The Notre Dame Fighting Irish haven’t been great home favorites since Brian Kelly’s arrival on campus, but they’ll likely do just enough to cover the number against the Rice Owls in the season opener.
A Challenging Start
Rice’s reward for winning its first outright league title since 1957 is opening up a new season on the road against Notre Dame and Texas A&M, which will be challenging for this Conference-USA group under eighth year head coach David Bailiff.
The Owls have been known to face strong competition in Week 1 the past four years—losing games to Texas (2), Texas A&M and UCLA by an average of 22 points—something to consider when looking at the line movement leading up to the opening kickoff on Saturday, Aug. 30, at 3:30 p.m. ET at Notre Dame Stadium.
College football bettors & handicappers need to be aware that the program has never made three bowl appearances in a row—a clear signal that the group may experience a major drop off from its 10-4 record of a year ago.
Golson is Back
Notre Dame is expected to face the toughest schedule in the country, but it may be able to handle the competition with junior Everett Golson returning under center, as he was suspended from the team for the entire 2013 campaign due to academic issues.
Golson is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, especially since he spent most of his time away from South Bend working with position coach guru George Whitfield.
The Fighting Irish have three starters on the offensive line returning, while running back Cam McDaniel and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels are legitimate playmakers.
Undersized Up Front
The Owls have covered the number in six of their last eight games as road underdogs, but they’ll be tested in a major way on the defensive line to continue that success in this matchup, as starting ends Derek Brown and Brian Nordstrom are extremely undersized at 225 pounds each.
Rice will be unable to gamble with its linebackers in hopes of stopping Notre Dame’s running game, as its secondary is less experienced than 2013—a group that welcomed back its entire two-deep roster.
Big Blue on Deck
It’s always dangerous to lay this type of number on a team in a major lookahead spot, but the Fighting Irish are 3-1 straight up and 2-2 against the spread before taking on the Michigan Wolverines in the Brian Kelly era.
Notre Dame has won all four of its prior meetings against Rice, while it has produced a 14-4 SU record in its last 18 home openers.
I’m going to recommend that readers back the Fighting Irish as one of their Week 1 college football picks, as they happen to be one of 14 teams to win eight or more games the last four seasons.
Due to Golson missing all of last year, I expect Notre Dame to be less vanilla on offense than usual before taking on a major rival the following week—allowing me to push aside the program’s 8-11-3 ATS record as home favorites since 2010
Free College Football Pick: Notre Dame Fighting Irish -24