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PROVO — It’s time for all that is traditional and magical in college football to be celebrated this week by college football fans in Utah.
Touchdown Jesus; Notre Dame Stadium; the statue of college football legend Lou Holtz — all of it exemplifies that which is commonly associated with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, winners of 11 national championships.
Notre Dame, which played for the BCS national championship last season, has climbed to a 7-3 record this season and is currently fighting BYU and Old Dominion for the title of the nation’s best independent football team, as Old Dominion is at 8-3 and BYU is at 7-3.
Last season, this game was remembered for being the game that nearly derailed Notre Dame’s national championship hopes. Indeed, BYU had a chance to knock off Notre Dame, had it not been for an incomplete pass that exemplified the Riley Nelson era. Now, Cougars fans are hoping the team has found a quarterback that can lead the team into ever-greener pastures as Taysom Hill has led BYU to a 6-1 record since a 20-13 loss to Utah in late September.
BYU has changed, but Notre Dame has really changed. The Irish lost quarterback Everett Golson and also lost linebacker Manti Teo. The only thing that hasn’t changed at Notre Dame is Brian Kelly’s quest to keep the Irish in the national conversation.
A win for either program would bring them good publicity, so the key matchup to watch in BYU’s trip to South Bend is the matchup between BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees.
Why this matchup?
Notre Dame may not be in the Big Ten Conference, but the Fighting Irish are as Big Ten as Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes. They are built around a physical defense, size on the line of scrimmage and an offense that prides itself on efficiency. In short, Notre Dame plays to make opponents make mistakes.
So, in order to win the game, BYU will have to match the intensity brought by Notre Dame on Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium. Hill has improved since the Utah loss and has had games where he has even impressed fans and critics alike. The Houston game showed Hill had grown much since his early season woes; however BYU still struggled to move the ball with much gusto against Wisconsin.
There is no doubt that BYU will have the game’s best wide receiver in Cody Hoffman, so it is imperative that BYU get him the football as often as possible. Also, Hill needs to try to establish Williams as a threat to catch the football as well. If the running lanes open up, there is no doubt Hill will best Rees. However, if the Cougars plan on Hill carrying the load in the air and on the ground, BYU will struggle.
Who wins this matchup?
This game is a chance for both quarterbacks to pick up a notable win. Indeed, these two teams are the most prominent independent programs in college football. But Hill will have a tough match against him as Notre Dame’s defense is a still-impressive unit.
Hill has thrown 16 touchdowns; Rees has thrown 24 touchdowns. And Rees is at home. Notre Dame and BYU are just about even as teams, but playing at Notre Dame Stadium will be just enough of an advantage for the Fighting Irish and Rees to outlast BYU.