Various bookmakers will start publishing season win total over/under projections for all of college football, including Notre Dame, shortly after spring practice. That may not be until early summer, but undoubtedly one will be unexpectedly early, setting the number for the rest of the world to overreact to.
Let’s guess what that number will be.
This is not a guess as to how the Irish will finish in 2018. Bookmakers are not making that guess, either. Rather, they are attempting to pick a number which attracts equal interest on both its over and under offerings.
Looking at Notre Dame’s 2018 schedule, six games qualify as contests the Irish absolutely should win: vs. Ball State, vs. Vanderbilt, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Navy, at Northwestern and vs. Syracuse. For those exercise, let’s set the win expectation for those half dozen games at 6.0 victories.
The other half of the schedule, though, does not include any games which warrant a 1.0 win expectation. For example, while Notre Dame is a 40:1 possibility to win the national championship right now, Michigan is at 14:1. Clearly, the season opener will be a tough one for the Irish, no matter who head coach Brian Kelly names his starting quarterback. But, with home-field advantage, it should likely still skew toward a Notre Dame win more often than not, at least in this modeling. Call it a 0.67 win expectation.
Stanford is at 50:1 to win the College Football Playoff. Combined with that game also being in South Bend, logic says it should equal a greater win expectation than facing the Wolverines does, so let’s deem it 0.75.
Traveling to Virginia Tech to face a team with 33:1 title odds bodes poorly, perhaps a 0.33 win expectation.
Florida State falls somewhere between Michigan and Stanford on this rough spectrum, holding 25:1 championship odds. Clearly, that is closer to the Wolverines, so for simplicity’s sake, let’s make that estimate another 0.67.
USC holds the same title odds as the Irish do, but with that game on the road, the odds should tilt toward the Trojans. Thus, a 0.33 Notre Dame win expectation feels appropriate.
That leaves a wild card in traveling to Wake Forest on Sept. 22. Casual observers may have expected that game to land amid the initial half dozen, but this space is likely to be higher on the Demon Deacons than most will be for the next seven months. The Irish absolutely should win that game, but Wake Forest will genuinely test Notre Dame’s defense. A 0.75 win expectation strikes as fair.
This brings a total of 9.5 expected wins. This space will stick to that as its guess for what bookmakers establish as the Irish over/under, partly because that number usually skews higher than an unbiased view may anticipate; the books protect against an influx of pro-Notre Dame wagers from confident fans.
Essentially, a 9.5 over/under suggests the Irish will win two of the three home challenges — Michigan, Stanford and Florida State — and will escape on top at Wake Forest. From there, an under bet doubts Notre Dame can win at either of USC or Virginia Tech, while an over wager foresees at least one such victory.
Speaking of Notre Dame and Michigan …
Before the NCAA denied the Irish appeal to retain those 21 wins from 2012 and 2013, the Sept. 1 matchup held the added chip of handing the No. 1 all-time winning percentage to the victor. Now, the Wolverines obviously have quite an advantage in that bragging rights measurement.
What would it now take for Notre Dame to regain the No. 1 all-time winning percentage over Michigan? The Wolverines are 943-339-36, a 0.729135 winning percentage. The Irish are officially 885-324-42, a 0.724221 percentage. (Down from 906-324-42, a 0.728774 mark.)
Overcoming that deficit would require a few strong years from Notre Dame combined with middling campaigns by Michigan, but nothing truly extreme is actually necessary. For this thought exercise, suppose the Irish finish 2018 at 12-1 (perhaps a crushing loss at USC knocks Notre Dame out of the Playoff, giving the spot to the Trojans, and then the Irish pick up a win over a Group of Five opponent in the Fiesta Bowl), and the Wolverines fall from playoff contention to 8-5 thanks to a tough schedule in a strong Big Ten ending with a bowl game face plant.
Notre Dame would be at 0.726266 and Michigan would be at 0.728024. Still a ways to go, though the gap has been about halved.
Let’s say the Irish again fall just short in 2019, finishing 11-2, while job turmoil around Jim Harbaugh dooms the Wolverines to another 8-5 season. None of this has been overly outlandish, has it? Ambitious, perhaps, but within feasibility.
At that point, Notre Dame would pass Michigan, 0.727486 to 0.726935.
Though, there would be a Boise State concern. The Broncos are currently at 0.727273 all-time.
INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
— Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s running backs, as few of them as there are
— A second four-star defensive lineman, Hunter Spears, joins the Notre Dame class of 2019
— Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s linebackers, a proven two and then many questions
— Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s tight ends, a surplus of depth, unproven talent
— Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s defensive line, a returning strength