It’s easy to be impressed by Ohio State’s offensive firepower, starting with sophomore quarterback CJ Stroud, and there are plenty of reasons why the Buckeyes are the consensus No. 2 team in college football.
It’s tough to envision a new-look Notre Dame team as a serious title contender this season. It might get ugly early for the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish, who are making their first trip since 1995 to the Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio.
The Buckeyes scored a total of 115 points in their final two home games last season, blowout victories over Michigan State and Purdue teams that went on to win bowl games. Stroud, the Heisman Trophy favorite, returns along with running back TreVeyon Henderson, wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and much more.
The Irish are starting an inexperienced quarterback, sophomore Tyler Buchner, who is surrounded by fewer playmakers. In a track meet, Notre Dame does not appear to have the speed to keep up, which is why Saturday’s showdown marks just the fourth time in the past 45 years a team has been favored by 17 points or more in a top-five matchup.
What the Irish do have is a surplus of strength on the offensive and defensive lines, and not getting overpowered up front is the most important factor in not getting blown out. With eight starters returning on defense, led by NFL prospect Isaiah Foskey on one end, Notre Dame should be able to limit big plays.
The Buckeyes are not unbeatable at home. Oregon was a 14.5-point underdog in a 35-28 win in Columbus last year.
Sharp money on the favorite has moved the line from 14 to 17 and 17.5, so I’ll jump in and take the points with Marcus Freeman in his second game as Notre Dame coach. With some luck, the Irish are capable of staying competitive in the fourth quarter.
Pick: Notre Dame + 17.5
West Virginia (+ 7.5) over PITTSBURGH: The Backyard Brawl has a strange USC theme with former Trojans as the opposing quarterbacks. JT Daniels pulls the trigger for a Mountaineers offense with seven starters back. Kedon Slovis tries to replace Kenny Pickett as the leader of a Pitt offense that also has a new coordinator. Pickett will be missed, and the Panthers are probably being overrated going into this rivalry game.
Illinois (+ 2) over INDIANA: It should be an advantage for the Fighting Illini that they opened last week and showed well in a 38-6 win over Wyoming. Illinois rolled up 477 total yards, including 260 on the ground, behind a dominant offensive line. Tommy DeVito completed 27 of 37 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns, and Chase Brown rushed for 151 yards and two scores. The Hoosiers finished 2-10 last season, failing to cover in seven of their last eight. Indiana lost its top three rushers and top three receivers and will start mediocre Missouri transfer Connor Bazelak at quarterback.
Boise State (+ 3) over OREGON STATE: The Broncos are not my pick to win the Mountain West, but they return 17 starters and will be in the conference title hunt with Air Force and Fresno State. Boise has the league’s best defensive line and a quarterback, Hank Bachmeier, with 25 career starts. In their past 14 games against Pac-12 opponents, the Broncos are 10-4 straight up. While the Beavers have one of the top defenses in the Pac-12, their offense probably will look pedestrian after losing star running back B.J. Baylor.
LSU (-3) over Florida State: After ditching Notre Dame and developing a Cajun accent overnight, new LSU coach Brian Kelly is ready to roll with Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels as his quarterback. Kelly can bring out the best in Daniels, who’s supported by three highly-touted running backs and Kayshon Boutte, one of the nation’s top receivers. Kelly recruited well and hit the transfer portal, so the talent level is high. The Seminoles seem improved after four consecutive losing seasons, but their defense failed to force a turnover against a weak Duquesne team last week. Kelly went 40-1 straight up in his last 41 games as the betting favorite with the Irish, so he does not lose games he’s expected to win. The Tigers have won nine in a row in the Superdome in New Orleans.
Last week: 1-2 against the spread