Games of the Year analysis for Week Zero through Week 4

We hit on the SEC Games of the Year for the 2020 season back on March 24.

Let’s now break down some of the bigger national games using lines from both FanDuel and DraftKings.

In Week Zero on Aug. 29, Notre Dame and Navy will collide at 2:00 p.m. ET. on ESPN in Dublin, Ireland, at Aviva Stadium. FanDuel has the Fighting Irish installed as a 16.5-point favorite. DraftKings also has Notre Dame at -16.5, and it has Navy at +700 on the money line.

Brian Kelly’s team returns rising senior quarterback Ian Book, who threw for 3,034 passing yards in 2019 with a stellar 34/6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Book makes plays with his legs, too, rushing for 546 yards and four TDs last season.

When these teams met in South Bend last year, Notre Dame won 52-20 as a 7.5-point home favorite. The 72 combined points soared ‘over’ the 55.5-point tally.

Ken Niumatalolo’s squad went 4-0 both straight up and against the spread after the loss at Notre Dame. The Midshipmen bounced back from a 3-10 SU record in 2018 to finish 11-2 SU and 10-3 ATS. Navy’s only other loss in 2019 was a 35-23 setback at Memphis.

The other Week Zero game will be a revenge situation for Arizona, which hosts Hawaii after losing a 45-38 decision at Aloha Stadium last year as a 10.5-point road ‘chalk.’ The Wildcats are 10.5-point home favorites.

Hawaii won the Mountain West Conference’s West Division last year thanks to a four-game winning streak to close the regular season, including a 14-11 home win over San Diego State to wrap up the division. The Rainbow Warriors lost 31-10 at Boise State in the MWC Championship Game in a contest that was closer than the final score indicated.

With a 38-34 comeback win over BYU in the Hawaii Bowl, Nick Rolovich’s squad finished 10-5 SU. He won 18 games in 2018 and ’19. The bad news is that Rolovich parlayed that success into accepting the Washington State head-coaching job after Mike Leach left to take the Mississippi State gig.

Rolovich has been replaced by Todd Graham, the 55-year-old former head coach at Rice, Tulsa, Pittsburgh and Arizona State. Graham has a 95-61 overall record, including a 5-4 mark in nine bowl games.

Graham has posted five double-digit win totals during his 12 years as a head coach. He’s been out of football the last two season after being fired by ASU.

Hawaii QB Cole McDonald turned pro a year early, but rising third-year sophomore Chevan Cordeiro is more than ready to take over the starting duties under center. He’s led the Rainbow Warriors to several comeback victories in relief of McDonald already.

In 2019, Cordeiro completed 69-of-120 throws (57.5%) for 907 yards with an 8/3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He rushed for 212 yards and three TDs on 40 attempts, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

Cordeiro retained his redshirt in 2018, but he made an impact in the four games he played in as a true freshman. He connected on 30-of-49 passes (61.2%) for 384 yards with a 6/2 TD-INT ratio. Unfortunately for Cordeiro, Hawaii loses star WRs JoJo Ward and Cedric Byrd, in addition to three starting offensive linemen.

Arizona ended 2019 with seven straight losses by double-digit margins. Kevin Sumlin enters the third season of his tenure on a boiling hot seat after limping to a 9-15 overall record and a 6-12 mark in Pac-12 play.

In Week 1, FanDuel’s lined games on Thursday, Sept. 4, include Clemson -23 at Georgia Tech, Utah -6 vs. BYU and Oklahoma State -16.5 vs. Oregon State. On Friday night, Wisconsin is a 14-point home favorite vs. Indiana at Camp Randall, and UCF is a three-point home ‘chalk’ vs. North Carolina.

On Saturday (9/5/20), FSU is -3 vs. West Virginia (in Atlanta) and Michigan is -1 at Washington.

Utah has beaten BYU nine straight times in ‘Holy Wars,’ including a 30-12 victory as a 5.5-point road favorite last season. The Utes welcome former South Carolina three-year starting QB Jake Bentley, who can play immediately after grad transferring from the Gamecocks. Bentley sustained a season-ending injury in South Carolina’s opener last year.

The Utes started 2019 with an 11-1 SU record and 9-3 ATS mark, but they lost 37-15 to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game before losing 38-10 to Texas at the Alamo Bowl. They lose RB Zack Moss, who had more than 1,000 rushing yards in each of the last three years.

The Mike Norvell Era at FSU starts against the Mountaineers, who are entering Year 2 under Neal Brown, the former head coach at Troy. WVU finished 2019 with a 5-7 SU record and a 5-5-1 ATS mark.

However, Brown’s team played well down the stretch, winning a pair of games as 14-point road underdogs in the last three weeks of the season. WVU outscored Kansas State 10-0 in the fourth quarter to win 24-20. Then in the regular-season finale, the Mountaineers won 20-17 at TCU thanks to Jarret Doege’s 35-yard TD pass to Isaiah Esdale with 2:10 remaining.

The 38-year-old Norvell has been handed the keys to a storied program that’s hit rock bottom the last three seasons. FSU started the 2017 campaign 3-6 before beating Delaware State and Florida to improve to 5-6.

