LAS VEGAS -- It has been nearly three years since McKenzie Milton played in a football game, so the 23-year-old quarterback’s comeback from a career-threatening knee injury will be a big story when he takes the field Sunday night for Florida State.
Milton, a graduate transfer from UCF, has won his last 23 games as a starter. Those wins came a long time ago, before multiple surgeries were needed to save his right leg.
Will Milton be the same player? How quickly can Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly reload? A couple of fascinating questions will be answered when the Fighting Irish face the Seminoles in Tallahassee.
The Irish lost nine players to the NFL draft and must replace quarterback Ian Book, who had 30 wins as a starter. This is a weaker Notre Dame team than the one that finished 10-2 last season with losses to Alabama and Clemson. Kelly still has plenty of talent to work with, although the quarterback position is a concern. Jack Coan, a Wisconsin transfer, will operate Kelly’s offense and hand the ball often to running back Kyren Williams, who rushed for 185 yards in a 42-26 victory over Florida State last year.
Expect to see major improvement in coach Mike Norvell’s second year with the Seminoles. Weak quarterback play was a problem when Florida State finished 3-6, but Norvell has 17 starters returning and he’s hoping Milton can recapture the magic he flashed at UCF.
The point spread peaked at Notre Dame -9.5 before sharp money showed on the underdog and moved the line to 7.5. The Seminoles should be live home ‘dogs.
The pick: Florida State + 7.5
Clemson (-3) over Georgia: Trevor Lawrence is gone to the NFL, but when he was briefly sidelined last year, DJ Uiagalelei stepped in and passed for 439 yards in the Tigers’ overtime loss at Notre Dame. Clemson is reloading, and Dabo Swinney is a big-game coach who still has an elite defense. Uiagalelei has the ability to outplay Georgia quarterback JT Daniels in this high-profile showdown at Charlotte, N.C.
UCLA (+ 3) over LSU: Chip Kelly’s fourth year as UCLA coach opened with his first nonconference win, 44-10 over Hawaii last week at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins take a big step up in competition this week against LSU, even if the Tigers are a middle-of-the-pack SEC team. UCLA brought back 20 starters, including experienced quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Still in search of a signature win, Kelly gets the coaching edge against the Tigers’ Ed Orgeron.
Nevada (+ 3.5) over CALIFORNIA: Carson Strong is the top quarterback in the Mountain West and a rising NFL prospect. Strong completed 70% percent of his passes with 27 touchdowns and four interceptions last season, when the Wolf Pack finished 7-2. Cal coach Justin Wilcox is a defensive wizard, but Nevada is strong enough offensively to beat several Pac-12 teams.
Last season: 32-24-1