LAS VEGAS -- Brian Kelly has led better teams in his 12 years at Notre Dame, but he’s doing one of his best coaching jobs this season.
The Fighting Irish (8-1) are sitting on the fringe of the College Football Playoff picture and hoping to avoid the chaos that could take down other Top 10 teams down the stretch. Notre Dame puts a pair of impressive streaks on the line Saturday at Virginia: 39 consecutive wins against unranked opponents and 37 straight wins as a favorite.
When running back Kyren Williams is rocking, the Irish are rolling. Williams has totaled 513 rushing yards during the team’s four-game win streak. Kelly made adjustments to his offensive line after an Oct. 2 loss to Cincinnati, and an improved ground attack has helped quarterback Jack Coan.
The Irish should not have many problems against a Virginia defense that allowed a total of 106 points in the past two games. The Cavaliers embarrassingly surrendered 734 yards in a 66-49 loss at Brigham Young in late October. The bright spot for Virginia has been Brennan Armstrong, who passed for 337 yards and ran for 94 yards while accounting for six touchdowns against BYU. Armstrong has a rib injury and his status is questionable.
Notre Dame’s wins against North Carolina, Purdue and Wisconsin are looking better. The Irish close the regular season against Georgia Tech and Stanford, so the odds are in their favor to finish 11-1.
The pick: Notre Dame -5.5
PENN STATE (+ 1.5) over Michigan: If the Nittany Lions prevail, it will be because of their defense and the playmaking ability of quarterback Sean Clifford. These teams are mirror images in most ways, though Penn State is getting much less respect at No. 23 in the AP poll. The Wolverines are 2-22 straight up on the road versus ranked teams since 2006.
TENNESSEE (+ 20.5) over Georgia: It’s intimidating to bet against a Bulldogs defense allowing 6.6 points per game. However, it’s a defense that has yet to face a quarterback who can strike deep downfield with a talented group of receivers, and the Vols’ Hendon Hooker (21 touchdown passes, two interceptions) is finding a groove in coach Josh Heupel’s big-play offense.
The weakness of the nation’s No. 1 team is the quarterback position, whether it’s Stetson Bennett or JT Daniels. All elite teams get tested at some point and Tennessee has the talent to test Georgia.
Nevada (+ 3) over SAN DIEGO STATE: The Aztecs rank 10th in the nation in scoring defense (16.7), and Nevada is scoring 36.4 points per game. Carson Strong has completed 70.5 percent of his passes with 25 touchdowns for the Wolf Pack, who pack more offensive firepower and have won three in a row in this Mountain West rivalry.
Last week: 1-3
Hawaii (W), Rutgers (L), Texas-Iowa State Over (L), New Mexico (L)