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First look: WSU vs. Notre Dame

Time: 4:30 p.m. (PDT) Saturday. TV: NBC

The records: WSU (1-6, 0-5 in Pac-10); Notre Dame (5-2)

Last week: Notre Dame defeated Boston College, 20-16

WSU lost to Cal, 49-17

Last time: Notre Dame defeated WSU, 29-26 in OT, in South Bend in 2003.

The line: Notre Dame by 30

What it means for WSU

You mean besides the more than $1 million for the Washington State athletic budget? The Cougars step out of conference play with a chance to play a big-time opponent at a neutral field. San Antonio’s Alamodome will be filled with almost all Notre Dame supporters, of course, but it isn’t South Bend, Ind. After playing USC, Oregon and Cal, Notre Dame shouldn’t seem overwhelming for the young Cougars, who will probably have a healthy offensive line for the first time since the second week of the season. The national stage – all Notre Dame home games are televised by NBC – would seem to be a perfect spot for WSU to put together its best game of the season.

What it means for Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish are fighting for the right to play in a BCS game. They are 23rd in the BCS standings this week and must rise to eighth to be ensured a spot in the major bowls. With a relatively weak schedule the rest of the way, the Irish cannot afford a defeat against WSU. Even a close game might cost them in the human polls. Notre Dame is playing four Pac-10 schools this season (Stanford is on the schedule Nov. 28) and, after a close loss to USC and an overtime win over Washington, the Fighting Irish need to prove they are better than just a middle-of-the-road Pac-10 team.

Key matchup

Notre Dame receiver Golden Tate versus WSU cornerbacks Brandon Jones and Terrance Hayward.

The Irish passing attack has been efficient this season – quarterback Jimmy Clausen is second in the nation in passing efficiency and Notre Dame is 11th in passing yards per game – but it’s Tate who brings the flash. The junior is averaging more than seven receptions a game, he’s caught eight touchdown passes, including four in the past two weeks, and he averages 16.3 yards on his 52 receptions. The Cougars pass defense will have to be near-perfect to contain Tate and the Irish passing attack. That’s where Jones and Hayward come in. They each struggled at times last week, with Jones missing an assignment on Cal’s first touchdown and Hayward getting beat deep in single coverage for a 61-yard reception later in the game. If WSU wants to have a shot, Jones and Hayward have to come through.

– Vince Grippi