NCAAF · Fri (12/16) @ 11:35am ET
|Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame , IN|
Our Pick: CIN Cincinnati at +725. Sign up with BetMGM and take advantage of $1000 risk-free bet today!
With a few traditional college football powerhouses struggling this season, the door is open for someone else to make the College Football Playoffs. The Cincinnati Bearcats would like to be the first non-Power Five schools to qualify. A win over No. 9 Notre Dame this week would certainly give them a good argument. But Notre Dame has CFP dreams of its own.
As an independent, the Fighting Irish do not benefit from a conference title game to make a final impression on the selection committee. That means they need to take advantage of every chance they get to make a statement. A win over No. 7 Cincinnati would undoubtedly do that.
Beating Notre Dame is crucial to Cincinnati’s shot at the CFP this year. After Notre Dame, the rest of their schedule is unimpressive; the most challenging game is probably a home contest against SMU late in the season. A win over another Group of Five program will not hold as much weight making this a must-win game for the Bearcats.
From a statistical standpoint, it is not hard to see the Bearcats winning this game. Notre Dame struggles to run the ball and is only decent in the passing game (30th in the nation). Cincinnati’s defense is not as dominant as last year’s group was. But they are one of the best against the pass (19th in yards allowed; 2nd in team passing efficiency defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, things are looking well for the Bearcats. Desmond Riddler is having a solid season and is on the outskirts of the Heisman conversation. Jerome Ford is a solid running back averaging 6.0 yards a carry, and they have four wide receivers with 100+ yards on the season but no one with more than nine receptions.
This means Riddler is doing a great job of spreading the ball around and not giving defenses anyone to target. Between their efficiency in the passing game and their good run game, Cincinnati is averaging 43.0 points a game (8th in the nation).
The downside to the Bearcats—their opponents are a combined 4-7. Indiana (2-2) is the best team they have faced, and they are not the force to be reckoned with like last season’s Hoosiers. Notre Dame is going to be a serious test for Cincinnati. But if they can take down the Fighting Irish, they have a shot at making history this season.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
As crucial as a win is for Cincinnati’s CFP dreams, the same can be said about Notre Dame’s. The Fighting Irish would love to qualify for the playoffs for the third time in four seasons and will need a win over No. 7 Cincinnati if they are going to have a shot. But they will likely need to play their most complete game of the season to get it.
Luckily for Fighting Irish fans, that is what Notre Dame excels at. Take last week’s big win over then-No. 18 Wisconsin. Every aspect of the game contributed to the win. The defense forced five turnovers and scored a pair of touchdowns. While the offense struggled to run the ball, it was efficient enough in the passing game to win the time of possession battle.
Special teams deserve some credit as well since it was a kickoff return for a touchdown that gave Notre Dame the lead for good.
This season, Jack Coan has played well and appears set to play this week despite leaving the Wisconsin game with a leg injury. Tight end Michael Mayer is his favorite target (24 receptions, 267 yards, and three touchdowns). But Coan does an excellent job of distributing the ball. Five guys have 10+ receptions, six have 100+ yards, and three have 200+ yards on the season.
However, while the defense is not bad, it is not particularly good at anything. It ranks 54th against the run (128.5 yards/game), 78th against the pass (234.5 yards/game), and 67th in scoring (23.2 points/game). They do have an efficient pass defense (19th in the nation).
But up until last week, it looked like Notre Dame was doing enough to win, making it tough to tell just how good they might be.
Notre Dame is one of those teams that often gets credit for being good without actually proving they are good first. Escaping with wins against Florida State and Toledo should be red flags to bettors. Yes, the victory over Wisconsin appears to have been a dominant one but take away the kick-6 and the two pick-6s, and the score becomes a less impressive 20-13.
Cincinnati, on the other hand, looks a lot like last year’s squad. The offense is efficient and minimizes mistakes, while the defense helps control the clock. Statistically, they appear susceptible to the run. But Notre Dame does not have a strong run game and will likely count on the passing game to move the ball.
Do not expect this one to be as close as the odds make it look. Take Cincinnati to win via the moneyline or against the spread. The total, however, is a toss-up. The under looks more likely, but it is also not hard to see the over being covered.