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USC visits Notre Dame on Saturday night
By: Robert Livingston - StatFox
Published: 10/19/2013  at  3:12:00 AM
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Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Line: Notre Dame -3, Total: 50.5

Both off to disappointing 4-2 starts, Notre Dame and USC will look to avoid another defeat as the two square off in South Bend on Saturday night.

The Fighting Irish are slight favorites in this one despite their recent struggles at home against USC, going 0-5 SU against the Trojans in South Bend since 2001. Last season when these two teams met, the Notre Dame defense dominated en route to a 22-13 road victory. This season, the Trojans are 2-4 ATS, but are 1-0 SU and ATS since interim head coach Ed Orgeron took over. That one game was a 38-31 win against Arizona last week as 5.5-point favorites. Notre Dame, meanwhile, is 1-4-1 ATS and coming off its lone ATS win of the season, a 37-34 victory against Arizona State as seven-point underdogs. A key player to watch for in this one is the health of USC star WR Marqise Lee, who missed the Arizona game and if healthy, is perhaps the most dynamic threat on either team in this contest.

Which team will prevail in this storied rivalry? For the answer, connect to College Football Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 regular season and bowl season. The experts continued their hot streak in college football Best Bets with a strong 64% ATS record (14-8-2) this past week, highlighted by StatFox Brian's perfect 6-0 ATS mark. The four experts are now a combined 59% ATS (75-52-5) for the season. StatFox Gary is a sizzling 73% ATS (11-4-1) in college football Best Bets over the past five weeks and 63% ATS (12-7-1) this year. StatFox Brian is also at 63% ATS (17-10-1) for the year in Best Bets, while StatFox Scott is 59% ATS (13-9-2) on Best Bets in the past four weeks and 57% ATS (21-16-2) for the season. StatFox Dave is 71% ATS (12-5-1) on Best Bets in the past three weeks and 57% ATS (22-17) for the season.

While USC QB Max Wittek struggled against the Notre Dame defense last year, heís no longer under center for the Trojans, as QB Cody Kessler now takes the snaps. Kessler has been far from dominant, but he has been serviceable while completing 60.4% of his passes (81-for-134) for 1,129 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He also has big-play capability with three touchdown passes of more than 60 yards, including a career-high 80-yarder to Lee, who leads the team with 30 catches for 385 yards. That was Leeís lone touchdown of the year, however. On the ground, Tre Madden leads the way with 115 carries for 611 yards (5.3 YPC) and three touchdowns. Heís joined by Justin Davis (51 carries for 349 yards, 6 TD), who has more big-play capability. The Trojans rush defense has actually been quite good, giving up only 3.7 YPC, and the pass defense hasnít been terrible either, giving up 6.3 yards per attempt with opponents completing just 56.8% of passes.

QB Tommy Rees (105-of-203) has had an up-and-down year for the Fighting Irish, completing only 51.7% of his passes for 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has now gone three consecutive games with completing fewer than 50% of his passes, with 6 TD and 4 INT in that span. The Notre Dame rushing attack is fine, but has just four scores all season, led by George Atkinson III (56 carries for 323 yards, 5.8 YPC) who has two touchdowns, including an 80-yarder. Reesí main weapon in the air is TJ Jones (33 catches for 481 yards, 4 TD), while DaVaris Daniels and Troy Niklas also both have four touchdowns on the year, including receptions of more than 65 yards. Like USC, the Notre Dame defense has been surprisingly respectable, giving up 3.8 YPC and 6.4 yards per passing attempt on a 60% completion rate.

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