Leftovers & Links: Projecting Notre Dame’s 2022 win total Over/Under

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The sportsbooks underestimated Notre Dame last year. Those who follow the team closely saw it clearly in the summer, and if they followed that conviction with their wallet, they were rewarded in mid-November, not even needing to wait until the end of the season.

Setting last year’s Irish win total Over/Under at 8.5 dismissed how well Brian Kelly had done in games he should win since rebooting the program in 2017. Notre Dame was never upset in those five years, a feat unmatched by the rest of college football in that stretch.

This space expected that Over/Under to be 9.5, a number the Irish beat only thanks to two game-winning field goals from the leg of Jonathan Doerer.

Not only is Notre Dame’s 2022 schedule more difficult, but new head coach Marcus Freeman will need to prove he can continue to win the games he should win at the rate Kelly did. Until he does so, assuming one such loss a year is both practical and prudent.

That alone will obviously deflate the projected Irish win total this year. If looking at Bill Connelly’s ever-reliable SP+ projections, and factoring in a slight advantage for home field where appropriate, Notre Dame should be favored by at least a touchdown in eight games this season. Those do not exactly map out to eight wins — see the previous point about Freeman needing to prove he can avoid upsets — but it will be a strong start. Of the remaining four, the Irish will be a multi-score underdog at Ohio State to open the season (in 118 days), favored slightly against BYU in Las Vegas and, as of now, in a toss-up against Clemson.

Oh, and who knows about USC. Connelly openly admits his projections are flawed when it comes to the Trojans, given how much has changed at that program in the last six months.

That broad view would set Notre Dame’s win total Over/Under at nine before deducting an unexpected loss and before deciphering USC.

But that is not and never has been this space’s approach. Around here, a decimal value gets attached to each game as a rough win probability. Working chronologically …

Sept. 3 at Ohio State: The Irish have won 54 games in the last five years. They consistently recruit among the best in the country. The buzz around the program since the Freeman promotion might be the most positive among the 131 FBS programs. But there is no way to look at Notre Dame’s trip to Columbus as a likely win. The Buckeyes rank No. 1 in SP+, largely thanks to an offense considered nearly a touchdown better than the next best offense in the country. That passing attack should exploit the biggest Irish defensive weakness.

Notre Dame’s odds are not zero. But this game comes in at a 0.1.

Sept. 10 vs. Marshall: The Irish should not lose to any Group of Five team under any circumstances, not given where the program is currently. That fact alone makes this a 1.0.

Sept. 17 vs. Cal: The first pass through these numbers set this matchup as a 0.9. The Bears should actually be worse than the Thundering Herd, per SP+, but let’s stick with the 0.9 as a nod to the psychological and physical difference of a Power Five team. Furthermore, Cal’s last few seasons have been disrupted by the pandemic more than any other team’s has been. SP+ relies heavily on recent results, but those may not be as applicable in this instance.

Sept. 24 at North Carolina: Notre Dame should be about a touchdown favorite. The Tar Heels have plenty of talent. Consider this a should win that might turn into the assumed upset to color reviews of Freeman’s first season as a head coach. Make this a 0.75.

Oct. 8 vs. BYU in Las Vegas: Irish fans will neither want to hear this nor believe it, but BYU is good. BYU will be good. BYU could win this game. SP+ suggests Notre Dame will be favored by a field goal, perhaps a point more. That might not give proper credit to the consistency enjoyed by the Cougars these days.

The Irish have never lost a Shamrock Series game, which this will be, and they will have a talent advantage, but assuming Notre Dame wins this game more than two out of every three times would be a mistake. 0.667.

Oct. 15 vs. Stanford: The Cardinal should be better than last year, but that bar is about as high as your living room carpet. If ever there was a Power Five game begging for a 1.0, it is this, but let’s stick with that aforementioned disclaimer and make this a 0.9.

Oct. 22 vs. UNLV: 1.0. No further analysis is needed.

Oct. 29 at Syracuse: The Orange might be feisty this season. Dino Babers knows he needs to be. But still, chalk this up as a 0.75, and if Kelly were still the Irish head coach, it would be higher. But a quarter of a win probability here and a tenth there is how this approach adjusts for the likely upset Freeman endures.

Nov. 5 vs. Clemson: A toss-up in all regards. 0.5.

Nov. 12 vs Navy in Baltimore: If this was the Navy of a few years ago, led by Keenan Reynolds or Malcolm Perry, perhaps Freeman would have cause to worry. It is not. He need not. 1.0.

Nov. 19 vs. Boston College: Every instinct says this game could be a trap, but then SP+ marks the Eagles as exactly average in its preseason rankings, nearly three touchdowns behind Notre Dame, and those thoughts dissipate a good bit. 0.75, and perhaps it should be higher.

Nov. 26 at USC: Truly, who knows. 0.5.

That adds up to 8.817 expected wins.

The correct Over/Under for Irish wins in Freeman’s debut season should be 9.0, though 8.5 would be understandable. Any lower and the Over will once again be the clear and obvious play.

SPECIAL TEAMS DEPTH CHART
Left off last week’s depth charts, the special teams morasse:

Kicker: Fifth-year Arkansas State transfer Blake Grupe nominally leads sophomore Josh Bryan.
Punter: Junior soccer Goalie Bryan Dowd may lead the way, ahead of fifth-year Harvard transfer Jon Sot and incoming freshman Bryce McFerson.
Kickoffs: Bryan outpaces Grupe here.
Long snapper: Fith-year former walk-on Michael Vinson should hold onto this starting gig all season, ahead of junior Alex Peitsch (with four years of eligibility remaining yet).

INSIDE THE IRISH
Undrafted free-agent fate may be better for Notre Dame alums than getting drafted, including Jack Coan and Kevin Austin
Notre Dame’s offensive depth chart heading into the summer, after the transfer portal deadline
Notre Dame’s defensive depth chart after spring practices, once again ripe with front-seven depth
Defensive tackle chooses Notre Dame over Michigan, yet another four-star in the Irish class of 2023

OUTSIDE READING
Clemson’s response to 3-loss 2021? ‘It was a different feeling, a feeling I didn’t like’
Notre Dame gets another four-star DL in Devan Houstan
Building a College Football Super League: What could it look like?