Unsurprisingly, it should be a rather smooth opening week for Notre Dame’s opponents. The most critical piece of it will be the last piece, with No. 20 Virginia Tech traveling to No. 19 Florida State for a primetime showcase on Labor Day.
Michigan: If reading this space, you probably know what the No. 14 Wolverines are up to this weekend. They are visiting the Irish on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. In the last few days, the projected margin has swung from Michigan by a point or two to Notre Dame by a point with a combined point total over/under of 47. A 24-23 outcome would not only test Irish fans’ nerves, but it would likely do so late into the night.
Ball St.: The Cardinals are the first of these dozen to take the field this year, kicking off against FCS-level Central Connecticut State on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN+).
Vanderbilt: It is both a negative reflection on the Commodores and a positive indication for Middle Tennessee State that when the Blue Raiders visit Nashville on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET; SEC Network) Vanderbilt is favored by only three, essentially the default spread accounting for home-field advantage. The over/under of 56.5 argues for a 30-27 outcome. It may be worth keeping an eye on that score while your main screen remains on Notre Dame and Michigan, just to have an idea how calm the next few weeks could be.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons will trot out true freshman quarterback Sam Hartman to start at Tulane on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; CBS Sports Network). Wake Forest will not need to cover the seven-point spread for Hartman’s debut to be considered a success, but the 56-point over/under does hint at a 31-24 victory.
Stanford: How are you planning on spending your Friday night? You could do worse than watching the No. 13 Cardinal and Heisman-hopeful running back Bryce Love (pictured above) look for revenge against San Diego State (9 p.m. ET; FS1). A year ago, the Aztecs handed Stanford a week three loss, dropping it to 1-2 to start the year. The improved Cardinal offense should insure that does not happen again, with a 14.5-point spread and an over/under of 48.5 leading to a 31-17 projection.
Virginia Tech: As mentioned before, the Hokies have the steepest task of the weekend. The Seminoles are favored by more than a touchdown, suggesting a 32-24 holiday affair. While Virginia Tech’s defense has more new faces than not, underestimating defensive coordinator Bud Foster to the tune of 32 points feels a bit risky.
Pittsburgh: Like Ball State, the Panthers begin with lighter fare, hosting FCS-level Albany on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET; ACC Network).
Navy: The Midshipmen face two disadvantages in their travels to Hawaii for a late Saturday kick (11 p.m. ET; CBS Sports Network). Not only do they have to fly across both a country and much of an ocean, but they also face a Warriors team with a win already under its belt. Though Colorado State made a second-half charge against Hawaii on Saturday, the Rams fell short 43-34. Nonetheless, Navy is favored by 11 with an over/under of 62.5, equalling a 37-26 projection. There will almost certainly be that many points, but that spread looks generous given the circumstances.
Northwestern: It is not yet known if Wildcats senior quarterback Clayton Thorson will be given the go-ahead Thursday at Purdue (8 p.m. ET; ESPN) as he recovers from an ACL tear suffered not even nine months ago. If that was known, it would undoubtedly sway what is currently a line favoring the Boilermakers by 2.5 points and projecting to 27-24. Take the ‘dog, and by the ‘dog, that means the ‘Cats.
Florida State: The Seminoles will turn to junior quarterback Deondre Francois, who missed nearly all last season with his own knee injury. If he is fully recovered and back to the player seen in 2016, it is a bit more reasonable to think Florida State could score 32 against Virginia Tech, but it is still ambitious.
Syracuse: The Orange are favored by nearly a touchdown (six points) despite going on the road to Western Michigan on Friday (7 p.m. ET; CBS Sports Network). Consider this your primer for that Stanford main course. This should be closer, with a 64.5 point total making a 35-29 final logical.
USC: Freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels will start in the shallow end of the figurative pool, hosting UNLV on Saturday (4 p.m. ET; Pac-12 Network) with nearly four touchdowns of expected cushion. Frankly, the Rebels will likely need garbage time to score as many as 19 points, considering their minimal passing attack. The Trojans, meanwhile, rely on a freshman quarterback looking for new targets and a sophomore running back behind a hopefully-healthy offensive line. Somewhere in those two previous sentences the word “under” probably should have appeared.
Thursday: Ball St. vs. Cent. Conn. St. at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+; Wake Forest at Tulane at 8 p.m. ET on CBSSN; Northwestern at Purdue at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Friday: Syracuse at W. Mich. at 7 p.m. ET on CBSSN; Stanford vs. San Diego St. at 9 p.m. ET on FS1.
Saturday: Pittsburgh vs. Albany at 3:30 p.m. ET on ACCN; USC vs. UNLV at 4 p.m. ET on Pac-12N; Vanderbilt vs. MTSU at 7:30 p.m. ET on SECN; Michigan at ND at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC; Navy at Hawaii at 11 p.m. ET on CBSSN.
Monday: Virginia Tech at Florida State at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
Favorites: Wake Forest -7; Syracuse -6; Stanford -14.5; USC -26.5; Vanderbilt -3; Navy -11; Florida State -7.5; Ball State and Pittsburgh unlisted.
Underdogs: Northwestern +2.5; Michigan +1; Virginia Tech +7.5.