West” before its name, or a “State” or a “Tech” after it, it might be cause to doubt Pat Fitzgerald’s greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts squad. But nope.

The line: Pick ’em.

Greenberg’s pick: Northwestern, 27-20.

IOWA AT ILLINOIS

The facts: 2:30 p.m., BTN, 670-AM.

The records: Iowa 6-4, 3-4 Big Ten; Illinois 4-6, 2-5 Big Ten.

The storyline: It boils down to just how ready the Hawkeyes are to rumble. At their best, they’re wicked defensively and explosive, with an underrated passing game led by terrific quarterback Nate Stanley, offensively. That Iowa team is too much for the Illini. But if Iowa comes in with its guard down, the Illini can get out of the gate fast with their own dangerous offense as they did two weeks ago in a blowout victory over Minnesota. Lovie Smith’s team needs a lightning-bolt start and then a wave of emotion to carry it through the rest of the game. Yes, it’s a lot to hope for.

The line: Hawkeyes by 14½.

Greenberg’s pick: Iowa, 38-27.