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  • After handling a decent test from Northwestern, Notre Dame has three winnable-yet-tricky games left on its schedule to head into selection Sunday undefeated.
By Joan Niesen
November 03, 2018

It took a touchdown with 2:45 remaining in Saturday night’s game for No. 4 Notre Dame to seal its win over Northwestern, 31–21. For the Irish, a brutal November is now one quarter of the way complete.

Going up against Alabama-LSU, Notre Dame-Northwestern was never going to be the more thrilling of the evening matchups, but this one erred toward lackluster. It wasn’t particularly messy, nor was it especially exciting or even suspenseful. Notre Dame played fine, putting up big offensive numbers but never quite getting enough of a cushion over Northwestern, which couldn’t quite put up the defensive effort needed to keep the Irish contained. Irish quarterback Ian Book finished the night with 343 yards and two touchdowns, and he played especially well in the second half of the game, when he logged 236 of his passing yards and the offense capitalized on big plays—a 47-yard touchdown pass and a 23-yard run, both by Book—for two of its touchdowns.

With Alabama's win over No. 3 LSU, the Irish have a chance to move up in the College Football Playoff rankings, and as they head back to South Bend for their final home game of the season, Brian Kelly’s team can breathe a sigh of relief that its second so-called trap game of five to end the season (it beat Navy in San Diego last week) is behind it.

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What’s next, then? Here's a look at the tricky, but not-too-tricky opponents Notre Dame is up against in its remaining schedule:

Nov. 10: vs. Florida State

Sure, the Seminoles are having one of their worst seasons in recent memory—they lost, 47–28, to NC State on Saturday—but they’re still a wild card, with plenty of talent. It’ll take a minor miracle in South Bend for Florida State to come out with a win, especially considering how hard it’s struggled to put up points all year. The Seminoles are averaging fewer than 25 points per game, against defenses far less stingy than Notre Dame’s—and it’ll take more points than that to keep up with Book and company.

Nov. 17: vs. Syracuse (at Yankee Stadium)

After that, things get more interesting. Few guessed before the season that the Orange would be a more formidable test than Florida State, but here we are. Syracuse is ranked No. 22, and it beat Wake Forest on Saturday to go to 7–2. Quarterback Eric Dungey is finally healthy, but against the Demon Deacons, the Orange proved they’re more than just a big passing game. Dungey played fine but put up middling numbers in the air, and the offense won with its ground game. Syracuse in a neutral site game with a mixed crowd might be able to trip up the Irish, especially if it can keep up the scoring clip it’s found all year; right now, it’s the country’s No. 7 offense.

Nov. 24: at USC

The final trap comes on the opposite end of the country in Week 13. The sheer travel alone might be enough to trip up Notre Dame, regardless of how talented the Trojans' opponent might be. Sure, USC is having a down year, but it’ll go to 5–4 if it beats Oregon State Saturday after most of the world is long asleep and its roster is still loaded with talent. Plus, coach Clay Helton could be coaching for bowl eligibility at that point—or for his job. Stranger things have happened than the underdog (which the Trojans almost certainly will be at home) winning in this rivalry series.

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