If you read all 40 of this year’s preseason predictions, you noticed few discussed specific Notre Dame wins or losses, let alone any hint at an overall record. But read between the lines and a framework was established:
— If sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec is expected to mop up at Louisville on Monday, then it is inherently expected the Irish will beat the Cardinals. (Literally the first prediction.)
— Prediction No. 3 said Notre Dame will beat Bob Davie and New Mexico, while No. 16 called for a 7-0 home record, including a blowout of Bowling Green (No. 15).
— The fifth prediction indicated junior kicker Jonathan Doerer’s performance will be crucial at No. 3 Georgia on Sept. 21, implying that will be a close game. Jump to prediction No. 11, and a mention was made of the Irish having one-loss before they get to Michigan. Logic suggests that loss will indeed be in Athens.
But that is the extent of confidence regarding Notre Dame’s record this fall. Well, that and the Irish will win at Duke, but that was probably implicitly presumed. That alone is enough confidence in some arenas, though.
That occurred to me last week during a 40-hour layover in Las Vegas. A last-minute trip spurred by expiring miles on a discount airline, it was more a work trip buoyed by a change of scenery than a bona fide Vegas endeavor, but when in Rome …
Since only a fool pays a bartender for a drink in a casino, a wager needed to be made to garner a drink voucher. It is hard to write up a season preview of Virginia Tech while at a blackjack table, so that wager needed to be made in the sportsbook. However, I was not there to crunch numbers, shop values and invest wisely; I was there to work with a wall of televisions backlighting my computer, so the wager needed to be made quickly.
Seeing Notre Dame’s season win total over/under still at 9 with even odds, not much time was needed to ponder.
It was not that I was so sure the Irish will go 10-2 or better, it was that I had such confidence Notre Dame will not go 8-4 or worse. Those seven home games, a holiday weekend across the border in Kentucky and a relaxed November trip to the southeast set this season’s floor at nine wins.
Finding a reliable linebacker in junior Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and possibly a situational ace in sophomore Jack Lamb in passing-specific moments, quells the greatest offseason concern for Notre Dame. It probably never should have warranted the hand-wringing it did; Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea proved himself last season and works directly with the linebackers. The unit will be just fine in time. And Lea now has an unexpected wildcard at his disposal in fifth-year defensive back Shaun Crawford appearing to be back in form after recovering from his third season-costing injury.
Returning four starting offensive linemen sets a high floor for any program, particularly one with the offensive line pedigree of Notre Dame. Every one of those returning starters will someday hear his name called in the NFL draft. Thinking that kind of presence will get beaten four times baffles common sense.
The Irish will not lose four games, and probably not even three. Vegas may have felt that was a fair bet, but it struck me as a risk-free play, plus making it provided the wanted free drink.
For these purposes, a loss at Georgia should be factored in, as it both was and is now predicted on the record. To cash such a bet will require the Irish to thus win at either Michigan or Stanford.
The former should be considered a toss-up for now. As first-year Wolverines offensive coordinator Josh Gattis shows his mettle or lack thereof, that 50/50 view could skew one direction or the other before Oct. 26 arrives.
If Notre Dame loses in Ann Arbor, the season finale at Palo Alto will determine whether that ticket is doubled in value, or was merely a 0 percent, three-month CD. Irish head coach Brian Kelly has never won at Stanford. Notre Dame will probably be favored on Nov. 30 — it certainly will not be at Michigan — meaning the likelihood is that CD will actually have a 100 percent return on investment.
That would give the Irish 10 wins in their third straight season for the first time since 1991-93.
Even if Notre Dame loses all three pivotal road games, that over/under of nine wins with even odds was a valid bet that required little thought.
Of course, making it would have been a conflict of interest for yours truly. I would never do that. I took Arkansas under 5.5 wins to get myself that drink voucher.