Nevada Wolfpack at Notre Dame Fighting Irish
College Football: Saturday September 5, 2009, 3:30 PM EST (NBC)
The Line: Notre Dame -14 1/2
Fall weather has started to hit in the upper Midwest but the heat is on in South Bend for coach Charlie Weis as he enters his fifth year leading the most famous college football team on the planet. With the high profile job comes high profile expectations, which Weis has yet to fulfill.
There are signs of hope in Irish land as in Notre Dame's last game last season, the Irish we're clicking on all cylinders and the mostly highly recruited player in the last 10 years, Jimmy Clausen, showed us what all of the hype was all about. What we need to remember is that game was against Hawaii, a team who finished 7-7 and were down the totem pole in the WAC.
Notre Dame has a lot of returning talent, most notably at wide receiver, the Irish have no excuses for not being a better team this year. Michael Floyd and Golden Tate are two gamers but the Irish running game has really been non existent for the past two years ranking 100th in the country last season. The offensive line returns four of last years starters and Notre Dame traditionally has strong tight ends and this year is no exception.
The defense for the Irish isn't as fortunate as experience is somewhat sparse. The Irish have been gashed at times over the past few seasons and linebacker is something that will need to sort itself out as the season goes on. The Irish will need to get this in order in a hurry in this one.
While Nevada may be an unknown to a lot of people, they aren't unknown to those who follow the game closely. Head Coach Chris Ault has one of the top ten highest winning percentages of any active head coach and he's done it over the long haul. The Wolfpack have gone to four consecutive bowl games.
The Wolfpack is a string team with a major deficiency and like Notre Dame, it's the defense. Nevada was the worst team in the country in yards allowed against the pass, a ranking they can only improve on this year. The defense will be totally rebuilt and they will need to make plays and get some turnovers if the Wolfpack expects to stay in this one.
I can bash the Wolfpack defense plenty but in all fairness they know how to get to the passer. Nevada was the only team in the country with two players with double digit sack numbers and both return this year.
If there is one thing that keeps the Wolfpack in every game it is their offense. Nevada runs the "Pistol" formation which is a version of the shotgun and the offense is prolific. Nevada averaged over 500 yards per game of total offense and both of their leading rushers return. Vai Tua ran for 1,521 yards and 15 TD's a year ago and QB Colin Kaepernick is the best in the WAC, one of the best offensive conferences. There is no doubt Notre Dame's defense will be tested early and often.
Neither of these teams have trends that favor them in this spot. Perhaps the most surprising trend is just how bad of a cover team the Irish are at home. Notre Dame is just 6-13 against the spread in their last 19 home games and 4-9 against the spread as a home favorite.
While ND looked perfect against Hawaii last year and it must be a huge boost to their confidence, the reality is this is a team who struggled against San Diego State at home and then lost to Syracuse in South Bend. Notre Dame has had big trouble the past few years playing non conventional offenses as Navy has had some good success moving the ball. If Navy gave them trouble, they may be in for a very long day against Kaepernick, Tua, and the Pistol.
This could be a shootout as neither defense is great at stopping people. I think Nevada can at least keep it close and has a legitimate shot to pull one of week one's biggest upsets.
Mitch's Pick: Nevada +14 1/2