The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will battle the temptation of complacency and the Pittsburgh Panthers this week as their pursuit of a BCS National Championship berth continues.
The Irish have officially announced themselves as legitimate national championship contenders after last week's huge win against the Oklahoma Sooners. With a rivalry game against Boston College next week, the Irish will be looking to avoid falling to a trap game against Pittsburgh this week.
The Panthers have bounced back from an ugly 2-4 start to win two straight and will be looking to take another step toward bowl eligibility. If the Panthers can pull off the upset, it would certainly be a signature win for the program.
Here's everything you need to know about this intriguing matchup between Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.
When: Saturday, November 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
Watch: NBC (check local listings)
Spread: Notre Dame -16.5 (via Covers.com)
The Irish come in as a pretty sizable favorite over the unranked Panthers. That's no surprise. Considering Notre Dame beat Oklahoma by 17, this line seems like it might be a bit low.
However, when you look at what the Irish have done at home, the line sounds about right—Notre Dame has had close calls at home this season against Purdue, Michigan, Stanford and BYU. For whatever reason, the Irish have had a hard time getting separation from opponents when playing the role of host.
On the other hand, Pittsburgh hasn't shown that it puts together good performances away from home. The Panthers are 1-2 on the road this season with the lone win coming against Buffalo.
Notre Dame's offense hasn't been an explosive unit this season, but it really seemed to click last week. Everett Golson took a big leap forward with his performance against the Sooners, and the offense should reap the benefits this week.
As long as the Irish can keep things going with the offense, they should have no issues covering this spread.
Over/Under: 45.5 (via Covers.com)
With Notre Dame's stingy defense, the under seems like a good bet here.
The Irish are allowing a mere 9.9 points per game, and Pitt's offense has struggled to find consistency all season. The Panthers put up 47 against Temple last week but were held to 13 points in their last road loss against Syracuse.
Ray Graham and Tino Sunseri give Pitt the balance they'll need to threaten this defense, but points will be at a premium.
If this game does happen to go over, it'll be close. It's much more likely that this game goes the way of a defensive slugfest and stays low-scoring.
Pittsburgh Injury Report (via USA Today)
LB Shane Gordon, Ankle, Questionable
DL Jack Lippert, Undisclosed, Questionable
LB Dan Mason, Stomach, Out for Season
OL Ryan Schlieper, Foot, Out for Season
LB Manny Williams, Knee, Out for Season
OL Juantez Hollins, Suspension, Out for Season
Notre Dame Injury Report (via USA Today)
RB George Atkinson III, Flu, Probable
K Nick Tausch, Groin, Questionable
S Jamoris Slaughter, Achilles, Out for Season
CB Lo Wood, Achilles, Out for Season
TE Alex Welch, Knee, Out for Season
S Austin Collinsworth, Shoulder, Out for Season
As the BCS National Championship race heats up, every game the Irish play will be under the microscope of pollsters and fans alike. The Irish currently sit at No. 3 in the BCS rankings and have been the talk of college football since last week's monumental win against the Sooners.
A loss here, and this magical season comes to a screeching halt as any shot at a national championship appearance would most likely be gone. However, a win against Pitt keeps the dream alive.
With Oregon taking on USC, Kansas State playing a ranked Oklahoma State team and Alabama facing LSU this week, the other undefeated teams face much tougher challenges, so the Irish will need to win in style to impress voters.
Pitt has long been removed from competing for a conference title this season, so there are little to no BCS implications for it other than spoiling Notre Dame's storybook season.
Keys for Pittsburgh Victory
Panthers quarterback Tino Sunseri has quietly had a great season with 2,199 yards passing and 13 touchdowns to two interceptions while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. Sunseri will have to continue that incredible efficiency to give his team a chance in this one.
The Irish defense has been extremely stout against the run this season. Ray Graham will find it difficult to grind out yards against the physical front seven he'll see Saturday. However, the Irish secondary has shown weakness at times.
Landry Jones was able to pass for 356 yards in last week's game, so the key will be finding opportunities in the passing game and cashing in on them.
On defense, stopping the run will be key, as they will need to force Golson to beat them with his arm. The Panthers have the tools to spring the upset, but they'll need to play a near-perfect game to score enough points and keep the Irish offense off the board.
Keys for Notre Dame Victory
Focus will be key for the Irish if they want to avoid the possibility of a trap game.
The Irish win last week was no doubt the best of their season, so the main priority this week will be avoiding a letdown at home.
On paper, Notre Dame has nearly every advantage in this game. It only needs to play the game it's played all year to come away with the win. That means establishing a power run game on offense and letting the defense do its thing.
As long as the Irish can avoid a catastrophic day of turnovers, they should win this one with ease.
If you don't believe in the Irish by now, you should probably get your head inspected.
Notre Dame is putting together quite the season, and this team has been special to watch. The Irish don't put up the style points of Oregon or feature a Heisman Trophy candidate like Kansas State, but they boast the best defense outside of the SEC and are fundamentally sound.
Sunseri probably keeps the Panthers in this game early, but Manti Te'o and Co. will get to him eventually. When they do, it won't be pretty.
For all of their inconsistency, the Panthers have had some good moments this season. This won't be one of them.
Predicted Score: Notre Dame 27, Pittsburgh 10