College Football Picks: Take Notre Dame at Ohio State

New Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman will enter his first game as a significant underdog at Ohio State.  (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)
New Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman will enter his first game as a significant underdog at Ohio State. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

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With no games to go, Week 1 of the college football season presents a challenge for handicappers as we are forced to consider things like production return, a metric made even more difficult to understand thanks to the transfers. . But we must choose, and hopefully we can all start off on the right foot.

This column will give four picks per week: the game of the week, a favorite, an underdog, and a wild card, which can be anything (another favorite or underdog in a game that might go unnoticed, or a total, for example). Hopefully, we’ll all be rich by the time the clock hits zero in Inglewood, California on January 9.

All spreads are taken Wednesday from consensus odds at VegasInsider.com, unless otherwise noted. All Eastern times.

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No. 5 Notre Dame (+17) at No. 2 Ohio State, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ABC

The Fighting Irish have performed dismally in away games against elite competition, going 0-10 in their last 10 away games against the top 10 teams and losing those games by an average of 16.4 points. But that’s a lot of points to put up against a Notre Dame team that brings a lot of talent, particularly on the offensive line and almost all of the defense (nine of the 12 players who had 400-plus snaps are back for a defenseman who took the job 15 nationally in the SP+ efficiency metric last season).

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The Buckeyes’ offense should again be otherworldly with Heisman hopeful CJ Stroud at quarterback, TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams at running back (1,755 combined rushing yards in 2021) and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (1,606 receiving yards). But Ohio State’s defense was pushed hard last season and now must replace much of its line. Ohio State also has a new defensive coordinator in Jim Knowles (who did some pretty good things at Oklahoma State).

Notre Dame has been battling injuries all camp, but is mostly healthy now, and I think Notre Dame’s defense will do enough to give their offense a chance against a team that struggled to get opponents off the field. last year (the Buckeyes’ defense ranked 100 nationally in stopping third and fourth downs, while Notre Dame’s offense ranked 27th). Irish cover.

No. 15 Michigan State (-23) vs. Western Michigan, Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN

Yes, the Broncos upset future ACC champion Pittsburgh on the road, going 8-5 and winning their bowl game last season, but coach Tim Lester is 0-8 against Power Five teams during his tenure in western Michigan, losing those games by average. of 25.6 points. Four of those losses came at Michigan or Michigan State, and the Broncos’ older brothers in the state showed no mercy, winning by an average score of 44-13.


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But the main reason I support the Spartans is this: According to ESPN numbers Bill ConnellyMichigan State ranks 27th nationally in comeback production for a team that went 11-2 last season (the Spartans also beat Pittsburgh, in the Peach Bowl). Quarterback Payton Thorne, who threw 27 touchdown passes and rushed for four more, and leading receiver Jayden Reed are among those who returned, along with nine of Michigan State’s 12 defenders who played at least 400 snaps last season. .

Western Michigan returns just 45 percent of its production, which ranks 126th out of 131 FBS teams. Quarterback Kaleb Eleby (23 touchdown passes, six rushing touchdowns) is gone, as is wide receiver Skyy Moore, who caught 10 of those Eleby touchdown passes before the Kansas City Chiefs drafted him in the second round of the NFL draft.

A rebuilding MAC team playing a supplied power conference opponent, particularly a in the state power conference opponent who would rather not let things get close doesn’t sound that appetizing so I’ll take the heavy favorite here.

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Boise State (+3) at Oregon State, Saturday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN

The Broncos and Beavers have nearly identical return production: 73 percent to 72 percent, respectively. But in this case, I’m looking who is coming back instead of how many is making a comeback, and I think Boise State has the upper hand here, enough to maybe even make a money line bet on the underdog road.

For starters, Broncos quarterback Hank Bachmeier returns for his fourth season as a starter. Injuries interrupted two of those seasons, but in 2021 he started all 12 games for the first time and completed 62.8 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns. He is also playing under the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his college career. An offensive line loaded with experience and talent should buy Bachmeier time, and Boise State’s defense, returning nearly all of a unit that ranked 23rd nationally in the SP+ efficiency metric last season, should be able to slow down the Beavers, who must replace running back BJ Baylor (1,337 rushing yards, 13 rushing touchdowns) and two-time first-team all-conference center Nathan Eldridge.

And it’s not that Boise State is impressed by Pac-12 enemies: the Broncos are 10-4 outright against teams from that conference in their last 14 matchups, winning three of those games as losers. They are the side here.

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TCU team scores over 34.5 points (DraftKings Sportsbook) at Colorado, Friday, 10 p.m., ESPN

Of the four offensive and defensive units involved in this game, only one, TCU’s offense, is reliable at this point in the season. New Horned Frogs coach Sonny Dykes hasn’t decided on a starting quarterback yet and could play with three of them, but they all have their merits: Max Duggan has started 29 games for the Horned Frogs and has 60 combined career touchdowns; Chandler Morris had 531 yards of total offense in his only complete game last season; and Sam Jackson’s only pass in 2021 was for 62 yards. Whoever is throwing the passes will have a lot of riches to target, as returning wide receivers Quentin Johnston (an NFL prospect), Derius Davis and Taye Barber all had at least 30 receptions and 500 receiving yards last season. Running back Kendre Miller averaged 7.5 yards per carry and eight total touchdowns, and transfer Emani Bailey averaged 6.3 yards per carry and eight touchdowns for Louisiana-Lafayette last season.

Rated TCU 5th nationally in expected aggregate points (EPA) per race and 30 EPA per pass in 2021, and now he’s getting all those offensive weapons back. Colorado’s defense ranked 68th and 80th in those categories, respectively, while also ranking 103rd in third-down and fourth-down success (the Horned Frogs’ offense ranked 11th). The Buffaloes’ defense was also affected by the transfer portal, with safety Mark Perry (team leader in interceptions in 2021) projected to start for the same team Colorado will face on Friday.

With TCU’s defense trying to bounce back after a rare off season and Colorado’s offense eternally stuck in the mud, I’ll take the known amount to pick up some points against a known deficiency.

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