Irish remain safe bet, both for sportsbooks and gamblers

Oddsmakers expect Notre Dame to have usual support despite new-look team, tough schedule

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Jack Coan

Jack Coan, throwing during the Blue-Gold spring game on May 1 in South Bend, Indiana, is the favorite to replace Ian Book as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback this season.

Robert Franklin/AP

LAS VEGAS — At a bar the other night, Notre Dame football served as a main course among Golden Nugget sportsbook director Tony Miller and friends.

Three-year starter Ian Book has departed, meaning coach Brian Kelly’s presumptive quarterback is 6-3 senior Jack Coan, a Wisconsin transfer.

“What does Kelly have up his sleeve for quarterback?” says Miller, parroting that tavern chatter.

Five-eleven sophomore Drew Pyne and 6-1 freshman Tyler Buchner are waiting in the Golden Dome wings.

Moreover, nearly the entire offensive line will be new. Overall, nine Notre Dame players were selected in the NFL Draft, a record for Kelly’s 11 seasons in South Bend. That’s a ton of talent to be replaced.

Those issues must concern Irish fans, as global a base that exists in college football that has not celebrated a national championship since 1988. Miller, though, expects the usual tsunami of green support.

“Notre Dame is one of the most public wagering teams ever,” Miller said. “The Irish will be included in all the public parlays and teasers every week. I don’t shade the numbers for that reason, but it’s always on my mind.”


Those supporters have been making money by blindly betting on the Irish. Cross-referencing two resources reveals that Notre Dame is 42-34 (55.26%) against the spread since 2015.

A win rate of 52.38 percent, of course, is required just to break even, factoring in the vigorish. A $100 bettor, therefore, is ahead 4.6 units, or $460, over that span.

The 2021 schedule is typically tough for the independent Irish, as evidenced by the South Point including nine of their 12 games on the 97 Games of the Year it released in late May.

Alabama, Auburn, Louisville and Ole Miss are each represented six times.

The Irish are an underdog only once, getting four points against Wisconsin on Sept. 25 at Soldier Field.

In fact, over the last five weeks, those Notre Dame lines have either not budged or moved against the Irish, South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews reported Tuesday.

The largest swing has been Nov. 27 at Stanford, in which money has moved the Irish from 6-point favorites to 9, then Sept. 5 at Florida State (from -6 to -8) and Oct. 9 at Virginia Tech (from -2 to -3.5).

Many opponents will be well-rested, too.

Ace college football handicapper Brad Powers notes that an incredible six Irish foes have byes before playing Notre Dame; no other team in the nation plays more than three opponents that are idle before they clash.

Of Wisconsin, Cincinnati (Oct. 2), at Virginia Tech (Oct. 9), USC (Oct. 23) and North Carolina (Oct. 30), only the Hokies do not get a week off before playing the Irish.


Coan will see familiar faces in the Badgers, but Wisconsin also knows him well. Advantage, Wisconsin, says handicapper Paul Stone, based in Tyler, Texas.

“The Badgers know [his] skill set and will game-plan defensively to take advantage of his vulnerabilities.”

Long Island ’capper Tom Barton senses Kelly could employ a quick hook, so look for Pyne to assume the reins. “But we all know the future is Buchner,” Barton said. He expects Kelly to redshirt Buchner.

The Bearcats, who have never played the Irish, are the most exotic opponent on Notre Dame’s schedule.

Cincinnati is 31-6 in coach Luke Fickell’s last three seasons. It was 9-0 a year ago before losing to Georgia 24-21 in the Peach Bowl. Desmond Ridder, a 6-4 senior quarterback, is a run-pass demon.

Under Kelly, fourth-ranked Cincinnati lost to No. 5 Florida in the 2010 Sugar Bowl. So maybe this isn’t the biggest game in Bearcats’ football history, but it’s in the mix.

“Fickell will have them ready,” San Diego handicapper Jim Schrope said. “A win by Cincinnati wouldn’t shock me. Cincinnati will never be this good.”

At the Golden Nugget, Miller has seen Cincinnati bet from 200-1 to 100-1 as an outside national-champion candidate; the Irish are 30-1.

Schrope says Notre Dame’s move against Virginia Tech is justified, although he has no lean. He likes the Irish -2 against USC. “Maybe not for a full whack [unit], but a half whack.”

Stone isn’t giddy about Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell, a Heisman hopeful who loses elite receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. “I don’t think [Howell’s] numbers will be as good as 2020,” he said.


Stone pits the Irish regular-season win total at 8.5. DraftKings opened at 9, Under at -125 (risk $125 to win $100), which he favors since 10 victories makes it a loser.

“That’s a tall order against that schedule,” he said, “considering some of their personnel losses.”

Miller believes Kelly could rely on 5-9 junior running back Kyren Williams, who ran for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. “At 100-1,” says Miller, “he might be worth a shot to win the Heisman.”

That dastardly Florida State opener, in which he’s seen the Irish as much as a 10.5-point favorite, scares Miller. The Seminoles were 21-29 in their last four seasons.

“There’s just something about the first game of the year, playing at home against a top-10 team like Notre Dame, that fires up a team and crowd. I think [10.5 points is] a little high in this spot.

“But the public will still lay it, no matter what.”

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