Notre Dame vs. USC Prediction, Pick Against the Spread, and Latest Odds
Spread: Notre Dame -6.5
Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Where to Watch: NBC
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. USC Trojans Prediction
USC is a tricky team for bettors to get a handle on in ways that go beyond the Trojans’ 3-3 record against the spread to start 2021. They have one of the more talented rosters in college football. Still, the results never materialized consistently under Clay Helton, and they’ve stayed up-and-down in the brief tenure of interim coach Donte Williams. All together, USC is 3-3 (not just against the spread but overall) and has either dominated or gotten dominated every week. However, while the overall picture of USC is one of mediocrity, you can tell yourself a story in any given week that USC might put it together and at least compete with just about anyone.
A matchup with Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday only makes things more complicated because the Irish have the talent to rival USC’s –– both teams are right on the fringe of the Blue-Chip Ratio club –– but have sprung their own leaks in the course of a 5-1 start. The Irish have done their own Jekyll-and-Hyde thing, and while their only loss is to No. 2 Cincinnati, they haven’t done anything of note against a team most observers would consider to be “good.”
So, here we are. Relatively little about this meeting feels safe to put money behind, but I think the best bet is that Notre Dame moves the ball well enough to have one of its better offensive performances. I don’t think the same will be true for USC, and as a result, I like the Irish to cover a 6.5-point spread in their own stadium. Some useful numbers support that bet.
Two projection systems I like, Bill Connelly’s SP+ and ESPN’s Football Power Index, suggest Notre Dame should win this game by well more than a touchdown with a home-field adjustment. Those systems aren’t the be-all, end-all guides to wagering on games, but I consider them good starting points when looking into bets to place. And if you look under the hood at the underlying matchups of USC vs. Notre Dame, you’ll find more things that support the Irish covering. Notre Dame should win by more than a touchdown, with some blowout potential.
The biggest weakness for the Irish is the offensive line. That group lost four starters to the NFL after 2020’s College Football Playoff campaign, but many people who follow the program expected things to come together more than they have with their replacements. Instead, Notre Dame’s been lousy both in pass protection and generating push for the run game. Despite having one of college football’s most talented tailbacks, Kyren Williams, Notre Dame enters the weekend 124th in FBS in yards per carry, at 2.8. It’s a downright grim situation.
But USC’s rush defense has not been good. The Trojans are 86th in yards allowed per rush, and they’ve gotten particularly gashed in two of their last three games, against Oregon State (6.3 yards per rush) and Utah (5.1). On the other side, the Notre Dame run game finally got into gear in a win over Virginia Tech that sent the Irish into their bye week. If you believe Notre Dame is capable of more than it’s shown on the ground thus far and could still round into better form, this would be a strong candidate for a breakout game. You could also talk me into Irish Quarterback Jack Coan having one of his more competent games here, given that the Trojans did not play well against Stanford’s Tanner McKee, a similarly statuesque pocket passer who takes forever to wind up his throws. By 2021 standards, this is an excellent matchup for Notre Dame’s offense.
Will the USC offense answer? Maybe. The Trojans are better at moving the ball than the Irish, but they haven’t played a good defense this year, let alone an elite one like they’ll see in South Bend. I find it likely that Notre Dame will play better than its average game on offense, and USC will play worse than its own. USC’s Quarterbacks have not been consistent and have really only had two standout games against Washington State and a bad Colorado team.
Both teams here are flawed, but that doesn’t change the fundamentals here. Notre Dame is better and playing at home, and 6.5 feels a little too small not to lay the points.