Notre Dame-UNLV is a numbers game — and the numbers are big

Early lines for October matchup in South Bend reveal professional bettors’ thought process.

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Notre Dame, led by coach Marcus Freeman, is favored from 26.5 to 33 points against UNLV this fall.

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LAS VEGAS — The chasm between two football programs might not be greater than when UNLV plays at Notre Dame on Oct. 22.

The Fighting Irish claim 11 national titles. The Rebels, meanwhile, have had just 10 winning seasons since their first in 1978, two since 1995.

How two veteran Vegas sportsbook directors opened this line, though, provided a compelling twist to the game and a window into how professional bettors operate.

The South Point’s Chris Andrews opened Notre Dame -33. The Golden Nugget’s Tony Miller debuted the Rebels as 26.5-point underdogs.

Such a variance gave swift gamblers an unusually immense middling opportunity.

Long Island handicapper Tom Barton would have given that 26.5 and taken the 33, he said, “but I’d have gone heavier on the 26.5 because that would only go up.”

Power-rating figures from WagerTalk ace Ralph Michaels establishes a line of Irish -29.5 points, the difference between UNLV’s 60 rating and Notre Dame’s 86, plus a 3.5-point home-field advantage.

Andrews laughed Monday when notified of that opening discrepancy between his and Miller’s figures: “OK, I wasn’t aware of that. If we get bet, we’ll move it. There’s been a couple” of wagers on the Irish.

Hence, he has moved it to Notre Dame -32.

A UNLV graduate, Miller is an unabashed Rebels honk. He posted lines on all of their 2022 games, and money has flowed in against UNLV in every one.

“Their Super Bowl,” he says of his Rebels playing Notre Dame. “They might not win, but they might show up and give me a game.”

ROUGH REBELS RUN

The Notre Dame game materialized when an ex-UNLV athletic director secured $1.35 million for a likely thrashing. NIU will receive an Irish-record $1.4 million in 2024.

UNLV-Notre Dame is one of this season’s peculiar matchups, which includes Colgate at Stanford, Samford at Georgia, Arkansas State at Ohio State and Bethune-Cookman at Miami. The Hurricanes might review UNLV’s history to avoid ignominy against the B-C Wildcats, an FCS program in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Known widely as the most notorious defeat in college football history, 45-point-underdog Howard, an FCS squad from Washington, D.C., upended UNLV 43-40 in Las Vegas in 2017.

Somehow, Rebels boss Tony Sanchez lasted two more full seasons. This is Marcus Arroyo’s third season, but the program with ultra-slick facilities and the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium continues to flail.

Over the last eight years, UNLV is 24-67. Only New Mexico State (22), UConn and UMass (both at 18) and Kansas (14) have fewer Division-I triumphs since 2014. Moreover, linebacker Jacoby Windmon, the lone returning all-conference Rebel, transferred to Michigan State.

The Irish are a top-10 76-26 in that span. As poor as the Rebels have played lately, however, Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman should heed these minnows.

As a road underdog since ’14, according to TeamRankings, UNLV has covered the spread at a 61.9% clip (26-16-2), losing by an average of 13.3 points.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, has covered at a top-10 56.4% rate (57-44-1) in all of its games during that stretch.

At DraftKings, the Irish have a projected 8.5-victory total, -125 on Over (risk $125 to win $100), +105 on Under (bet $100 to earn $105). UNLV’s is 4.5, +110 Over, -130 Under.

The Rebels have won five games only once since 2014, at 5-7 in 2017, so that Under offers another tantalizing angle.

TEMPTING MIDDLE

The Irish open at Ohio State, host Stanford before UNLV visits and go to Syracuse — not a look-ahead worry, Barton said — the following week. The Rebels play Air Force in Vegas before venturing to South Bend.

“UNLV will be forced to prepare for Air Force’s triple-run attack,” Barton says, “so the Rebels will be re-installing their regular defense after a week of [Falcons preparation].

“Plus, Air Force is a night game, so the Rebels will have early body clocks for Notre Dame.”

The UNLV-Notre Dame kickoff is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Vegas time. Barton believes all of that favors the Irish.

Others weren’t eager to fiddle with this middle, no matter the early variance. All-around dead numbers, Vegas handicapper Noah Parker called those opening lines.

Winning two bets on a final margin being 27, 28, 30 or 31 points wasn’t enticing?

“Nah,” he says. “Those big numbers don’t interest me. Now, if it’s -12 and -6.5, that’s another story.”

Paul Stone, a sharp handicapper from Tyler, Texas, says a 5.5-point disparity would most register with him, too, if a game’s line opened less than 7.

With such a high line, in the four-touchdown range, the possibility of an even greater final-score margin — a huge blowout — factors into this equation.

“Eliminating any value in playing both sides, in my opinion,” Stone wrote in an email. “However, a person would hit the middle at 27, 28 and 31 points, which are all possible margins of victory for Notre Dame.”

Still, he wouldn’t have bitten.

“But I wouldn’t [have faulted] a man too much if he [had] grabbed a ticket on both the Irish and Rebels at the favorable numbers.”

Which have evaporated. Miller returned from a Cabo San Lucas holiday Tuesday to report that his shop had moved to Notre Dame -30.

“They took the dog at the South Point and laid the points with us,” says Miller, whose eternal Rebel optimism is admirable. “Trust me, UNLV might make a bowl this year. You read it here.”

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