2021 College Football Preview: Over/unders for Notre Dame, Independents

By Tim Murray and Dave Tuley  (VSiN handicappers) 

August 9, 2021 07:23 AM
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VSiN’s 2021 College Football Betting Guide is now available for order. Get access to over 300 pages of information, including over/under picks for all 130 FBS teams and our experts’ favorite season win total bets right here.

Here is the 2021 CFB betting guide preview for the Independents, including Notre Dame.

NOTRE DAME

Unlike most teams in college football this season, Notre Dame does not bring back the bulk of its starters. Nine players were selected in the NFL draft, including the school’s all-time wins leader, QB Ian Book. The Irish must also replace four starters on the offensive line. According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, Notre Dame returns only 55% of its production, 124th in the FBS. Notre Dame added a pair of grad transfers who are expected to start in OL Cain Madden from Marshall and QB Jack Coan from Wisconsin.

The Irish’s strengths offensively in 2021 will be in the backfield and at tight end. RB Kyren Williams rushed for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns, while RB Chris Tyree is a home run threat, averaging 6.8 yards per carry in 2020. With unproven commodities at wide receiver, Michael Mayer has a chance to contend for the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end. The former five-star recruit tied for the team lead in receptions as a freshman last season. If Notre Dame wants to reach double-digit wins for the fifth consecutive year, WR Kevin Austin will have to emerge as a legitimate target. The senior has dealt with injuries throughout his career.

Notre Dame lost defensive coordinator Clark Lea after he took the head coaching job at Vanderbilt, but the Irish grabbed Cincinnati DC Marcus Freeman to fill the vacancy. Freeman was highly sought, and Notre Dame beat out LSU for his services. Despite having a future top-10 draft pick at safety in Kyle Hamilton, the strength of the Irish defense will be the line. Notre Dame has a ton of depth up front. Isaiah Foskey and Jordan Botelho are names to keep an eye on as potential disruptors in the backfield.

The schedule is challenging but not daunting. The opener at Florida State could indicate how the season will play out. If the Irish cover in Tallahassee as 9 1/2-point favorites, Notre Dame could be headed toward another 10-win season. The Irish are slight underdogs in a Sept. 25 meeting against Wisconsin in Chicago and short favorites against Cincinnati on Oct. 2, USC on Oct. 23 and North Carolina on Oct. 30. Notre Dame has won 24 straight games at home, but that streak will be in serious jeopardy in October.

Ten wins is achievable, but the market is properly priced with the Notre Dame season win total set at 9. 

Pick: Push 9

LIBERTY

Hugh Freeze’s squad went 10-1 last season and finished with an impressive 37-34 overtime win against Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl. The Flames’ lone loss was by one point at NC State. Liberty returns 20 starters, including a Heisman Trophy long shot in QB Malik Willis, who’s a dynamic playmaker and will likely be a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft. Last season Willis rushed for 944 yards, passed for 2,260 yards and combined for 34 touchdowns (20 passing, 14 rushing). With every offensive starter returning, Liberty should put up some gaudy numbers. Last season the Flames averaged 482 yards and 38 points per game. Defensively, Liberty returns nine starters.

If the Flames can beat Syracuse on the road for a second straight year after last season’s 38-21 decision, Liberty should be undefeated heading into a showdown Nov. 6 at Mississippi, where Freeze was the head coach from 2012-16. After a week off, Liberty hosts Louisiana in one of the season’s top Group of 5 games. The Ragin’ Cajuns return 20 starters from a team that went 10-1 in 2020 and finished nationally ranked. Liberty will be one of the most explosive offensive teams in the country and should win double-digit games for the second straight year.

Pick: Over 9

UMASS

No team had a more bizarre 2020 season than UMass. The Minutemen were not expected to have a season but eventually played four games, all on the road. All four opponents were quality Group of 5 programs — Georgia Southern, Marshall, Florida Atlantic and Liberty — and UMass was outscored 161-12 and outgained by an average of 295 yards. The Minutemen had only a handful of practices last fall, but entering Year 3 of the Walt Bell era, UMass should improve.

The Minutemen expect Colorado transfer Tyler Lytle to be their starting quarterback. The backfield added Rutgers transfer Kay’Ron Adams and junior college transfer Jonathan White. Leading rusher Ellis Merriweather is also back. The strength of the offense will be at running back. The schedule is tough out of the gate, with games against Pittsburgh, Boston College, Coastal Carolina and Toledo. UMass also plays back-to-back road games against Florida State on Oct. 23 and Liberty on Oct. 30. But with two November games against FCS opponents Rhode Island and Maine, a home date against UConn on Oct. 9 and the season finale at New Mexico State on Nov. 27, UMass could win as many as four games in 2021.

