It makes sense that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish would be favored in Ireland, but Notre Dame isn't a 17-point favorite against the Navy Middies because of any home-field advantage.
Notre Dame's Fighting Irish and the Middies from the Naval Academy kick off their 2012 college football seasons Saturday morning with the playing of the Emerald Isle Classic in Dublin, Ireland (9 a.m. ET, CBS).
Most sportsbooks tracked by OddsShark.com opened this game with Notre Dame favored by upwards of 17 points, but it had been bet down to 14.5 points in many places by Friday. Part of that move is Navy's reputation as a tough dog.
"The opening line may have been a bit high because there is no real home-field advantage here, but I think that 14-4 ATS mark as a double-digit dog is also a factor," Jack Randall, a handicapping analyst at OddsShark.com, said in an interview today.
The NCAA football database at OddsShark.com affirms that Navy has been very tough in this position. The 14-4 ATS mark stretches back to 2002.
Notre Dame returns 14 starters this year from a team that went 8-5 and lost a bowl game last year. But for Saturday's game, the Fighting Irish will be without both QB Tommy Rees and RB Cierre Wood, who are both serving suspensions for some offseason transgressions.
They get back eight starters on offense, including three along the O-line. But they'll have to replace WR Michael Floyd, who's off to the pros. Defensively, the Fighting Irish get back six starters, but lost four of their top five tacklers from a season ago.
Navy, meanwhile, returns 13 starters from a team that went 5-7 last year. But five of those losses came by a field goal or less. The Middies get six starters back on offense, although they'll have to break in a new quarterback this year, and seven starters return on defense, including last year's top four tacklers.
Notre Dame pounded Navy last year 56-14, covering as 24-point favorites, as the Middies played with their backup quarterback. But Navy has actually won three of the last five games in this series.
Free Notre Dame-Navy Pick: Even with the suspensions of Rees and Wood, the Fighting Irish outclass the Middies talent-wise by a considerable margin. Navy was better than their record a year ago, and we see them staying close here in a neutral-site game where many of the players may have hit the pubs the night before.
All quotes were obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted.