Notre Dame vs. Ohio State Week 1 Pick
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-2 SU, 9-4 ATS 2021) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2 SU, 6-6-1 ATS)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 3rd, 7:30 PM
Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
Point Spread: ND +16 / OSU -16 (Did you know you can make Ohio St +4 by inserting them into a massive 20 point college football teaser at Wagerweb?)
Over/Under Total: 58.5
A primetime matchup highlights week one of the college football season as Notre Dame heads to Columbus to take on Ohio State in a showdown of top five teams. The Buckeyes hold a 4-2 edge over the Irish all time, with Notre Dame’s only victories in the series going back to the 1930s, and Ohio State has won the last four in a row, with the most recent a 44-28 victory in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.
The biggest change for the Irish going into the season is on the sidelines, with previous head coach Brian Kelly having left for LSU at the end of the 2021 regular season. He was quickly replaced by player and fan favorite Marcus Freeman, who has already had a major impact on the recruiting trail with one of the highest-rated classes of the year. The biggest knock against Kelly that wasn’t about his personality was his inability to win when it mattered most, having never brought home that true return to glory that Irish fans have been waiting on for many years. Freeman’s head coaching career at the school got off to an inauspicious start with his team blowing a 28-7 lead on route to a 35-33 defeat against Oklahoma State in last year’s Fiesta Bowl but considering his immediate positive effect on the school, fan base and especially amongst current and future players, he will likely have a bit more of a grace period than has been granted previous Notre Dame coaches in the past.
The coaching staff certainly wasn’t the only part of Notre Dame football to see some upheaval, as the offense especially lost many important pieces with quarterback Jack Coan, running back star Kyren Williams and wide receiver leader in yards, receptions, and touchdowns Kevin Austin all having moved on. The team suffered a further major loss in August, with lead wide receiver Avery Davis now gone for the season due to an ACL tear, which throws another variable wrench in the works for the incoming starter at quarterback, Tyler Buchner.
The sophomore Buchner was named the starter early in the month after battling Drew Pyne for the lead spot. Buchner brings a dual-threat option and finished second on the team in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in 2021, which is made all the more impressive considering he only started one game and was used as more of a change of pace for Coan. Buchner becomes the fourth different opening game starting quarterback for the Irish over the past five seasons (Coan, Book, and Wimbush are the others) and will undoubtedly have his work cut out for him on Saturday against a strong Ohio State defensive front led by defensive end Zach Harrison.
Replacing Kyren Williams at running back will be a group effort this season for the Irish. Speedster Chris Tyree is expected to be the lead back, and if he can stay healthy and on the field, it would provide a much-needed open-field option for the Notre Dame offense. Logan Diggs lined up to be the first option out of the backfield, but suffering a torn labrum in the spring remains questionable to be available against the Buckeyes. Should Diggs be unable to go, power back Audric Estime will likely see extended time spelling Tyree. The Irish running game could also be without one of its most important pieces on Saturday, as highly rated offensive lineman, Jarrett Patterson, is listed as questionable as well and may not be able to play either. This would, in turn, pose major issues for not only the running game but the passing as well.
The graduation of Kevin Austin and injury to Avery Davis leaves a gaping hole in the Notre Dame wide receiver group, which further elevates the importance of star tight end Michael Mayer. The junior is expected to go pro after this season and likely land as a top ten pick in the draft, but until then, he expects to be the focal point of the Irish offense. Mayer is not just nicknamed ‘Baby Gronk’ due to donning the number 87. It’s more due to his bruising style and ability to use his skill and strength to get additional yards after the catch. Other than Mayer, wide receivers Brandan Lenzy and Lorenzo Styles are the second and third options through the air for Buchner against the Buckeyes’ secondary.
TOUGH TASK AWAITS
Notre Dame’s defense returns plenty of talent, highlighted by defensive end Isaiah Foskey, free safety Brandon Joseph and returning leader in tackles JD Bertrand. Opening the season against the Ohio State offense promises to be their biggest challenge of the season, especially considering the Buckeyes return a trio that was a major reason for their offense ranking first nationally in both scoring and total yards per game a season ago.
Ohio State’s prolific offense is led again by quarterback CJ Stroud, who is ranked with Alabama’s Bryce Young as the expected top two at their position to go in next year’s draft. Stroud was second in the country in passing efficiency in 2021, completing 72% of his passes while throwing 44 touchdown passes compared to only six interceptions. He may have lost 25 of those TD receptions with receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave off to the NFL, but thankfully gets back 1st Team All-American Jaxon Smith-Nigba.
SPOTLIGHT ON SMITH
Smith-Nigba is coming off a record-setting performance in the Buckeyes’ last game, when he put up an FBS bowl-record 347 yards receiving on 15 catches with three touchdowns in their 48-45 comeback win against Utah in the Rose Bowl. With Wilson and Olave gone, there are plenty of targets to go around, and Smith-Nigba should see the lion’s share of those, especially considering he is the only returning Ohio State wide receiver that had over twelve receptions a season ago. Thankfully for Buckeye fans, there is still plenty of talent in their air arsenal, with son and namesake of NFL hall of Famer Marvin Harrison along with Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming expected to round out the team’s starting receivers. Harrison has already shown that he is more than just his father’s reputation, having also tied the Rose Bowl scoring record along with Smith-Nigba with three touchdown receptions to end his freshman season.
The Buckeyes have another backfield star in the making with TreVeyon Henderson. The sophomore tailback is coming off an inaugural campaign that saw him rush for 1,248 yards and 15 touchdowns while showing off his multifaceted abilities with 27 receptions and an additional four scores through the air. He will certainly benefit from running behind one of the best offensive lines in football, led by further future NFL talent in Paris Jackson and Luke Wypler. Henderson’s success on the ground has seemed to have a direct correlation to the Buckeyes’ success in the standings, as the team was 10-0 when he averaged over 4.5 yards per carry and was just 1-2 when he didn’t.
From 2017 to 2020, Ohio State had eight defensive players drafted in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Over the last two years, they have had zero and last season had just one defensive player taken at all, and that was 5th rounder, Tyreke Smith. This year the unit will be looking to get things going back in the right direction and certainly has the capability to do so with a unit highlighted by defensive end Zach Harrison, linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, cornerback Denzel Burke and safety Ronnie Hickman.
THE FINAL DECISION
Notre Dame’s struggles against quality competition, unfortunately, continued under Brian Kelly (2-19 vs. top 6 teams, 6-30 vs. top 12, 4-16 vs. top 20). It wasn’t just the elitist of teams that he faltered against. It was any team in the top 25 at all, with the Irish having gone just 16-21 in their last 37 games against ranked teams with the angry imp as their coach. Surprisingly, Ryan Day and Ohio State have had some recent issues of their own against the Top 25, with the Buckeyes going just 3-3 straight up in their last six games against ranked opponents and a paltry 1-7 mark against the spread in their last eight.While the Buckeyes are one of those rare teams that can suffer major roster upheaval and still bounce back year and year, Notre Dame still hasn’t reached that level, especially with Brian Kelly’s less-than-stellar recruiting ability. The hope the Irish have is that they could finally reach that plateau again under Marcus Freeman. However, unfortunately, they are still a couple of years away from that possibility, let alone by Saturday against the Buckeyes. Notre Dame is facing major transition on the sidelines with a new head coach and defensive coordinator, which, combined with the significant losses on offense that also has an inexperienced quarterback leading the way, is going to be too much to overcome against Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes’ offensive trio of Stroud, Henderson, and Smith-Nigba pose matchup issues for the Notre Dame defense, and I don’t believe the depleted ND offense has the ability to trade points at the pace needed to keep up with Ohio State, whether on the scoreboard or via the point spread.
Mike’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread
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