Just like Notre Dame, all of the Irish opponents are still filled with hopes and dreams. The optimism of a strong September building into a season to remember has not yet been dashed. Naive thoughts of glory have not been rivaled by miscues and mistakes.
Those moments will begin this weekend. More precisely, they will begin Friday night when two of Notre Dame’s foes square off in an intriguing litmus test.
Florida State: Obviously facing the Irish on Sunday night (7:30 ET; ABC), the Seminoles are 7.5-point underdogs, a number that spent most of the summer closer to 10 and one that has spent the last few days considering ticking back to -8. But as long as it remains at 7.5, the combined point total over/under of 55 suggests Notre Dame should win 31-24 on Labor Day Eve.
PointsBet sets Florida State’s season win total over/under at 5.5, and this opener is rather clearly a presumed loss in that count, so it will not make or break the Seminoles’ attempt toward program growth in 2021, but a blowout may set the tone for a gradual crawl to an under.
Toledo: The Rockets will rip through FCS-level Norfolk State (7 ET; ESPN3) to begin the season, a sure win en route to clearing the season win total over/under of 8.5
Purdue: The Boilermakers kick off their 2021 with Oregon State (7 ET; FS1), a likely win on paper but perhaps a moment for the Beavers to prove their 2-5 season during the pandemic was only a start. Yes, for Oregon State, a 2-5 record was a positive sign.
Purdue is favored by a touchdown with a high-scoring affair anticipated, the over/under of 68.5 suggesting a 37-31 final. It should be considered a must-win for the Boilermakers if they want to clear a win total of five. Before facing the Irish, Purdue should be able to win two games (with Connecticut in a week) and then after, both Illinois and Minnesota are beatable. Getting to 4-1 before the crux of their Big Ten schedule is the Boilermakers’ best hope of reaching a bowl game.
No. 12 Wisconsin: The drama of Notre Dame’s Chicago matchup will largely hinge on the Badgers’ success, or lack thereof, against No. 19 Penn State (12 ET; FOX). Favored by 5.5, Wisconsin can assert itself not only in the national landscape but also as a Big Ten contender if it can dictate the pace in a game with a 50-point over/under.
The Badgers controlling a low-scoring afternoon would set them on the pace to clear their win total of 9.5, the biggest tests remaining on their schedule being home games against Iowa and Michigan and the Sept. 25 date in the Windy City.
No. 8 Cincinnati: The Bearcats will have no trouble with Chuck Martin’s Miami (3:30 ET; ESPN+). Favored by 23 points, the biggest question will be how Cincinnati fares without defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. An over/under of 50.5 argues Miami (OH) should score two touchdowns.
Giving up less than that would bode well for the Bearcats cresting a win total over/under of 10.
Virginia Tech: Hokies head coach Justin Fuente is already on a hot seat. Losing in the national spotlight to No. 10 North Carolina on Friday night (6 ET; ESPN) would do him no favors. The Tar Heels are favored by 5.5 points, making it a bit unfair to overly criticize Fuente for a loss, but such is college football.
That line may seem tighter than anticipated, one top-10 team facing an unranked opponent. The Lane Stadium atmosphere plays a part in dropping it to less than a touchdown, and the Fuente frustrations may, as well.
With two other top-15 opponents on the schedule, Virginia Tech would be happy to find an upset to provide some stability as it looks to top a win total over/under of 7.5.
I've been thinking about this for a week, and @michaelbryanMB and I have one very clear disagreement (incl. tiers):
3. Mack Brown
5. MAC favorites
6. Justin Fuente
8. Florida St
9. Big Drum
10. Georgia Tech
12. Navy https://t.co/QLcZWk1CU0
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 1, 2021
No. 15 USC: Being favored by two touchdowns somehow sets up the Trojans for only disappointment in their opener against San Jose State (5 ET; Pac 12 Network). Either USC wins as expected or it does not win by enough. However, the Spartans impressed last week and are a trendy thought to surprise this weekend.
