In a matchup full of what-ifs, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame will travel to the desert to battle the Oklahoma State Cowboys who fell just inches short of a conference title.
It’s a story that’s been run through the news cycle over and over again, but Marcus Freeman will make his head coaching debut for the Irish after his predecessor Brian Kelly bolted for LSU. He was the team’s defensive coordinator this year after coming over from Cincinnati where he held the same position, and he’ll have a tall task on his plate getting a strong but shorthanded team ready to go against an experienced coach in Mike Gundy. Notre Dame finished the year 11-1, ranked #5 in the country.
Oklahoma State, on the other hand, was inches from being crowned Big 12 champions but fell just short as Baylor stopped them on fourth-and-goal in the conference title game. A win not only would have given them the Big 12 crown but probably would have secured them their first College Football Playoff berth. Alas, the Cowboys will now take their top-10 defense to Arizona to take on one of college football’s most storied programs. Oklahoma State ended this year ranked #9 at 11-2.
The Fiesta Bowl will kick off on New Year’s Day at 1:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.
- Opening Line: Notre Dame -2.5
- Current Line: Notre Dame -2.5
- Opening Total: 44.5
- Current Total: 45.5
Per Pregame.com, most of the betting action is on the Irish. Notre Dame is attracting 74% of the tickets and an overwhelming 86% of the money. Despite this, the line has not moved.
There’s a “Pros vs. Joes” split on the total. The majority of bets (72%) are on the over, but 69% of the cash is on the under. The total has only moved a point, but it’s interestingly moved higher.
Both of these teams have been disrespected in the market all year long, and have overperformed. The Cowboys are 9-4 against the spread (ATS), including 8-2 in their last 10, 5-0 away from Stillwater, and 3-0 as underdogs. Notre Dame went 9-3 ATS overall, 4-1 away from South Bend, and 7-2 as a favorite. Strength against strength – something’s gotta give.
Notre Dame has never played a bowl game under Marcus Freeman – obviously – but under Brian Kelly, the Irish were 6-6 overall and 6-3 in all non-playoff or BCS Title games. The program is just 1-4 all-time in the Fiesta Bowl, most recently losing 44-28 against Ohio State in 2016.
Oklahoma State is 2-0 all-time in the Fiesta Bowl, most recently beating Stanford 41-38 in overtime in 2011. Under Mike Gundy, the Cowboys have won 10 of their 15 bowl games, are 4-1 in their last five, and are coming off a 37-34 win over Miami in the 2020 Cheez-It Bowl.
This will be the first ever meeting between these two programs.
There’s a lot to unpack here, some of which we already did. Notre Dame is favored, but they’ll be missing quite a few notable names. Along with the coach who guided them to an 11-1 record, the Fighting Irish will also be without their best offensive player – running back Kyren Williams, and their best defensive player – safety Kyle Hamilton, as they begin preparing for the NFL draft. Because of this, I believe many casual bettors are seeing value on the Oklahoma State side as underdogs. Not so fast.
The strength of the Irish this season has been their defense, and what do you know – their defensive coordinator is now their head coach. Hamilton hasn’t played in nearly two months now, so while he’s a big loss, his absence isn’t anything new for this defense. Sure, missing Williams on offense is going to be huge, but Notre Dame has two capable backs in Chris Tyree and Logan Diggs who are capable of picking up the slack.
Oklahoma State’s defense is very, very good, so I do think we’ll see a low-scoring game. But I also don’t think this defensive line has faced an offensive line quite like Notre Dame. I believe offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’s game plan will be to control the clock and lean on his fifth-year senior quarterback Jack Coan to hit on big third downs and not turn the ball over.
The Cowboys’ offense is also not great, and Spencer Sanders is more of a “keep plays alive with his legs” quarterback than one who’s going to chew up defenses with an aerial attack. Sanders averages 205.7 yards per game, just 67th in the country. Unfortunately for Oklahoma State, the way to beat this Notre Dame defense is to throw on them, not run. They’re 32nd in the nation against the pass, but 22nd against the run, and none of the Big 12 defenses the Cowboys have faced are as good as the Fighting Irish’s.
In the end, I think Notre Dame’s offense can neutralize Oklahoma State’s defense more effectively than Oklahoma State’s offense can deal with the Irish defense. I wouldn’t bet Notre Dame if the line climbs to -3, but since it’s -2.5…
PICK: Notre Dame -2.5 (-110)
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