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Leftovers & Links: Over/under sets outside expectations for Notre Dame’s 2019

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 29: A Notre Dame Fighting Irish cheerleader waves a flag during the College Football Playoff Semifinal Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic against the Clemson Tigers at AT&T Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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If Notre Dame goes 10-2 next season, many Irish fans will be disappointed. Yet, a third-consecutive double-digit win season and fourth in five years would qualify as outpacing bookmakers expectations. An online sportsbook posted the first selection of 2019 win total over/unders Monday morning, setting Notre Dame’s 2019 bar at 9.5 wins.

That book beat this space to its projection by about 24 hours. Part of the weekend was spent pondering win probabilities, and the guess was going to be the line would come in at 8.5 wins. Maybe if not so dedicated to all over/unders ending in x.5, that number would have jumped to nine, but not 9.5.

Remember, this is not a 2019 prediction. Rather, it is an attempt to find the figure which would attract equal interest on both its over and under offerings. Already, the odds indicate the public’s expectations have leaned toward the under, the wisdom of the crowds agreeing with this space’s math.

Looking at Notre Dame’s schedule, five games come across as close to sure-things as possible in a competitive environment: at Louisville, vs. New Mexico, vs. Bowling Green, vs. USC and vs. Navy. Yes, that fourth entry is the University of Southern California, given an over/under of 7.5 wins, with the early tickets indicating the under is also the trendy choice.

Given Georgia has national title odds of 7-to-1, compared to the Irish version of 33-to-1, reason foresees the Bulldogs favored by at least a touchdown Sept. 21. For simplicity’s sake, let’s lean into that and allow a 0.0 win expectation for Notre Dame in Athens.

That leaves six games somewhere between the two absolutes. Virginia and Virginia Tech appear to be on diverging trendlines, neither a genuine threat on the surface. The same could be said of the other ACC duo, Duke and Boston College, though the former is a Notre Dame road game against a savvy head coach in David Cutcliffe and the latter boasts a physical force at running back in AJ Dillon. None of these four are quite sure-things, but all should go the Irish way.

Handicapping wins in all four would be bold. Let’s project three expected wins.

That leaves road games at Michigan and Stanford. The Wolverines have a win total over/under of 9.5, already skewing toward the over, with title odds of 16-to-1. In other words, they are expected to be better than the Irish. Maybe Notre Dame has a 1-in-3 chance of winning in Ann Arbor against quarterback Shea Patterson in his second season under head coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Cardinal have no such lofty expectations tied to it yet, but head coach David Shaw is still there and the Irish have not won at the Farm in a decade. Again, 1-in-3 odds feel applicable.

Those win expectations yield a total of 8.67 Notre Dame victories, hence the thoughts of an over/under at either 8.5 or 9. Not 9.5. That bookmaker uptick could simply be protection against faithful and ambitious Irish fans. Maybe it is a credit to the strength of the returning defensive line. Or perhaps Brian Kelly has just earned that benefit of the doubt.

Irish fans might be disappointed by either figure. Another loss to Duke would be much too reminiscent of 2016’s debacle. Lengthening that losing streak at Stanford would be a red mark on Kelly’s ledger that may never be forgotten, especially as it would tilt the head-to-head record 3-6 toward Shaw. Only a LeBron James defender would consider that split acceptable. And, of course, nobody in blue-and-gold ever wants to fall to blue-and-maize.

Reaching the over 9.5 would necessitate sweeping all games considered favorable and a road victory at either a Playoff contender or a constant thorn in Notre Dame’s side. Those specific thoughts do not inform an over/under, but the season as a whole is.

Just as it was more likely the Irish would finish 9-3 or 10-2 last season than they would 12-0, the same will be true again in 2019. By no means does that mean 12-0 is beyond possibility. After all, another book gives Notre Dame 3-to-1 odds of making the College Football Playoff again, the same as Michigan.

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