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MC&J: College football’s Week 0 kicks off in Ireland with Navy-Notre Dame

Ohio State fans will get an early look at a late September opponent of the Buckeyes.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 22 Notre Dame Blue-Gold Game Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last season ATS: 115-125-6 (61-73-3 National, 54-52-3 B1G)

It feels so good to be back! I’ve lost count on how many years I’ve been doing spread picks here at Land-Grant Holy Land. One of the things I love is how every year is a little bit different. Some years the final record is above .500, while others are below .500. I certainly appreciate those who have been along for the ride over the years, and welcome anyone new to these articles.

This year we enter some uncharted territory, since when the calendar turned to 2023, sports betting became legal in Ohio. We got to dip our toes in the water in early January with a few bowl games, as well as the laugher that was the national title game. Being able to bet on college football certainly is exciting, just remember to bet within your means, and if you feel like you have a problem controlling your betting, there are avenues where you can get help.

To kick off the season, on Saturday we have Week 0, which is essentially an amuse bouche. There are seven games on the schedule, and I’ll be picking all of them. When we get to next week and there is a normal-sized schedule, there will be two separate picks articles — one with picks for the bigger national games of the week, while the other will consist of all the games involving Big Ten teams.

Look for these articles on Thursdays and Fridays through the season.

Saturday’s games

Navy v. No. 13 Notre Dame (-20.5) - 2:30 p.m. ET - NBC

The college football season again will start in Ireland. At least people in Dublin won’t be subjected to Northwestern and Nebraska, like they were last year. This marks the third time the Midshipmen and Fighting Irish have battled in Dublin. Notre Dame has beaten Navy in the two previous matchups across the pond, winning 54-27 in 1996, and 50-10 in 2012.

Notre Dame had quite an uneven season in Marcus Freeman’s first year as head coach. After dropping their first two games of the year, the Fighting Irish won three games in a row before inexplicably losing to a bad Stanford team. Then they regrouped to win five-straight before falling to USC in their regular season finale. At least Freeman’s squad closed out the season on a high note, beating South Carolina in the Gator Bowl.

Expectations are high for Notre Dame this year, since they were able to land Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman to add some stability to the position. Even though the Fighting Irish saw offensive coordinator Tommy Rees move to the same position at Alabama, it doesn’t sound like a lot of people were that broken up about having to replace him.

Unlike other seasons where Notre Dame has played Navy in the middle of the year, the defense of the Fighting Irish has had all offseason to prepare for the option offense the Midshipmen will run. Plus, we are likely to see some growing pains from Navy after firing head coach Ken Nuimatalolo after last season and replacing him with defensive coordinator Brian Newberry. I don’t have much confidence that Navy can keep this within three touchdowns.

Notre Dame 41, Navy 14

UTEP (-1.5) v. Jacksonville State - 5:30 p.m. ET - CBSSN

Would I be betting this game if it was a normal week? I find it hard to believe I would. Since there are so few games on the schedule this week, I’ll take a crack at it. At least we have a coach on one side that we are familiar with. Rich Rodriguez returns to FBS football, and he’ll lead a Jacksonville State team that will be playing in their first game as a member of the FBS.

UTEP does have a solid defense but I think Rodriguez’s offense led by quarterback Zion Webb will be a little too much to handle. Also, you’ll see a ton of emotion from the Gamecocks since they’ll be trying to win their FBS debut. This could end up being the most entertaining game on Saturday, and I’ll take Jacksonville State to win as a slight underdog.

Jacksonville State 31, UTEP 27

Ohio v. San Diego State (-2.5) - 7:00 p.m. ET - FS1

I’m sure it shouldn’t be all that difficult for a lot of folks in Ohio watching this game to root against San Diego State since their head coach is Brady Hoke, who is in his second stint as head coach of the Aztecs. Last year’s San Diego State team went 7-6, closing out the season losing in the Hawai’i Bowl to Middle Tennessee State.

Last year Ohio caught fire in October, winning seven straight games to make it to the MAC Championship Game, where they ended up falling to Toledo 17-7. Things might have gone a little differently in Detroit had Kurtis Rourke not suffered a knee injury in November. Not only is Rourke — the 2022 MAC Offensive Player of the Year — back, but also is Sam Wiglusz and a number of Rourke’s other favorite targets return.