With multiple media outlets reporting that Jimbo Fisher was poised to leave Tallahassee for Texas A&M, Fisher and FSU parted ways a couple of days before hosting ULM. The Seminoles beat ULM and Southern Miss at the Independence Bowl to finish 7-6.

But FSU hired Willie Taggart to replace Fisher and it was unmitigated disaster from start to finish. Taggart went 9-12 overall and 6-9 in ACC action and was fired after a 27-10 home loss to Miami on Nov. 2. FSU finished 6-7 after losing at Florida and to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.

Norvell did a sensational job at Memphis during his four-year tenure, producing a 38-15 overall record and a 24-8 ledger in AAC play. He led the Tigers to a 12-1 record and a Cotton Bowl bid before leaving to take the FSU gig.

In Week 2, Clemson is -24 vs. Louisville, Iowa is -3 vs. Iowa State, Ohio State is -7 at Oregon and Penn State is -7.5 at Virginia Tech. DraftKings has the Buckeyes as 9.5-point road ‘chalk’ and has the Ducks at +290 on the money line. DraftKings has Clemson at -23.5, with the Cardinals sporting 15/1 money-line odds.

Ohio State is 4-1 ATS in five games as a road favorite on Ryan Day’s watch, while Oregon is 2-3 in five games as a home underdog (all five in 2018) during Mario Cristobal’s tenure. The Ducks have lost projected first-round pick Justin Herbert, who is second in program history in career passing yards and had a 32/6 TD-INT ratio in 2019.

Ohio State has rising true junior QB Justin Fields back. Fields had a monster 2019 campaign, leading the Buckeyes to 13-1 record and a Big Ten title. He completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,273 yards with an incredible 41/3 TD-INT ratio. Fields also ran for 484 yards and 10 TDs, too.

The Hokies are 3-4 ATS in seven games as home underdogs during Justin Fuente’s four-year tenure. They won outright in two such spots last year with wins over North Carolina (43-41 in six overtimes) and Wake Forest (36-17). Va. Tech finished 8-5 SU in 2019, losing three one-possession games (35-28 at Boston College, 21-20 at Notre Dame and 37-30 vs. Kentucky).

Penn State is 10-9 ATS in 19 games as a road favorite during James Franklin’s tenure, but the Nittany Lions are 10-5 ATS in their last 15 such spots.

Iowa has beaten Iowa State five times in a row, including an 18-17 win as a 1.5-point road ‘chalk’ in Ames last year. The Cyclones are 9-5 ATS in 14 games as road underdogs on Matt Campbell’s watch.

In Week 3 on Friday, Sept. 18, Minnesota is a three-point home favorite (at a +100 price) vs. Iowa (+3, -120). On Saturday (9/19/20), Boise State is -1 vs. FSU, USC is -9 at Stanford and Arizona State is -4.5 vs. BYU.

The Gophers took a 9-0 record into Iowa City last year, only to drop a 23-19 decision as three-point road underdogs. They’ll be looking for revenge against the Hawkeyes, who must replace three-year starting QB Nate Stanley.

PJ Fleck’s squad will be led by junior QB Tanner Morgan, who connected on 66.0 percent of his throws for 3,253 yards with a 30/7 TD-INT ratio.

This FSU at Boise State game was scheduled about a decade ago, and I’ve been planning on going to it since the series was booked. That’s still the plan if the coronavirus doesn’t destroy the college football season.

BSU ruined FSU’s home opener last year by rallying from a 31-14 halftime deficit to win 36-31 as a 6.5-point road underdog. The game was moved from Jacksonville to Tallahassee at the last minute due to the threat of a hurricane.

Stanford is off the worst season of David Shaw’s tenure, going 4-8 SU and 3-9 ATS. The Cardinal is 5-3 both SU and ATS in eight games as a home underdog on Shaw’s watch. They went 1-3 ATS in four such spots in 2019.

FanDuel’s Week 4 games include Clemson -27 vs. Virginia, Pitt -9.5 vs. Duke, Notre Dame -23 vs. Duke (in Charlotte), Michigan State -2.5 vs. Miami, Michigan -3 vs. Wisconsin, Nebraska -6 vs. Cincinnati and Utah -3 at California.

UVA took a 62-17 clubbing from Clemson in last year’s ACC Championship Game. The Cavaliers might take a step back in 2020, though, due to the departure of QB Bryce Perkins.

Pitt has won five games in a row over Duke both SU and ATS. However, the Panthers are 7-13-1 ATS in 21 games as home favorites during Pat Narduzzi’s tenure.

Michigan got humiliated at Wisconsin last season, falling down 35-0 early in a 35-14 loss. The Wolverines will be breaking in a new QB after losing Shea Patterson, while the Badgers must replace three-time All-American RB Jonathan Taylor.

Nebraska will be thrilled if it can get a victory at home vs. Cincinnati, which might be the nation’s best Group of Five team in 2020. The Bearcats were fortunate to retain Luke Fickell, who has led them to a 23-5 record in their last 28 games.

UC is loaded on defense and has most of its skilled players returning, including QB Desmond Ridder and RB Michael Warren. Nebraska is looking for its first bowl bid since 2016.

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