LAS VEGAS — They marveled at the Golden Dome, gawked at the 134-foot-tall granite-paneled Touchdown Jesus mural that faces Notre Dame Stadium.
The 1988 UIC Flames baseball team, for which Chicago native and Florida-based bettor John Murges pitched, lost twice (by 8-1 scores) at Notre Dame. He experienced the aura of an initial sporting visit to South Bend.
Of the baker’s-dozen experts I tapped for wagering insights on Saturday’s Cincinnati-Notre Dame football game, Murges is the one who has walked in the cleats of the Bearcats, who play the Irish for the first time.
“Impressive,” he says of the campus. “Surreal, invigorating and spiritual. Cincinnati may be favored, but, unfortunately for the Bearcats, the ghosts of Notre Dame will disrupt their plans. The Irish make it 27 consecutive home wins.”
No. 7 Cincinnati (3-0) opened Sunday as a two-point favorite at No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0) at Circa Sports, whose line I employed for consistency with my all-star panel.
Cincinnati has played in some big games but has come up empty.
In 1976, it lost at Georgia and Maryland, both top-10 teams. It lost the Orange Bowl, after the 2008 season, to Virginia Tech. A year later, it lost to Florida in the Sugar Bowl. It is 0-6 against Ohio State.
Considering stage and circumstance, this might be the most important game in the Bearcats’ 68-year history. With a victory, the relative minnow remains in the hunt for a national-playoff berth usually reserved for the game’s whales.
“The biggest, most publicized game in their history,” says San Diego handicapper and aerospace engineer Jim Schrope, who makes Notre Dame a two-point favorite.
“The stat sheet doesn’t show the Bearcats to be elite. Notre Dame is improving and gaining confidence each week. I think coach Brian Kelly and the home field will be the difference in carrying the Irish to a tight victory.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports-betting scribe Todd Dewey also likes Notre Dame:
“As a touchdown underdog, Notre Dame whipped Wisconsin and is now getting points at home? Yes, please. The Irish are 5-2 straight up and ATS as home dogs under Kelly. Make that 6-2.”
BOOKIES KNOW SOMETHING?
Notre Dame +2 covers, in a 9-4 ruling by our panelists.
Vegas handicapper Ted Sevransky — Teddy Covers at WagerTalk and SportsMemo — gives the rested Bearcats a situational edge: “The Irish have played four tough games in a row and are primed to run out of steam.”
Fellow Vegas ’capper Dana Lane also taps Cincinnati, crediting Notre Dame’s opportunistic defense but questioning its overall team speed.
Tom Barton, a Long Island-based handicapper, picks the rested Bearcats, too, against a Notre Dame squad that had a grand battle with Wisconsin.
I mention the Bearcats’ penchant for committing and inciting penalties and turnovers — a 4.8% interception rate and 2.5 giveaways per game, both bottom 20 nationally. Sloppy and aggressive, they were borderline dirty against Indiana.
“Could be,” Barton says, “but I think they can clean that up. If you saw it, the coaches definitely saw it.”
Bi-coastal bettor Bill Krackomberger recommends heeding the spread:
“The fact that Notre Dame is an underdog at home should tell you the bookmakers might know something. Throw in some shaky quarterback play from Notre Dame and a young offensive line, and I lean toward Cincinnati.”
JUST AIN’T READY
Texas ’capper Paul Stone likes ND as long as quarterback Jack Coan (sprained left ankle against Wisconsin) plays. He spotlights Notre Dame having won outright its last five games as a home underdog (see chart below) since 2014.
At the Vegas Stats & Information Network, Matt Youmans is 4-0 wagering on Irish games this season. He’ll take 2½ points, the number at several shops around town, but hoped to nab 3.
VSiN colleague Tim Murray’s father and sister went to Notre Dame, and he went to Chicago to watch the Irish pound Wisconsin.
That new Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman spent his previous four years as a defensive coach at Cincinnati benefits the Irish, Murray believes. This, he says, is the Bearcats’ Super Bowl.
“Is Cincinnati ready to be a road favorite against a top-10 team?’’ Murray says. ‘‘The Irish defense keeps improving, and Freeman will have great insight on his former team.”
In Boston, Sam Panayotovich, of Fox Sports and the New England Sports Network, cannot pass on a good team catching points at home.
The Mount Carmel graduate expects Notre Dame’s defense to badger Cincy quarterback Desmond Ridder the same way it pestered Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz. The Irish intercepted Mertz four times, including two pick-sixes at the end to turn the game into a rout. Wisconsin was idle, too, the previous week, but the Irish showed the stamina.
Case Keefer, who covers sports betting for the Las Vegas Sun, is on Notre Dame.
“The Irish likely won’t donate turnovers to the Bearcats like the Hoosiers did [with four] a couple of weeks ago,” he says. “And Notre Dame Stadium is significantly tougher to conquer than Memorial Stadium [in Bloomington, Indiana].’’
I see the Bearcats’ sloppiness undoing them. Not ready for prime time. I hear what the shoeshine boy says to Steve McQueen at the end of “Cincinnati Kid” when, finally, he beats McQueen in pitching coins against a wall.
It might be the collective voice of every Power Five program echoing down onto these Cincinnati kids.
You just ain’t ready for me, yet.
Notre Dame’s last five games as a home underdog:
Year Team Line Irish wins . . .
2020 Clemson ND +5 47-40 (2OT)
2018 Michigan ND +2½ 24-17
2016 Miami ND +1 30-27
2015 Ga. Tech ND +2½ 30-22
2014 StanfordND +3 17-14
Source: Phil Steele annual
No. 7 Cincinnati -2 at No. 9 Notre Dame
Notre Dame Stadium, 2:30 p.m. Saturday
On Bearcats -2 (Four) — Tom Barton, Bill Krackomberger, Dana Lane, Ted Sevransky.
On Irish +2 (Nine) — Todd Dewey, Case Keefer, Rob Miech, John Murges, Tim Murray, Sam Panayotovich, Jim Schrope, Paul Stone, Matt Youmans.