I once had a student-athlete from my alma mater (destined for a quick exit from the Varsity squad) tell me that he didn’t care much for football and wasn’t planning to give 100% in every game. Raw stuff, eh? That’s not an interview answer you get every day, and that’s how I knew he wasn’t lying in the follow-up.
“What about the Hawks?” I asked him, bringing up a fierce cross-town rival.
“Oh, I’ll gouge their eyes out of the sockets,” he said.
Rivalries make for tricky college football betting, with the power of emotions on the gridiron tested against pure physics and pure skill.
Notre Dame can’t hope for easy, breezy contests in November, with a schedule full of rivals that go back decades upon decades. Navy, especially, tends to travel so well (and mix so well in color-scheme and overall vibe with UND) that when the schools meet in South Bend it feels almost like neutral-site football.
That won’t necessarily be the case this Saturday, though the media is jumping all over the story that this UND-Navy match-up is the 1st non-sellout of Notre Dame Stadium in a very long time. The weather probably has more to do with that than anything, with temperatures dipping well below the freezing mark on a cold week in the Midwest.
Contrastingly the battle itself is expected to be hotly-contested, with a point spread tightening by at least 3 points as the kickoff in South Bend draws near.
Who: Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Fighting Irish
When: Saturday, November 16th, 2:30 PM EST
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN
Lines: Navy (+7) vs UND (-7) / O/U Total: (54.5)
Notre Dame appeared to be headed for a potential College Football Playoff bid or at least a New Year’s Six selection until things came crashing down at the Big House on October 26th. Ian Book had what was easily his worst day as an Irish QB – in fact Michigan didn’t allow UND to do much of anything with the ball for 4 quarters. Jim Harbaugh has been accused of everything but sabotaging the Wolverine program in 2019, but nobody can say he doesn’t recruit with a fine eye, and his latest find Hassan Haskins trucked through the Fighting Irish defense for 149 rushing yards.
Since then, Brian Kelly’s squad has climbed back to contention in stages. The currently #16-ranked Gold & Blue out-lasted Virginia Tech 21-20 in early November as Book led the team in rushing in addition to passing for 338 yards. Book seems to be maturing as a runner and enjoyed another big outing running the Read-Option against Duke in a UND vs ACC follow-up. But the 6’0″ senior continues to throw too many picks, and it was a revitalized Notre Dame defense that carried the program against the Blue Devils despite a 38-7 final score.
Navy has shot into the Top 25 at 7-1 (and 6-2 against the point spread, incidentally) and has the best chance of any modern service-academy team to go to the New Year’s Six in 2019, sporting a blitzing defense and a grease-lightning runner at QB named Malcolm Perry.
When Tulane scored on a late 4th-quarter drive to tie the Midshipmen 38-38 a few weeks ago, Perry simply carried the ball 5 times for 40+ yards and got it in position for frosh PK Bijan Nichols to notch a winner:
After Tulane tied the score at 38 with 1:01 remaining, it was Perry who put Navy in position to attempt the game-winning field goal. The Midshipmen started the final drive at the 25-yard line and the speedy quarterback sparked hope with runs of 9 and 10 yards. Perry purposefully spiked the ball to stop the clock with 22 seconds and that gave the offensive coaching staff time to regroup and come up with a play. It turns out the best play was Perry improvising as he dropped back to pass, couldn’t spot an open receiver then took off. In typical fashion, Perry weaved his way downfield making multiple defenders miss with lightning-quick cutback moves. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior’s spectacular 21-yard run brought the ball to the 33-yard line, which was close enough for Nichols.
A few injuries on defense – or 1 crucial injury at QB – could sink the Middies’ chances at Notre Dame. But right now, Navy is the far-healthier team as UND has a lot of bangs and bruises along the line-of-scrimmage.
The only issue that prevents me from recommending Navy ATS on Saturday is that Notre Dame’s level of kick-return and kick-coverage play is worlds apart from that of the Midshipmen, who would probably be undefeated except for having given up about 10,000 yards on kick returns to the Memphis Tigers in the squad’s lone loss.
The Mids know this is their best chance to surpass Appalachian State (and UND for that matter) in the rankings and earn a New Year’s bid – pending of course a victory in a potential AAC Championship Game appearance – and ironically that factor could help the Irish cover in the 4th quarter.
Navy will be prepared to lay it all on the line, and Notre Dame could surpass (-7) thanks to a desperate final few minutes in which the visitors may turn the ball over trying to catch up.
I’m warming to the underdog moneyline (+240) and will be cheering for Navy to win, not out of dislike for Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish but because an academy rising to the level of national powerhouse would be great for the sport of college football.
Still, Notre Dame is a high-% pick-to-cover on the updated point spread…and the likelihood of a 27-20 final score or another 7-point margin-of-victory and a “push” is a nice safety latch.