Back Defense with College Football Pick: Notre Dame vs. LSU

Willie Bee

Thursday, December 18, 2014 2:58 PM GMT

Year 1 of the new playoff system brings us a rematch of a former BCS Championship, and it should be better than that college football odds battle as Notre Dame collides with LSU during the Music City Bowl.

If you asked head coaches Les Miles and Brian Kelly back in August about the prospects of their teams meeting during the bowl season, chances are both would've smiled while imagining such a matchup taking place in the new College Football Playoffs. After all, it wasn't that long ago that LSU and Notre Dame played for the title, both teams entered 2014 ranked in the top 15 of the preseason coaches poll, and each had high hopes of being part of another National Championship picture.

Notre Dame and LSU will indeed go bowling against one another, though the stakes are much lower than a national title for the Fighting Irish and Tigers. Nashville is their destination instead, kickoff for the Music City Bowl set for 3 PM (ET) on December 30.

SBR's live college football odds saw the Tigers go out as 7½ point favorites, even climbing to -8 before the spread settled back down presently on an even touchdown. The total has seen a slight boost to 52½ at most sports books.

Everyone remembers the 41-14 butt-whippin' LSU put on ND in the 2007 BCS title tilt, but I can promise you there are very few of us who recall witnessing the first time these two met. That was a 3-0 win in South Bend for the Irish, and the series stands tied, 5-5. Another interesting note in this rivalry is they split two games in 1997 when Notre Dame scored a good upset in Baton Rouge mid-November before the Tigers got their revenge at the Independence Bowl with a 27-9 win a few days after Christmas.

 

Irish Expected To Be Thin In Defensive Backfield
Any hopes Notre Dame had of being invited to a bigger bowl were derailed by a 4-game skid to close the regular season. The Fighting Irish stood 7-1 entering that stretch, the only blemish up to then a narrow loss at unbeaten Florida State. The most embarrassing of the defeats was a 43-40 setback in South Bend to Northwestern, a game in which Notre Dame was favored by 17 and part of an 0-5 run vs. college football spreads to close the schedule.

Defense -- or lack of -- was a big part of the end-of-season slump as the Irish surrendered 178 points (44.5 ppg) during the losing streak. Four of their final five foes rolled up at least 205 yards on the ground, topped by Navy's 336, and the pass defense was porous all season. Notre Dame ranks 87th in the country allowing nearly 240 yards a game through the air, that average up an additional 25 in the final four tilts.

Injuries could leave the Irish vulnerable to that trend continuing vs. LSU. The safety position should be especially thin as defensve coordinator Brian VanGorder expects to be without the services of Max Redfield (ribs), Austin Collinsworth (shoulder) and Eilar Hardy (academics).

 

Can Bayou Bengals Mount Enough Offense To Cover?
Whether or not LSU's offense can take advantage of Notre Dame's defense remains to be seen. Sophomore QB Anthony Jennings was behind one of the most feeble passing attacks in the country, the Tigers ranking in the bottom 20 averaging 163 yards through the air, and they managed to score just 46 points -- half of those in the season finale at Texas A&M -- during four November games.

The ground game was solid, 29th in the nation and paced by true freshman Leonard Fourette. The top high school recruit from the Class of '14 ran for nearly 900 yards splitting time in the LSU backfield with Terrence Magee after Kenny Hilliard went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.

Louisiana State is undoubtedly the more talented side in this fray, but I'm hesitant to lay a TD on them. The total is in line with LSU's usual scoreboard tally, and a little below what we saw in most Irish affairs. Opposing trends -- LSU 5 'unders' at end, Notre Dame 5-0 'over' -- mean something has to give, and I'm inclined to back defense when that happens. Put me down for an 'under' play with my free college football pick.

College Football Pick: Notre Dame-LSU Under 52.5 at 5Dimes

Season: 61-43-1 (+13.70)