College Football Picks: Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2013-14 Futures

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 8:34 PM UTC

Wednesday, Jul. 3, 2013 8:34 PM UTC

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish were able to make it to the BCS Championship Game last year, but are the college football odds makers expecting them to make a return visit this season?

Predicting any team’s ATS success or their college football odds in the off-season is a challenge, but we have discovered some correlations worth examining. In general, a team’s ATS season record usually stems from the difference between expectations and actual results. Those expectations can be measured by their variation in straight-up (SU) wins (from the previous season), their preseason ranking, and an extreme (either very good or very bad) ATS season immediately prior to the one in question. Coming off of a 12-win season (SU) and a BCS National Championship appearance, the Fighting Irish should be seen as a team with very high expectations.

Over the past 10 seasons, every time Notre Dame had the same or fewer SU wins in a season (compared to the previous one), they had losing ATS years. In 2012, the 12 SU Fighting Irish wins tied their record for most wins in a single season. If history is any guide, unless Notre Dame can go undefeated in 2013 (including a Bowl game victory), they cannot improve on their SU win total.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have been ranked in the top-25 of the Associated Press (AP) Preseason Poll four times in the past 10 years. Those were the four worst ATS seasons for the Irish. Notre Dame beat the spread just 34.59% of the time during those four seasons. Although the AP Poll is still more than a month away, Notre Dame is all but guaranteed to be in the preseason top-25 for 2013.

The Irish had four profitable ATS years in the last ten; each profitable year was followed by an unprofitable one for the first three, and the fourth profitable season was last year, 2012. (I am sure you know where this is heading...) What sort of ATS year do you suppose Notre Dame will have in 2013? 

Betting Trends and the Public

Notre Dame has been a public favorite for more years than betting data can be tracked. Over the past 10 years alone, no matter where the game was played, no matter what the betting line was, Notre Dame had the majority of the public betting on them around 61% of the time, even though they only beat the spread around 45% of that time. Playing in Notre Dame Stadium is even worse for college football bettors backing the Irish. For all the talk of Notre Dame’s home field advantage, the Irish are a pitiful 34.92% ATS at Home over the past 10 years. The more the public bets on them at Home, the more Notre Dame loses ATS at Home. Over the past 10 seasons playing at Home, the Irish:

  • have not had a single profitable ATS year;
  • are a miserable 27.59% ATS as double-digit favorites;
  • are a pathetic 23.08% ATS as double-digit favorites when getting at least 59% of the public betting;
  • are an abysmal 1-8-1 (11.11%- excluding the push) ATS when getting 70% or more of the public betting.

For the love of the Gipper (who loved to gamble), is there anything positive about betting on Notre Dame? Well, there is. Over the past 10 seasons, they are 58.62% ATS as Away underdogs. Perhaps surprisingly, Notre Dame has been a good choice for your college football picks, winning six out of their last nine games ATS, as double-digit Away favorites.

2014 BCS National Championship Futures Betting

As this is being written, Bovada has Notre Dame at 40-to-1 to win the 2014 BCS National Championship, giving them the 17th shortest odds on the board. In a previous article, we outlined our 60% Rule, where all BCS National Champions had at least three of the following five criteria before starting their championship seasons:

1) an upperclassman quarterback;

2) a top-20 scoring defense one year prior;

3) a preseason top-10 ranking;

4) membership in the Southeastern Conference (the SEC);

5) a head coach who had been at the school for two to four years.

Certainly, an entire article could be devoted to the off-season quarterback situation at Notre Dame. For those lamenting the loss of Everett Golson, there is some reason to be taken off of suicide watch because of senior QB, Tommy Rees. Rees knows this offense better than redshirt freshman Everett Golson did, and Rees has proven himself the better passer. An examination of Brian Kelly’s play-calling in his first three years at each of the FBS schools where he coached reveals that Kelly wants to throw more than run:

Play-calling Under Brian Kelly at Central Michigan


Play-calling Under Brian Kelly at Cincinnati


Play-calling Under Brian Kelly at Notre Dame


Note how steadily the running decreased while the passing increased under Brian Kelly over the course of his three years at each school prior to Notre Dame. In 2012, because of Golson’s lack of familiarity with the offense and his dependence on his running ability, Kelly’s team ran the ball more and threw the ball less than any of his other eight FBS teams. Tommy Rees is a pocket passer. With Rees under center, the Irish will run an offense that gets much closer to the pass-heavy attack that Kelly prefers. Besides, in case people missed it, Notre Dame won their way into the National Championship through their 7th-ranked total and 2nd-ranked scoring defense, not their 54th-ranked total and 80th-ranked scoring offense. For the purposes of predicting a BCS National Champion, suffice it to say the Irish will have a senior at the quarterback position.

Of the 15 previous BCS Champions, 13 (86.67%) had top-10 scoring defenses, and 6 out of 15 had top-2 scoring defenses the year they won it all. Those statistics should underscore the importance of having an exceptional scoring defense. As a predictive criterion, 12 out of 15 teams (80%) had a top-20 scoring defense the year before winning the BCS. Already mentioned, in 2012, Notre Dame’s scoring defense was the second best in the country- second only to the 2013 BCS National Champion. (See how important scoring defense is?) That means the Fighting Irish meet the predictive criterion, and there is reason to believe the 2013 version could be as good or even better than that outstanding defense of 2012: Notre Dame returns more starters in 2013 than all the other teams with top-10 scoring defenses from 2012, except for Bowling Green (and according to the NCAA, Bowling Green played the 111th most difficult schedule in 2012, while the Irish played the 4th most difficult). Three of Notre Dame’s top-four tackles-for-loss leaders return, four of their top-five sack leaders are back, and even though Manti Te’o and his seven interceptions are gone, everyone else who intercepted a pass in 2012 will be back for 2013.

The third criterion of the 60% Rule is having a preseason top-10 ranking. With the Preseason AP Poll yet to be released, current projections have Notre Dame ranking in the top-10 more often than not. It is difficult to predict just how much of a downgrade the AP will give the Irish without Golson, but we credit Notre Dame with half a point in this predictive category.

As for the final two criteria, Notre Dame is definitely not a member of the SEC, but Brian Kelly does enter his fourth year as head coach of the Fighting Irish, allowing Notre Dame to meet that last criterion: having a head coach in that position for two to four years. In total, Notre Dame meets three-and-a-half of the five predictive criteria of the 60% Rule, making them a candidate worth consideration for the 2014 BCS National Championship.

Early Preseason Conclusions

There are so many good reasons to think that Notre Dame will have a bad against-the-spread season in 2013. (Get ready to bet against the Irish!) As for the 2014 BCS National Championship, however, in meeting at least three of the five predictive criteria for the 60% Rule (combined with the luck of the Irish), at 40-to-1, Notre Dame should be considered a good value for a 2014 BCS National Championship futures bet.
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