Football is finally back. Yes, we’ve had the NFL preseason to bet on over the last two weeks, but there wasn’t much on the line in those games beyond roster spots and depth chart order. Now we have playoff implications, especially with two ranked teams, No. 13 Notre Dame and No. 6 USC scheduled to play in Week 0. Let’s dive into my college football Week 0 predictions so that we can talk about the best Week 0 picks for Navy-Notre Dame, Hawaii-Vanderbilt and more college football action.
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College Football Week 0 Predictions: Best Navy-Notre Dame, Hawaii-Vanderbilt Picks
Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook
Navy: +800 | Notre Dame: -1400
Navy +20.5: -115 | Notre Dame -20.5: -105
Over 50.5: -105 | Under 50.5: -115
For updated Navy-Notre Dame odds and picks, click here.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will take on the Navy Midshipmen in the first game of the 2023 college football season. It isn’t projected to be especially competitive — the Irish are a pretty massive favorite, after all, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find some value on the betting markets. We absolutely must have action on the first consequential football game of the year. Notre Dame will look to get the Sam Hartman era started with a bang, but bettors shouldn’t expect a ton of offensive fireworks early — these are two of the slowest programs in the FBS.
The pace should depress scoring to a meaningful degree. Notre Dame ranked 114th in seconds per play (28.2) and 16th in average time of possession (32:11) last season. Likewise, Navy ranked 128th (29.9) and third (34:50) in those metrics. Although the Midshipmen made a coaching change, it wasn’t a big one — they promoted defensive coordinator Brian Newberry to the head coach spot and brought in Grant Chesnut from Kennesaw State, who runs a similarly slow, run-heavy option-based offense.
When these teams played last November, Notre Dame was a 16.5-point favorite and the game had a closing total of just 40.5. Notre Dame won that game but barely, taking down Navy 35-32 for a final total of 67 points. Now, Notre Dame is a 20.5-point favorite and the game owns a total of 50.5. This raises the question of whether last year’s performance and the additions of Hartman and Chesnut are worth adding 10 points to the total. A look at last year’s game reveals that several big plays, including two turnovers in a team’s own territory, were responsible for touchdowns. Scoring drives also took an abnormally low amount of time for both teams, especially early.
Although both Navy and Notre Dame should look more efficient on offense this year, the total has just gotten far too high. The Irish scored 31.8 points per game last year, slightly worse than their implied total (35.3), and primarily against much faster teams. Navy scored 23.3 points per game last year, slightly better than their implied total (15.3), but also primarily against much faster teams. The Midshipmen averaged only 17.3 points per game across teams that ranked bottom-20 in pace, of which they played three.
Navy-Notre Dame Week 0 Pick: Under 50.5 -110 at Caesars
Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook
Ohio: +125 | San Diego State: -150
Ohio +2.5: -105 | San Diego State -2.5: -115
Over 49.5: -110 | Under 49.5: -110
For updated Ohio-San Diego State odds and picks, click here.
Saturday’s Ohio-San Diego State game will probably end up being the slate’s best contest. These teams are relatively evenly matched, which the spread suggests, but have quite different philosophies. The Ohio Bobcats have leaned on the passing game and the Rourke family, first Nathan Rourke (of CFL and preseason fame), now Kurtis Rourke. The younger Rourke ranked sixth in the FBS in passing efficiency last year before his season was cut short by an ACL tear. Ohio ended the season ranked 29th in yards per pass attempt (8.1) largely because of Rourke’s efforts.
While Ohio has been effective at passing the ball, the San Diego State Aztecs have been effective at shutting down opposing offenses. The Aztecs ranked 28th in passing yards allowed per game (204.8) and 23rd in yards allowed per pass attempt (6.5) last year. They also ranked a stingy 15th in yards allowed per play (4.8). But while the defense ranked a solid 45th in the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), the offense was a putrid 123rd. The offense was so bad that defensive back Jalen Mayden had to take over at quarterback. SDSU ended the year ranked 100th in yards per play (4.9), but its run-heavy, slow-paced play was enough to help out the defense.
San Diego State’s offseason did some damage to the defense. Last year’s leading pass rusher, Jonah Tovai, is off for the NFL. He racked up 10.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss to go with a fumble. Linebacker Michael Shawcroft, who finished runner-up to Tovai in both metrics with 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, is gone, too. Safety Patrick McMorris, who led the team in passes defended, left for Cal. He had intercepted five passes over the last two seasons and even scored a defensive touchdown. Shawcroft led the team in tackles last season, one spot ahead of McMorris. McMorris led the team in tackles in 2021.
There are some concerns surrounding Rourke’s availability and mobility, considering he tore his ACL last November, but insider information suggests Rourke is expected to play. That would be massive for Ohio, and official news about Rourke’s return would likely push this line even further in Ohio’s direction. The Bobcats were a 2.5-point to 3.5-point dog on Monday morning, but the market had settled at 2.5 before publication. Trusting the Bobcats to pull off the upset at odds of +120 (45.5%) or better is my top college football Week 0 prediction.
Ohio-San Diego State Week 0 Pick: Ohio Moneyline +125 at BetMGM
Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook
Hawaii: +550 | Vanderbilt: -900
Hawaii +17: -110 | Vanderbilt -17: -110
Over 55.5: -110 | Under 55.5: -110
For updated Hawaii-Vanderbilt odds and picks, click here.
The Vanderbilt Commodores will host the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at a still-under-construction FirstBank Stadium in Nashville. Capacity is reduced from 28,500 to 40,350 as a result of the changes, which are supposed to be completed before the 2024 campaign. Although the ‘Dores aren’t a contender to win the SEC — or even to win the SEC East — they have been on an upward trend under head coach Clark Lea. After a tough 2-10 debut in 2021, Lea led the ‘Dores to 5-7 and a pair of SEC wins in 2022. The books expect a similar showing from Vanderbilt in 2023, as they own a win total of 4.5.
Last year’s meeting between these teams was ugly, but it also came at a time of transition for Hawaii. Vanderbilt closed as a 6.5-point favorite and the total closed at 54.5, but the ‘Dores won 63-10, easily covering the spread and cashing the over by themselves. But the Hawaii team Vanderbilt faced then slowly congealed as the season progressed, and rookie head coach Timmy Chang led them to home wins against Nevada and UNLV. Still, Hawaii ended the year ranked a disastrous 127th in the FEI, far behind 72nd-ranked Vanderbilt.
It makes sense to see Vanderbilt listed as a much larger favorite for this year’s rematch, but it’s surprising to see the total mostly unchanged. These defenses were terrible last year and didn’t do much to get better. Vanderbilt ranked 129th in yards allowed per play (6.8) while Hawaii ranked 127th (6.7). Although the ‘Dores did have to contend with elite SEC competition, their 125th-place ranking in yards allowed per pass attempt (8.6) will make stopping a Chang-coached, pass-happy attack quite difficult — Hawaii threw the ball 56.1% of the time last year.
Both sides have the offensive playmakers necessary to put points on the board. Vanderbilt has second-year quarterback A.J. Swann, who recorded a reasonable passing efficiency grade of 126.8 across nine starts last year. He’ll get big-bodied boundary receiver Will Sheppard back, which is massive — Sheppard caught two touchdowns against the Rainbow Warriors last year. The Rainbow Warriors will turn to quarterback Brayden Schager, who has an extra year of experience under his belt and got to see the Vanderbilt defense firsthand last year. I don’t get why this total isn’t higher after last year’s scoring fest, so the over has to be one of our college football Week 0 picks.
College Football Week 0 Pick: Over 55 -110 at DraftKings