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Friday at 4: Notre Dame by 18? Michigan by 6? Logic and thoughts behind Vegas’ early lines

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Before Notre Dame opens its season on Labor Day at Louisville (94 days), before an August of preseason practices, before July is spent waiting for those delights, before June brings parsings of preview magazines … Vegas ended May with the teaser of 100 opening lines.

And in doing so Thursday, the Golden Nugget established firmly that the Irish are expected to go 10-2 this season. That should not surprise anyone. Winning one of three road trips to Georgia, Michigan and Stanford would set Notre Dame on that path. After going 22-4 in its last 26, with those losses coming to two title game-appearing teams (2017 Georgia, 2018 Clemson) and in two houses of Irish horrors (Miami and Stanford, both 2017), no longer should it be assumed Notre Dame will blow a game it absolutely should win.

Of course, this is college football and upsets are always possible, but such a thought no longer skews Irish win total over/unders from 9.5 to 8.5 or their opening line at Louisville from being favored by 18 down to 13.5.

Indeed, Notre Dame has opened as an 18-point favorite against the Cardinals. Five other Irish games made the cut for these summer appetizers:

Sept. 21 at Georgia: Notre Dame is a 9.5-point underdog.
Oct. 12 vs. USC: Notre Dame is a 12.5-point favorite.
Oct. 26 at Michigan: Notre Dame is a 6-point underdog.
Nov. 2 vs. Virginia Tech: Notre Dame is a 16-point favorite.
Nov. 30 at Stanford: Notre Dame is a 5.5-point favorite.

Each of those numbers sparked a few thoughts …

18-point favorites at Louisville: That may seem like a big number for a season opener, but let it remind us all once more of the destructive effects felt long after Brian VanGorder departs a defense.

9.5-point underdogs at Georgia: Keep in mind, these are opening lines, set with low limits long ahead of when things matter. Numbers move, and the ones set the week of the games will be a far more precise reflection of how these teams are viewed. All those disclaimers aside, do not expect this line to move more than a point in either direction, and if in any direction, the spread should widen slightly.

The Bulldogs open the season at Vanderbilt, vs. Murray State and vs. Arkansas State. Nothing in those three games will change the bookmakers’ opinions of Georgia. The same should go for the Irish at Louisville and vs. Bob Davie’s New Mexico.

Keeping in mind Notre Dame was a 10.5-point underdog in the Cotton Bowl (a neutral venue) against a team better than the Bulldogs, but one more in line with Georgia than with the Irish, a similar spread when in a true road game makes logical sense. Such numbers need not react to one game’s result (read: one 30-3 trouncing).

Assuming all preceding results hold, this should be the first time Notre Dame has closed as a regular season underdog since … the 2016 season finale at USC. When beginning this sentence, this scribe thought for sure it would end with the Bulldogs’ visit in 2017, but the Irish actually closed as 4.5-point favorites then, underscoring how quickly Georgia has risen in Kirby Smart’s second and third seasons.

The last time Notre Dame was favored by two possessions against USC was just in November, when the Irish clinched a berth in the College Football Playoff with an undefeated regular season. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

12.5-point favorites vs. USC: Notre Dame has not been favored by this much against the Trojans since … November. That two-touchdown number was undoubtedly inflated by the Irish momentum and the USC turmoil.

6-point underdogs at Michigan: Keep in mind, when the Wolverines visited to open 2018, Notre Dame ended up a 1-point favorite. Bookmakers do not overreact to the small sample size of one game or even one season, especially when dealing with constantly-churning rosters of 85 18- to 22-year-olds.

Keep in mind, a home venue is worth 3-3.5 points in these exercises, meaning moving from South Bend to Ann Arbor should equal a touchdown’s swing on its own.

And keep in mind, Michigan did not lose more than the Irish did in the NFL draft.  In fact, it arguably lost less. The Wolverines saw four defenders and one tight end drafted. Notre Dame sent defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, cornerback Julian Love, linebacker Drue Tranquill, receiver Miles Boykin, tight end Alizé Mack and running back Dexter Williams into the draft, not to mention linebacker Te’von Coney and both kicking specialists departed as leading contributors. (Michigan also had a cornerback, safety, two defensive linemen, right tackle and running back sign as undrafted free agents, but now we’re getting to the nitty-gritty. The Irish had two more offensive linemen, a defensive tackle and a cornerback added to its ledgers in this regard.)

Notre Dame fans seem appalled this line favors Michigan at all, let alone by nearly a touchdown. If taking a step back, and remembering things may change before late October, it makes plenty of sense.

16-point favorites vs. Virginia Tech: That’s a big number, and one that suggests three things.
1) Vegas has little faith in Hokies head coach Justin Fuente righting the ship after another turbulent offseason.
2) The same may go for Fuente’s defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
3) Vegas does have faith in the Irish offense, led by senior quarterback Ian Book and with an offensive line returning 55 starts.

5.5-point favorites at Stanford: Notre Dame has not won at The Farm since 2007, one of the few positive distinctions enjoyed by that 3-9 debacle. That fact alone makes this feel like a big number, though the Irish are likely to have more at stake than the Cardinal. These opening lines featured Stanford seven other times, only as favorites in three of them, including as 2-point underdogs at Central Florida on Sept. 14. That may be Brandon Wimbush’s chance at redemption for the last time he played against the Cardinal, the last time Notre Dame went to Stanford, 2017’s final fourth-quarter collapse.

Now that we have looked so far ahead as the end of November, go enjoy the last evening of May. There is plenty of time to fret weeks and months from now.