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CFB Data Preview: Notre Dame vs USC

The data story going into the 94th matchup between Notre Dame and USC football!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 23 Ohio State at Notre Dame Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s USC week and Notre Dame (5 – 2) will be facing off against an undefeated Trojan squad. One of the biggest storylines coming into this matchup is that the sports-books are calling out Notre Dame as the favorite. I was pretty shocked when I saw that news but once you dig through the numbers it actually makes a lot of sense.

So here we go.

Opponent History

This weekend will mark the 94th meeting between the Notre Dame and USC football programs. It’s one of ND’s longest and most storied rivalries. The first game traces back to 1926 and the Irish pulled away a +1 point win. Over the course of the entire series, Notre Dame is the overall victor with 50 wins compared to USC’s 38. The programs have somewhat surprisingly tied five times, but I guess it makes statistical sense given how many games have taken place.

The biggest win for Notre Dame was a 51-0 shutout of USC in 1966 and the biggest Trojan win came via the 38-0 shutout in 2007. The average point difference throughout the series is an extremely slim, 1.3.

Notre Dame will be looking to rebound from its 2022 loss to USC which broke a four-game winning streak between 2017 and 2021.

Schedule Overview

A quick glance at USC’s 2023 schedule outcomes through Week 6 explains why the Irish are a favorite to win. The Trojans are 6-0 but their win margins have taken a bit of a nose dive.

Their best outing was a 66-14 win over Nevada, which was followed up by a 56-10 victory over Stanford. But against Colorado they tallied up a +7 win and last week against Arizona that metric dropped to +2. While Caleb Williams and the USC offense have demonstrated their ability to throw up points, the defense is apparently deteriorating in a way that’s really comprising the team’s ability to win games.

Offensive Summary

USC is averaging 523 yards of total offense per game. There are a lot of oohs and ahhs surrounding the Trojan’s offense but their numbers have been trending downward. The team hit a season low of 365 total yards of offense against Arizona last week. Not a surprise to anyone who even remotely follows college football, the passing attack is the crown jewel of USC’s offense and it’s likely going to stay that way this weekend. They’ll be facing off against an Irish secondary that isn’t perfect but’s stood up well against pass heavy teams this season.

Passing Summary

The Trojans hit a season high passing completion percentage of 83% against Stanford and a season low of 56% against Arizona. This doesn’t factor in attempts but it’s another sign that the chinks in the collective team are starting to become more apparent at this point in the season. I’d be a fool to completely count out Caleb Williams this weekend but since the Stanford game, things just haven’t been clicking as much.

Rushing Summary

USC is averaging 28 yards per rushing attempt. They utilized the ground game the most in their 56-28 win over San Jose State and the 43-41 win over Arizona. For their rushing efforts, they haven’t got much in return. They racked up 10.8 yards per carry against Nevada but also executed a season low of 20 attempts in that game. Arizona State was their second-best game in terms of rushing efficiency but over the last two weeks they’ve tallied up between 3.8 and 4.4 yards per carry.

Turnover Summary

The 2023 USC team has excelled in not turning the ball over. They’ve got four total across six games. Caleb Williams threw one interception against Colorado but the other three turnovers have come by way of fumbles.

Final Thoughts

From a numbers perspective, this is a winnable game for Notre Dame. But given how everything has been going for the Irish over the last three games, the outcome will probably be determined by the stuff you can’t quantify. Perhaps they find a second wind after a pretty brutal first half of their schedule pair it up with the expectations associated with a big-time rivalry game and return to the form that we fell in love with in August.

There’s also the chance that the USC squad takes the sports-books favoring of Notre Dame personally, couple it with the excitement of a rivalry game and start to right some of their downward trends. For this one, y’alls guess is as good as mine. Pulling for an Irish win but also preparing myself for a letdown and inevitable deluge of pieces and commentary about how the football program is dead.

That’s the burden I guess we all signed up for when we became Notre Dame fans whether we read the fine print or not. But life’s short and reading terms and conditions is for losers.

Cheers and Go Irish!!