It's officially Brian Kelly Hate Week, a rare but highly coveted seven days where we get to unleash years worth of pent-up animosity towards the Notre Dame big whistle.
Mind you, I don't use the word 'hate' lightly. I hate Brian Kelly. Whether it's the smug arrogance that comes with coaching Notre Dame, the tomato-red-face sideline tantrums, or the emerging pot belly that's pushed him up a turtle-neck size, he stands among [insert current UVA coach here] as my least favorite figures in college football.
Unfortunately, his team appears to be rather good this year. As in, if the Irish beat Tech on Saturday night, Syracuse may be the only thing standing between Notre Dame and a college football playoff berth.
Before visions of Kelly sliming his way into national relevance ruin my previously pleasant evening, let's take a quick look at the Halfwits and Wagers leaderboard:
Brian's Record this Year (+Last Week Only) 11-21 (5-4)
Joey's Record this Year (+Last Week Only) 18-14 (5-4)
On to the lines!
Over/Under: 350 Virginia Tech offensive yards
Brian: Notre Dame gives up 341 yards a game, and hasn't faced a particularly impressive offense yet—the opponent having the most offensive success so far is Wake Forest (483 yards per game), followed closely by Ball State (472). Their best wins are over Michigan, whose milk-chugging head coach seemingly forgot Shea Patterson is a spread QB, and Stanford. The same Stanford who hasn't been able to throw a consistent forward pass in six years, and now struggles with the run as well.
So yeah, not exactly a murderers' row of offensive success.
But for Tech to top this, they'll need Ryan Willis to play even better than he did against Duke, and add a few explosive plays in on top of that. The Irish haven't given up many 30+ yard gainers this year, and I don't foresee Dalton Keene shaking loose and running like a baby deer for 70 yards again (bless his heart).
The chance for a big day is there. But I don't see it happening. Under.
Joey: Ryan Willis was surprisingly productive in his starting debut against Duke, although it's fair to call out that Duke's defensive scheme of "put our cornerbacks on islands and pray it works out*" didn't put a ton of game stress on the Kansas transfer. Notre Dame promises to be stingier physically and more demanding mentally, meaning Willis will need to take another big step for this number to go over.
I expect the running game to meddle in mediocrity for most of the evening with a big run or two pushing the total into the low-100's. That leaves Willis on the hook for 250, which feels slightly optimistic but relatively doable.
Don't love it, but I'll take the over.
*I'm already looking forward to Willis dominating an eerily similar Pat Narduzzi defense. I literally can not wait for mad Pat.
Over/Under: 0.5 passes thrown by Hendon Hooker
Brian: This will be contingent on whether or not we see the Hooker package at all.
(can't stop giggling)
As French highlighted, Willis left a ton on the ground against Duke last week. It would theoretically be a nice change of pace if Hooker could come in and run a few inverted veers and some jet sweep stuff to give the Irish a different look. But in his limited action in Durham, the redshirt freshman didn't look all that effective.
Now if we think it was just a case of the non-mopup jitters, Hooker could prove a very valuable change of pace to Willis' aerial attack. A legitimate threat to keep on every option play will force Notre Dame to play disciplined defense. But it won't be effective if the Irish think they can put both safeties in the box every time Hooker checks in. I bet Cornelsen has a single RPO or play action ready for Hooker. It could hit for a big gain, but it'd keep the defense honest even if it doesn't.
On the flip side, are we sure Fuente and Cornelsen didn't play Hooker as anything more than a dart throw? Trot their athletic QB out on a few low-pressure first downs, see if he can make anything happen, and give their next opponent an extra wrinkle to plan for?
Personally, I don't love the quarterback switcheroo. It gives me flashbacks to '07-'08, except one of the QBs is actually effective (it's really unbelievable how mediocre the Tyrod/Glennon combo was compared to their combined talent). I think Fuente and Cornelsen will stress not taking risks in a game where every possession will matter for the Hokies, which means limited-to-no Hooker package and zero Hooker throws.
Under. Hooker. (I just wanted to say it again.)
Joey: Sorry, I had to let Brian get his Hooker jokes in.
Even so, I'll admit this line's intriguing. You have to think Cornelsen and Co. have a jump pass or two worked into the Hooker playbook, and sneaking Hezekiah Grimsley down the seam against a defense over-committed to the run could help the Hokies steal a score against an athletic Notre Dame defense.