Even though San Diego State is usually pretty stout on defense, I think Rourke and company will be a little too much for the Aztecs to handle on Saturday night.

Ohio 27, San Diego State 20

UMass v. New Mexico State (-7.5) - 7:00 p.m. ET - ESPN

The funniest thing about Week 0 is the primetime ESPN game is UMass taking on New Mexico State. The Minutemen are coming of a 1-11 season last year in their return to FBS football, and are coached by former Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. Despite the ugly record, there is a reason to be a little bit excited about UMass football since they brought in former Clemson quarterback Taisun Phommachanh via the transfer portal. Last year UMass lost to New Mexico State 23-13 in Massachusetts.

Not only does New Mexico State employ former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill as their head coach, they also have former Ohio State assistant Tim Beck as their offensive coordinator! Honestly, the pair didn’t do too bad in their first season with the school last year, closing out the season with a win over Bowling Green in the Quick Lane Bowl to finish with a 7-6 record. Quarterback Diego Pavia was solid for the Aggies last year, totaling 19 touchdowns and only throwing six interceptions.

Even with the addition of Phommachanh, I still don’t like the UMass offense, as they struggled to score points last year. I don’t think the same will be the case for New Mexico State, who gained confidence as the year progressed, and they should be even better with Pavia returning as starting quarterback. Kill and Beck get their second season in Las Cruces off to a strong start.

New Mexico State 34, UMass 17

Hawai’i v. Vanderbilt (-17) - 7:30 p.m. - SEC Network

Last year these teams played in Hawai’i to open up the season and Vanderbilt crushed the Rainbow Warriors 63-10. The Commodores were actually competitive at times in Clark Lea’s second season in Nashville, beating Kentucky and Florida late in the year. Freshman AJ Swann saw some time at quarterback as a freshman, throwing 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

It was a rough first season for Timmy Chang as head coach of his alma mater, with the Rainbow Warriors going 3-10. We did see some improvement from Hawai’i as the year went on, with Brayden Schager becoming more comfortable running Chang’s offense. The defense for Hawai’i should also be better, since they’ll be returning nine starters. 17 points just seems like a little too much for a Vanderbilt team that isn’t very good, and is playing in a stadium that might not even be finished with renovations. Plus, Hawai’i could be playing with some extra juice for the folks back home while they deal with the tragic wildfires.

Vanderbilt 31, Hawai’i 23

San Jose State v. No. 6 USC (-30.5) - 8:00 p.m. - Pac-12 Network

I get that Caleb Williams is a really good quarterback. I could see it taking a little bit for Williams to get going this year, especially after losing favorite target Jordan Allison to the NFL. Don’t get me wrong, I think this USC offense is capable of doing some dangerous things, it just might not click instantly with some of the changes they’ll have to adjust to.

Even though Williams will get the headlines in this game, don’t sleep on San Jose State quarterback Chevan Cordiero, who threw for 3,250 yards, 23 touchdowns, and ran for nine more last season. Don’t forget that USC’s defensive coordinator is Alex Grinch, who just might be the worst defensive coordinator in the country. Laying more than four touchdowns with USC with a defensive that is coached by Grinch is a ride I don’t want to get on.

The Trojans win easily, but not THAT easily.

USC 48. San Jose State 24

Florida International v. Louisiana Tech (-10.5) - 9:00 p.m. ET - CBSSN

One name that you might have missed in the transfer portal is former Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier (who makes me think of the show “Brockmire” when I hear his name) moving to Louisiana Tech. Honestly, it should be pretty interesting to see what Bachmeier can do in Sonny Cumbie’s offense. Bachmeier will be throwing to wide receiver Smoke Harris, who caught 65 passes in 2022.

10.5 points might seem like a lot of points to lay with a team that went 3-9 last season, but I think the Bulldogs are going to be a lot better this year. Not only will the air raid offense put up some points with Bachmeier at quarterback, the Louisiana Tech defense should be better this year, since they do return their leading tackler and a number of defensive backs that will make some plays.

Florida International will likely struggle to keep up in Ruston.

Louisiana Tech 38, Florida International 21