Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman, a transfer from Wake Forest, could very well be the final piece to a College Football Playoff puzzle for the Irish.
The patchwork approach of the past few years failed to reach the title-contending bar, but things are rolling in South Bend since Hartman arrived.
A huge early-season test awaits Notre Dame, which hosts perennial power Ohio State for the college football marquee game of the week.
Both schools have found little resistance over the season’s first few weeks. The Irish have scored at least 41 points in their four victories while the Buckeyes have allowed a total of only 20 points in their three mismatches against Indiana, Youngstown State and Western Kentucky.
We have news, trends and quotes — along with our spread pick and a prop pick for good measure.
–Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
–Location: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Ind.
–Point Spread, Total: Ohio State -3, Total 55.5
Buckeyes coach Ryan Day did not settle on his QB1, junior Kyle McCord, until after Ohio State’s second game this season, and it wasn’t a particularly ringing endorsement.
Day underscored the importance of McCord being a solid game manager. McCord will have to make a few plays to find success Saturday night. It should help Ohio State that the Buckeyes have the best playmaker on the field, receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.
Harrison’s ability to run precise routes and draw multiple defenders could yield wide-open looks for McCord and his secondary targets.
The decisive matchup is on the other side of the ball: Hartman and the Fighting Irish offense against the Buckeyes’ powerhouse defense.
Ohio State provided a convincing audition by stifling the active FBS career leader in passing yards, Western Kentucky’s Austin Reed, holding him to 207 yards with one TD and one interception.
The opening number posted before the season had Ohio State by a touchdown, but Hartman and the Irish have opened the eyes of the betting public and this matchup figures to be worthy of wide viewership and plenty of popcorn.
Ohio State is 2-1 against the spread, having covered as a 29.5-point favorite last Saturday against Western Kentucky in a 63-10 rout.
Notre Dame is 3-1 against the spread, narrowly failing to cover as 34.5-point favorites in a 41-17 win over Central Michigan.
Ohio State hosted Notre Dame in last season’s opener, winning 21-10 as 17-point favorites.
With the Buckeyes a field-goal choice this week, Notre Dame had 66 percent of spread bets according to VegasInsider.
The bet here is that Ohio State contains the Notre Dame offense just enough to capitalize on an advantage in the trenches with Harrison creating offensive opportunities.
The pick: Ohio State 30, Notre Dame 24
Sam Hartman, with touchdown throws of 76 and 75 yards against Central Michigan last Saturday, is tied for seventh with former Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones on the FBS all-time list with 123 touchdown passes.
After five seasons at Wake Forest, Hartman faces a critical test in his 50th career start.
“It’s a clash of two football greats that, growing up, you think about and look at those games of Ohio State and all the other big ones that you’d be like, âThat would be a cool game to play in,'” Hartman said.
“It’s exciting. It is a big game. To shy away from that is foolish, but like every week, it’s about us executing at the highest level.”
Ohio State leads the series 5-2 with five consecutive wins since 1995. Notre Dame’s last win was 7-2 in South Bend in 1936. The Buckeyes won 21-10 in Columbus last season.
THEY SAID IT
“I think it’s a factor. Kyle’s been around. He hasn’t played a whole bunch of football, but he has been around. He’s seen it. … I think experience does play a part of it. It’s not the No. 1 thing overall. There’s a lot of other things that come with it, but I do think it’s significant.”
— Ohio State coach Ryan Day on the experience disparity at the respective starting QB positions.
While the Irish should benefit from an early adrenaline boost at home, the Buckeyes defense won’t let things get out of hand. We’ll boost the total to 60.5 and bet the under, combined with an Ohio State outright victory.
The prop: Ohio State to win, parlayed with the under 60.5 (+165 at BetMGM).