That said, Fuente stresses ball security and predictability, and I'm not sure he trusts Hooker to consistently make the right reads on designed QB run action. With that in mind, I don't think Hooker figures into the game plan for more than a snap or two, so I'll go under.
Over/Under: 2.5 Notre Dame turnovers
Brian: Okay, question. Is Ian Book good, or has he just played bad defenses? Let's look at the results:
vs Vanderbilt: 3-3, 13 yards, one clutch touchdown.
@ Wake Forest (fired their defensive coordinator four games in): 25-34, 325 yards, two TDs. 10 carries, 43 yards, 3 TDs.
vs Stanford (85th nationally in YPG, absolutely torched by Oregon in a lucky win): 24-33, 278 yards, four TDs. 15 carries, 47 yards.
You make the call, because I really don't know. To me, it looks like he makes all of the right decisions in the passing game, can do just enough on the ground, and protects the football. He's basically the polar opposite of Brandon Wimbush, who I REALLY hoped would be the starter at this point in the year. Pour one out for Bud's Bear alignment.
Book might smoke the Hokies like Old Dominion, but I'm thinking he'll get most of his yards underneath (and force Tech to make tackles), limiting the turnover potential. Under.
Joey: Much like Brian, I miss Brandon Wimbush already. While the speedy senior certainly would have been dangerous on the ground, Bud Foster was good for at least two robber picks that would have left Brian Kelly looking like a coked-out priest screaming his lungs out on the East Sideline.
Ian Book seems a tad steadier, if not flat out better. It's too early to anoint him the second coming of Touchdown Jesus himself, but betting on three-plus turnovers feels a bit aggressive.
True or False: Damon Hazelton will catch a touchdown pass
Brian: He'll eventually have coverage shaded his way, right? I mean after this:
After a big tFR season at Ball State Damon Hazelton transferred to VT after sitting out last season he starts his Hookie career with a TD. #devy pic.twitter.com/gRAVpQm5GN— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) September 4, 2018
This (ignore the caption for your health):
And then this?
Anything except a massive shift in coverage is disrespect. But I'll take the over. I mean, did you see those four grabs? This man is on fire, and sometimes you have to ride the horse that brought you here (even if you're 11-21).
Joey: Until proven wrong, I will continue to ride the horse that helped bless me with a comfortable seven-game lead over Brian before the calendar hit October. Hazleton scores in the first half and makes me look intelligent once again.
Syracuse -4 vs. Pittsburgh
Brian: Dino Babers is going to get a job simply on the basis of the Orange playing big teams close. Their effort in Clemson last week was nothing short of remarkable, and you have to feel for Eric Dungey and the squad for not pulling it off.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, went down to Orlando and did the exact opposite. They laid down and got their ribs kicked in repeatedly by UCF. Before that, they lost to UNC and the concussion truther corpse that was once Larry Fedora. The Panthers play a Michigan State style defense without the athletes that make it work, and repeatedly get burnt alive by teams who can run a mediocre RPO.
Pat Narduzzi's tenure is trending in the wrong direction, in every way imaginable, and I just don't think they have the horses to run with Syracuse. And when you're saying that about a game against Syracuse, something's gone very wrong. Cuse -4.
Joey: I had Syracuse +25.5 last weekend against Clemson*. I also had UCF -13 versus Pitt**. In case you were living under a rock, the Orange were one competent timeout manager away from knocking off Dabo Swinney in Death Valley, while UCF embarrassed the hell out of Pitt on national television.
Having watched nearly every snap of both games save a beer run or three, this line flat out confuses me. Why is Syracuse not favored by double digits? How does Vegas expect Pitt to hold Eric Dungey to less than 40 points? Why is Dino Babers still coaching at a basketball school with no air conditioning in their indoor football stadium? Anyways, I digress, but pound 'Cuse.
*Yes, that's why the Syracuse vs. Pitt line made the column. Need to celebrate the small victories.
Oklahoma -7 vs. Texas
Brian: I live in Austin, which is the most confusing college football town I've ever been in. There are a ton of people who care about the Longhorns here, but they're—for the most part—seemingly well adjusted and don't live and die with the result of a given week.
I think this comes down to two things. One, Austin is a beautiful city where there are a billion other things to do other than care about your mediocre football team. It's like the Los Angeles effect for both UCLA and USC fans. Two, I think "TEXAS IS BACK, FOLKS" killed their spirits for good.