Pick: Over 1.5

UCONN

The Huskies return to the field after not playing a game in 2020. UConn has won just one game against an FBS opponent dating to 2018, having beaten UMass 56-35 in 2019. The Huskies did practice last fall and had a normal spring preparing for the 2021 season. RB Kevin Mensah is the most skilled offensive player. The former walk-on rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2018 and ’19.

Coach Randy Edsall has not named a starting quarterback, but returning starter Jack Zergiotis would seem to have the inside track. It is hard to know what to expect from UConn after the Huskies didn’t play last year and combined to go 3-21 in 2018-19, with wins over Rhode Island, Wagner and UMass. However, the early schedule is quite manageable. They play a pair of FCS teams in Holy Cross and Yale, visit UMass and have home dates against Wyoming and Middle Tennessee. After back-to-back weeks off, UConn will visit Clemson on Nov. 13. The Huskies could prepare all season and still lose to the Tigers by 40. Three or four wins is likely the ceiling for UConn.

Pick: Under 2.5

BYU

BYU is coming off an epic 11-1 season in which it was led by Heisman Trophy candidate and No. 2 NFL draft choice Zach Wilson and came from nowhere to enter the College Football Playoff conversation. A year after getting criticized for not playing any Power 5 teams, which was nearly impossible during the pandemic, BYU has seven Power 5 teams on a much tougher schedule. It’s unlikely that the Cougars will repeat their No. 3 national rank in scoring after the loss of Wilson plus offensive tackle Brady Christensen, wide receiver Dax Milne and their offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. But we think the win total has been set a little too low because the cupboard isn’t completely bare.

Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall both started games in 2019, including Romney beating a ranked Boise State team, and will battle to succeed Wilson, with plenty of skill players returning. BYU also ranked No. 4 in scoring defense last year, so that should help the Cougars stay in a lot of games. This doesn’t look like a .500 team, which is what it would take to stay Under the total of 6.5 wins. Even with seven Power 5 teams on the schedule, most aren’t the top schools in those leagues.

If the Cougars are still short of 6.5 wins late in the season, they have November games against Idaho State and Georgia Southern to help get them Over the number.

Pick: Over 6.5

Army

You know what you’ll get with Army — a ground attack led by a “dual-threat” QB who goes with the run 90% of the time in the run-pass option, plus a tough defense. The offense was fourth in the nation last year at 273 rushing yards per game, and QB Tyhier Tyler led the way with 578 yards and five TDs. Tyler appears to be the favorite to run the offense, though the Cadets have four QBs who got wins as starters last season. The defense returns seven starters from a unit that led the nation in total defense at 275.3 yards per game. Army, which was 9-3 last season and has won nine or more games in three of the last four years under coach Jeff Monken, should be competitive in just about every game -- but we’re not sure the Cadets will get nine wins to go Over.

Army has tough road games at Georgia State, MAC champion Ball State, Wisconsin and Liberty, plus neutral-site games against Air Force and Navy. Army should be favored against the other service academies and claim another Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, but that still might not be enough with rough home games against Wake Forest and Western Kentucky. Even if Army is better than recent years, it could be hard to avoid four losses.

Pick: Under 8  

New Mexico State

There’s not much optimism when a team is ranked dead last in Steve Makinen’s Power Ratings. That’s the status of New Mexico State, which is rated 2.5 points worse than the next-worst team, Massachusetts. (The Aggies host UMass in the season finale Nov. 27, two weeks after facing No. 1 Alabama with a rating differential of 55 points, so we’ll see how high oddsmakers set that line.) On the bright side, after the Aggies went 2-10 in 2019 and then sat out 2020 due to COVID-19, they played two games last spring and split, losing to Tarleton State 43-17 but beating Dixie State 36-29 to gain at least some game experience.

Dual-threat QB Jonah Johnson leads the offense, and we’ll see if the extra work with his receiving corps pays dividends. The bad news is the defense, which ranked 129th in the nation in rushing in 2019 at 259.2 yards per game, then lost two key players via the transfer portal.

Oddsmakers have some optimism with the Aggies’ season win total set at 2. We guess they have winnable games against in-state rival New Mexico, South Carolina State (though the Bulldogs look like the top team in the MEAC, so don’t count on it) and UMass, but that’s if everything goes right. Otherwise, the best-case scenario is the Aggies get a push with two wins and more likely they stay Under with one or zero.

Pick: Under 2

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