How bettors should approach their Notre Dame problem

You often hear variations of the phrase “Vegas knew” when a scoreboard result lands close to a point spread. That phrase was probably never less true for a major college football program than with erratic Notre Dame last season.

A quick recap heading into Monday night’s 2019 season opener at Louisville (ABC, 8 p.m.):

  • September 2018: Notre Dame was supposed to lose its season opener to Michigan, but won by a touchdown. It was supposed to then crush Ball State as a 34-point favorite, and Vanderbilt as a 14-point favorite, but could only win nail-biters by scores of 24-16 and 22-17. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush was benched. Ian Book ignited the offense in 56-27 and 38-17 victories over Wake Forest and Stanford, respectively, that easily covered inexpensive overreactions.
  • October 2018: Notre Dame opened the month with a prime-time statement, embarrassing Virginia Tech, 43-23, in Blacksburg as a 6¹/₂-point favorite. The market finally believed the Irish were for real — just in time for a flat 19-14 scare as a 21-point favorite over Pittsburgh. To this stage, Notre Dame games had missed their point spreads by 9¹/₂ , 26, 9, 23¹/₂, 16, 13¹/₂ and 16 points in one direction or the other.
  • November 2018: After a couple of games in which Notre Dame did play to the market (victories over Navy and Northwestern), volatility shot off again with a 42-13 win over Florida State as a 17-point favorite, a 36-3 win over Syracuse as a 10-point favorite, but only a 24-17 win at USC laying two touchdowns.

Fittingly, Notre Dame would miss the spread by double digits in its national semifinal versus Clemson, losing 30-3 getting 10¹/₂ points.

It’s not an exaggeration to say the Irish rode the highs and lows of Book’s passing. He was sacked three times and threw two interceptions in the tight win over Pitt. He completed just 56 percent of his passes and threw a pick in the non-cover at USC. He was humbled completely by Clemson, with a passing line of 17 completions, 34 attempts, one interception for 160 yards and six sacks.

That could provide a reasonable shortcut for handicapping Notre Dame games this season. When facing soft defenses that can’t disrupt a high-percentage passing game, the talented Irish may name the score again. But, when facing athletic defenses (or when dealing with flat spots on the schedule), Irish backers will be sweating their investments.

Two obvious challenge games jump off the 2019 schedule. Notre Dame visits projected national power Georgia on Sept. 21, and Michigan on Oct. 26, Early-bird lines project Georgia by 10-11 points, Michigan by a touchdown.

Louisville isn’t expected to provide much opposition Monday. The Cardinals are rebuilding under new coach Scott Satterfield (from Appalachian State) after Bobby Petrino was fired late in last season’s 2-10 debacle. Louisville missed the market by 29, 26, 11, 23 and 23¹/₂ in its final five losses of a 1-11 point-spread implosion.

Oddsmakers had trouble with both teams a year ago. Can you outsmart the market with Notre Dame and Louisville this season?

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