It is early March, Notre Dame has had three spring practices, so it’s time for some 2019 predictions! At least it is according to BetOnline in Las Vegas, who set the over/under win totals for the top college football teams for 2019. As the headline suggests, Notre Dame came in at 9.5 wins, the same as Oregon, Texas, and Michigan, a half game better than LSU and Florida, and worse than Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Washington, and UCF.
This suggests Vegas doesn’t see last season as some sort of sign the program is ready to make a jump, but it does put it to the fans, or bettors, to decide if that is the case. Of the the teams who finished in the top 5 last season, Notre Dame is the only one with an over/under total below 10. Is this a double digit win program or still a nine or eight win outfit?
Reasons To Bet The Under
Major Personnel Losses
Notre Dame was led by the defense last season, and was only able to do so because they brought back Jerry Tillery, Drue Tranquill, Te’Von Coney, and Julian Love (who was not yet eligible to depart). The first three players all had decisions to make heading into last off-season, and all three were thought at one point to be favorites to leave. Imagine going through last season without those those three in the front seven. Now, they are all gone, and with them went first team All-American corner Julian Love. The top four players from the best unit on the team are gone. Without any natural replacements. That’s not great.
Now consider the offense also lost their top receiver, Miles Boykin, and their top running back, and possibly only home run threat at the position in Dexter Williams. That’s a major hill to climb for any program, let alone Notre Dame who doesn’t recruit at the level of the other top programs with projected wins above them.
Notre Dame was pretty fortunate with the schedule last season. Their toughest regular season game was at home. USC, Virginia Tech, Stanford, and Florida State were all down, and Stanford was at home. This doesn’t take away from their wins at Northwestern and against Syracuse away from home, two teams that heavily outperformed their preseason predictions. But, when the blue-blood teams, and teams with more on paper talent than you–USC and Florida State–are disappointments, that makes the schedule much easier to navigate.
This season, they may not be so lucky. Georgia and Michigan are road games, as is Stanford at the end of the year. The first two teams are not likely to be down in any way, especially Georgia, and we saw Notre Dame struggle with a bad USC to end last season, and that was while protecting an undefeated season. Imagine how that game goes if Stanford is to be the 10th win, instead of the 12th, as was the case in 2017.
Then factor in a rising Virginia team right after Georgia and Virginia Tech right after USC and Michigan. There are a lot of potential pitfalls in there.
Reasons To Bet The Over
Personnel Losses Are Not New
This isn’t the first time the team has lost a lot of top talent prior to a successful season. In fact, it happened just last season. Notre Dame lost two top ten picks on the offensive line, their top running back, wide receiver, and starting tight end from the previous season. They ended up making some tweaks to the offense, inserted a better quarterback and simply found some other way to win football games. And while they did lose a ton on defense, the losses weren’t total.
Notre Dame brings back their best defensive end talent in years, maybe decades, with Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, Daelin Hayes, and fast rising Ade Ogundeji. They have bodies who have produced at defensive tackle, and perhaps the best returning safety tandem in a long time. Linebacker is obviously a concern, but is it any more of a concern than offensive line was last season? Especially after losing Alex Bars against Stanford.
There are lots of ways to win games. What if Ian Book makes a leap in 2019, along with his receiving corps? What if Notre Dame’s offensive line, which now has a ton of starts and experience to it, makes a leap of their own? Shouldn’t those two things be not just possible, but expected? Couldn’t the offense finish in the top 10, as the defense did last season, while the defense “falls” to just being top 25, as the Notre Dame offense was with Book last year?
Is Notre Dame Beyond Schedule Fears?
When looking at the schedule, there is one team ahead of them as far as program health, and that’s Georgia. They are top 3 in team talent, and will be a top 4 team when Notre Dame plays them in Athens next season. A tough hill to climb. But, everyone else? Notre Dame is the better program than everyone else on their schedule.
They are healthier program wise than Stanford, USC is a dumpster fire, Michigan is also losing a ton of talent, and people aren’t exactly excited in Ann Arbor. It’ll be a tough game certainly, but Notre Dame’s program is in a better place right now.
Obviously, college football is college football and losses happen for no good reason every season. That’s not a new thing. And maybe major injuries happen or a suspension, and the calculus changes. But as it stands now, there is really only one team for Notre Dame to fear.
I’m going to bet on Brian Kelly and his program. They’ve got staff continuity, they’ve got a returning quarterback who finished 17th in passer rating last season, tons of talent and experience on the offensive line, and should have a stellar pass rush. Those are recipes for success. This is what Kelly has been building towards since he revamped the team following 2016. It’s the third season of that rebuild and it’s time for his program to peak, and this year will show they are ready to do so.