Notre Dame needs to play like a champion on Saturday to have any shot at playing for a national championship in January.
The same goes for Southern California, a 3½-point underdog to the resurgent Fighting Irish in the 89th installment of their rivalry that shapes up as a virtual College Football Playoff elimination game.
The No. 13 Irish (5-1) enter the first Top-25 matchup between the teams since 2009 with a 5-1 record against the spread while the No. 11 Trojans (6-1) travel to South Bend, Indiana with a 1-6 ATS mark.
“It’s a complete advantage for Notre Dame in this game because they had a bye week and USC had a tough game against Utah,” Westgate sports book manager Ed Salmons said. “It was a night game so it’s kind of a shortened week and they had to travel across the country. USC is still banged up.”
Salmons also gives the coaching edge to the Irish’s Brian Kelly over the Trojans’ Clay Helton.
Notre Dame, which has surpassed last year’s win total, has the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing offense and averages 40 points. The Irish’s opportunistic defense allows only 16.8 ppg. USC quarterback Sam Darnold has thrown nine interceptions this season as his early Heisman hopes have taken a major hit.
“It’s hard to go against Notre Dame in this spot,” CG Technology sports book vice president Matt Holt said. “There’s no way I would take it with USC. I would only lay it with Notre Dame.”
No. 2 Penn State (6-0) is a 9½-point favorite over No. 19 Michigan (5-1) in Saturday’s other marquee matchup.
The Wolverines are coming off a 27-20 overtime win over Indiana that followed their 14-10 home loss to Michigan State. The Nittany Lions, who were whipped 49-10 by Michigan last season in Ann Arbor, are coming off a bye week.
“It’ll be closer than the point spread. Michigan will keep it close,” Salmons said. “They’ll play their slow, methodical style. They like to run the ball and use a lot of clock. Michigan’s really good at stopping the run and Penn State has struggled to run this year. Unless Michigan turns the ball over, they’ll keep it fairly close.” The line opened at 10 before money on the Wolverines moved it to 9½.
“That game would’ve never been 10 to start the year off. But Penn State has played well and Michigan has struggled at times,” Wynn Las Vegas sports book director Johnny Avello said. “The way (the Wolverines are) coached, this is a game they’ll come in and be ready for, knowing it’s such a big game for them.”
Holt said a big sharp play is on Arizona, a 3-point road favorite over California after the line opened at 1. The Golden Bears are coming off a stunning 37-3 win over then-No. 8 Washington State that was only the second-ever upset of a top-1o team in school history.
“Sharps always like to bet against teams coming off their biggest win of the year,” Holt said.
Salmons also likes the Wildcats, who are fourth in the nation in rushing.
“This is probably a game where Cal will have a letdown,” Salmons said. “Arizona should handle them without too much of a problem.”
Salmons also likes Wake Forest as a 5½-point underdog at Georgia Tech.
“Wake had a bye last week and has a really good defense,” he said. “This is a really good spot for Wake. I think they’re going to beat Georgia Tech here.”
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Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.
Here are eight plays for Week 8 (Home team in caps):
Colorado State (-7.5) over NEW MEXICO
Syracuse (+17) over MIAMI
Wake Forest (+5.5) over GEORGIA TECH
TULANE (+12) over South Florida
Arizona (-3) over CALIFORNIA
West Virginia (-9.5) over BAYLOR
NOTRE DAME (-3.5) over Southern California
TEXAS TECH (-7) over Iowa State
Last week: 5-2 against the spread