The No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-0) play a ranked opponent for the second straight week when they host the No. 7 Cincinnati Bearcats Saturday.
Before heading into last week’s bye, Cincinnati stormed back from a first-half deficit to win at the Indiana Hoosiers 38-24 on Sept. 18. The Bearcats have covered in two of their wins, and the lone non-cover was still a 42-7 rout of Murray State as 36.5-point home favorites. Cincinnati senior QB Desmond Ridder currently has the third-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy. Ridder is completing 65.1% of his passes with a seven touchdown to two interception ratio and a 163.8 passer efficiency rating.
Notre Dame had its most impressive performance of the season last week when it clobbered Wisconsin 41-13 at Soldier Field in Chicago. The game was a lot closer than the final score indicates, as the Fighting Irish were actually losing in the fourth quarter before rattling off 31 unanswered points. Notre Dame is just 2-2 against the spread (ATS) in its first four victories. The Fighting Irish’s offense has been a question mark thus far. They are 97th in yards per play (5.2) and have the third-worst yards per rush in the country (2.3).
- Opening Line: Cincinnati -1.5
- Current Line: Cincinnati -1.5
- Over/Under (O/U): 50.5
- Location: Notre Dame Stadium
- Start Time: Saturday, October 2, 2021, 2:30 p.m. ET
Cincinnati hired head coach Luke Fickell in 2017. Since then, the program has won 73.1% of its games and has been ranked as high as sixth in the AP Poll. However, over that span, the Bearcats is 7-5 ATS vs. ranked teams and just 4-10 ATS off a bye. Also, this is typically a profitable spot for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish has covered six of their past seven games as a home underdog, 17-12 with a rest disadvantage and 26-21 ATS vs. ranked competition.
There’s an obvious “line freeze” in the betting market (according to Pregame.com). Roughly 80% of the cash and nearly three-fourths of the bets placed are on Notre Dame, but this line hasn’t budged off the opener and is even moving toward Cincinnati -2 on some sportsbooks. On the other hand, we have a Pros vs. Joe’s situation in the betting market for the total. For example, around two-thirds of the cash wagered is on the Under, while more than 60% of the bets placed are on the Over (according to Pregame.com). But, oddsmakers have steamed this total down from a 52-point opener.
Notre Dame gets a boost from the market because of its national prominence and head coach Brian Kelly’s reputation. However, Cincinnati ranks ahead of Notre Dame in ESPN’s SP+ Rankings, and they are tied in Football Outsiders’ FEI Ratings. Furthermore, the Bearcats rank eighth in net drive efficiency and 10th in net points per play (according to Football Outsiders). While the Fighting Irish is 47th in net drive efficiency and 56th in net points per play.
Also, this is a tough spot for Notre Dame after playing a defensive slug match against a physical Wisconsin team. Fighting Irish super senior QB Jack Coan exited early last week vs. the Badgers with a sprained ankle. His effectiveness and game status remain questionable.
Notre Dame’s offensive line has the fourth-worst line yards per play out of 130 charted FBS programs. The Fighting Irish rank 108th in offensive success rate, 93rd in offensive predicted points added (PPA), and 119th in rushing PPA.
I’m on board with Cincinnati making its case stronger to be the only Group of 5 team invited to the College Football Playoff.
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