Such a shock would put Clay Helton in a position very similar to Fuente’s and very far from outdoing a season expectation of 8.5 wins.
No. 10 North Carolina: The Tar Heels Will Likely be favored in all 12 of their games, making the win total over/under of 9.5 seem borderline low. Getting past Virginia Tech may as well lock in that over, with few other ACC games, aside from Miami, representing as much of a risk.
Navy: The Midshipmen host Marshall (3:30 ET; CBSSN), yet are 2.5-point underdogs, as of early Thursday morning. The point total over/under is a triple-option-esque 47, hinting at a 25-22 snooze.
Beating Marshall would be a massive start for Navy to cash the over on 3.5 wins.
Virginia: Ignore the Cavaliers for the weekend, no offense intended to William & Mary (7 ET; ACCN). Clearly, beating the (uhhh, hold on, let’s quickly check what the mascot is for William & Mary) Tribe is built-in when wondering if Virginia will top 6.5 wins.
#NotreDame's Opponents … my season-long thoughts:
– Florida State under 5.5 (+110)
– Toledo over 8.5 (-115)
– Georgia Tech under 4.5 (-102)
– Stanford under 4 (+115)
If I regret anything, it'll be *not* snagging Wisconsin over 9.5 (-130).https://t.co/HXyPrBuub1
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 1, 2021
Georgia Tech: Only three years removed from depending on the triple-option, it may be hard to believe the Yellow Jackets would be favored by 18 points against any FBS-level opponent, but take that as a reflection of Northern Illinois (7:30 ET; ACCN).
Regardless, facing five top-15 opponents will keep Georgia Tech scuffling through 2021.
Stanford: There is some thought that the Cardinal’s 4-2 pandemic season was something to build on, but if Stanford does not win at Kansas State (12 ET; FS1), that momentum will quickly dissipate. In fact, that is the projection, with the Wildcats favored by a field goal.
For the Cardinal to crack four wins, though, they may need to beat Kansas State and Clark Lea’s Vanderbilt.
Friday: 6 ET — No. 10 North Carolina at Virginia Tech, ESPN.
Saturday: 12 ET — No. 12 Wisconsin at Penn State, FOX; Stanford at Kansas State, FS1.
3:30 ET — No. 8 Cincinnati vs. Miami (OH), ESPN+; Navy vs. Marshall, CBSSN.
5 ET — No. 15 USC vs. San Jose State, Pac 12 Network.
7 ET — Toledo vs. Norfolk State, ESPN3; Purdue vs. Oregon State, FS1; Virginia vs. William & Mary, ACCN.
7:30 ET — Georgia Tech vs. Northern Illinois, ACCN.
Sunday: 7:30 ET — Florida State vs. Notre Dame, ABC.
Favored: Purdue (-7), Wisconsin (-5.5), Cincinnati (-23), USC (-14), North Carolina (-5.5), Georgia Tech (-18).
Underdogs: Florida State (+7.5), Virginia Tech (+5.5), Navy (+2.5), Stanford (+3).
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NOTRE DAME’S OPPONENTS
— Despite influx of transfers, Florida State looking at another ugly season
— With nearly the entire roster returning, Toledo set to rocket
— Purdue’s 2020 slide a sign of worrisome trends
— Wisconsin looks to recapture the magic of Mertz’s debut throughout 2021
— Cincinnati’s Playoff hopes hinge on two trips to Indiana
— Virginia Tech and Justin Fuente need to bounce quick to avoid a big change
— Clay Helton remains on the perpetual hot seat at USC, despite offensive stars
— North Carolina & Sam Howell on the verge of national notice
— Coming off a nadir, Navy looks to restore triple-option
— Uncharacteristically dismal defense will need to correct itself for Virginia
— Daunting schedule will doom Georgia Tech to further Wreck status
— Still without a starting quarterback, Stanford’s slide set to resume