For both of these reasons, no one here is riding the Longhorn hype train like they should. Yes, they lost to a team whose head coach was fired mid-season by Ed Orgeron. But since then, Texas has kicked ass. They beat up on (an above average) USC, TCU (who no one knows if they're good or not), and Kansas State (for a half, until they let off the gas and won by five).
Before I buy them, I have to see the Longhorns compete against both a good coach and a good team. Gary Patterson is the only good coach they've faced, and his squad is the football equivalent of a shrug emoji. Bill Snyder is approximately 481 years old, and I'm convinced that Clay Helton is one kid standing on another kids' shoulders in an oversized Trojans polo.
Also, I've bet Oklahoma every week except Army (kids, don't bet against triple option teams not named Georgia Tech). OU -7.
Joey: I still haven't figured out Texas this year. For every 23-point shellacking of USC that brings the 'Texas Is Back!' crowd out from their dimly lit basements, Tom Herman's still good for his annual loss to traditional Big Ten East heavyweight Maryland.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma has a cheat code at quarterback putting up Baker Mayfield-like numbers when he decides to show up on time, and smart money should always be on Lincoln Riley over cheek-kissing Tom Herman.
I'll take the Sooners -7 and would lean towards over at 61.
P.S. DID YOU KNOW USC'S QUARTERBACK SHOULD STILL BE IN HIGH SCHOOL? SERIOUSLY, THAT'S A REAL THING. FOR REAL. HOW HAVE YOU NOT HEARD?
The Joey Coogan Memorial "Navy Hits the Over" Lock of the Week.
Brian: Boston College's only real mode of attack is running back A.J. Dillon. Dillon is a game time decision in Raleigh against NC State on Saturday. If anyone's watched Anthony Brown play with the weight of the game on his shoulders, you know exactly how much they need Dillon at full health.
While it pains me to lock up the any team coached by Dave Doeren, I think the Wolfpack cover the five points at home with relative ease.
Joey: Last week's column featured a long diatribe about how I was briefly concerned with the health of my Navy overs. This week will not.
As of Tuesday morning, the Navy / Air Force total is insultingly low at 49.5. Don't think, just bet.
Virginia Tech-Notre Dame Over/Under: 55 ½
Left tackle Liam Eichenberg was asked about the environment coming Saturday night in Lane Stadium."It's gonna be loud. But our stadium is loud. I'm excited to go in there, kick the shit out of them, get a win, then get out of there."— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) October 4, 2018
I don't know if they're going to win, but Bud Foster's defense will be there to kick ass on Saturday night. I'll take the under.
Joey: After being 100% certain Tech/Duke was going over last week, I love the under in this spot. Notre Dame's offense has impressed since benching Wimbush, but racking up 30+ on Saturday night in Lane Stadium isn't something that Brian Kelly could do with Alabama's offense, let alone his own.*
Combine that with a belief that Ryan Willis will come back to Earth against what's likely the best defense he's ever faced (although you can't count out Rutgers), and this game screams under.
*That line's coming back to haunt me.
Spread: Notre Dame -6.5
Brian: I was all geared up to take Notre Dame with relative ease before I read that quote from Eichenberg. I'm not even saying this as someone who's offended by the remark—if you're a good player on a good team, don't you have to think like that? But doesn't this just feel like the posturing of a team that sees a realistic road to the College Football Playoff and thinks it's really good, but doesn't know it yet?
I don't trust Brian Kelly. I don't think he's capable of keeping his composure when the pressure ramps up. I don't know if Ian Book is as good as everyone wants him to be. I don't know that Ryan Willis isn't the best thing that could have happened to this Hokie offense (intentional double negative, try to figure that one out).
But yet, I still have to take the Irish by a touchdown. It goes against everything I feel in my soul, but sometimes you just have to side with talent.
Joey: I wrote this last week before the Duke game:
I absolutely hate this pick and know it's irrational, but I'm taking Tech. If I've learned anything from a lifetime rooting for this god forsaken football team, it's that they always seem to play their best when a) you least expect it; and b) their backs are against the wall.
Flash forward seven days and I still hate my pick and know it's irrational, but we're running it back with the Hokies.
My reasoning hasn't changed. The public money loves Notre Dame. Brian loves Notre Dame. Tech's the underdog, at home, at night, and their backs are firmly against the wall.
They may not win, but the talent gap isn't wide enough to spot the Irish a full touchdown in what promises to be a frenzied Lane Stadium.
Disclaimer: Some of these are real betting lines, but many of them are fake and none of this is real advice that should be taken seriously.