Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, September 26, 2016 at 8:00 AM
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly pulled the plug on what’s been a defensive experiment that isn’t working, to put it mildly. In the hours after the Irish lost to Duke outright 38-35 as a (-21.5) favorite, Kelly fired defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder. College football bettors have to decide quickly if this will change anything in what’s been a disastrous defensive performance thus far in 2016.
The Fighting Irish are currently giving up 33.5 points per game. That ranks 102nd in the country. They’ve been overrun by Texas (who later lost to Cal), by Michigan State (who got crushed at home by Wisconsin) and now to Duke (who has lost to Northwestern). In all of these games, Notre Dame has given up over 200 yards on the ground.
The result has been a bloodbath for Irish backers at the betting window. A team that’s been favored in all four of its games has three outright losses. And there’s one common pattern in all of these losses that you can quickly discern by seeing how these games play out against the totals line…
*The final score of the Texas game was 50-47. The Over/Under was 57.5
*The final score of the Michigan State game was 36-28. The Over/Under was 50.5
*The final score of the Duke game was 38-35. The Over/Under was 60.5
In all of these cases, Notre Dame’s games aren’t just going Over, they’re positively soaring Over the totals line as though they were on a springboard. All of them have exceeded the number by at least two touchdowns. It can’t be a coincidence that Notre Dame’s lone victory—a 39-10 win over Nevada as a (-27.5) favorite—was an Under 63 result. At least Kelly didn’t think so, as he hopes a midseason coaching change can turn his defense and his team’s season around.
The current play of the Irish defense is the bottoming out of what’s been a disturbing pattern. During Kelly’s first three years in South Bend (2010-12) he produced Top 25 defenses on an annual basis, peaking with the 2012 unit that ranked second in the nation, leading the team to a spot in the national championship game. Coordinator Bob Diaco left to become the head coach at Connecticut and Notre Dame’s defenses haven’t been the same, ranking 74th, 85th and 41st over the last three years under Van Gorder.
That’s the track record. Should college football bettors count on improvement after the coaching shakeup. The interim DC is Greg Hudson. He’s never produced a defense in the Top 50 nationally during nine years as a coordinator at Minnesota, East Carolina and Purdue. To be fair, those schools have a talent base considerably lower than the Irish, so we’re not ruling out that Hudson could do the job. We’re simply acknowledging that there’s no reason to simply assume this change will be a positive one.
Moreover, a coaching change isn’t going to magically make a defense that returned only four starters this year more experienced. We’ll see if a change makes the defense tougher against the run and more capable of pressuring the quarterback. There are marquee games coming up against Stanford (October 15) who we know will pound the football, and against Miami (October 29), where pressure on quarterback Brad Kaaya is a must.
The next two games, at home with Syracuse and on the road with N.C. State, are key evaluation spots for handicappers, as will be watching how the totals lines come out. For the first month of the season, taking the Over on Irish games has been easy money. We’ll have to see if the coaching changes or the market can make what needs to be a radical adjustment.