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College football betting: Will Notre Dame take a step back?

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Notre Dame is a college football blue blood. There are very few schools in this country that impact the national landscape the way the Fighting Irish do. Love them or hate them, you most likely have an opinion on them. Despite having no conference affiliation, they have a tremendous impact on the college football world. 

Notre Dame made the College Football Playoff in 2020, finishing with a 10-2 record. Oddsmakers are expecting a step back for the Fighting Irish, as their preseason win total is set at 8.5 at BetMGM

Recapping the 2020 season

Despite normally competing as an independent, Notre Dame played a full ACC schedule in 2020. The Power Five conferences enforced restrictions on non-conference games during the pandemic, meaning it was Notre Dame's only hope of playing a full schedule. 

This worked out very well for the Fighting Irish, as they started the season by winning their first 10 games, Notre Dame's biggest win came on Nov. 7, when it defeated the Clemson Tigers at home in double overtime. Trevor Lawrence missed the game for Clemson due to COVID-19. 

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 01: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish run on the field during player introductions before the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl football game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at AT&T Stadium on January 01, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. The Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 31-14. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish run on the field before the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl against the Alabama Crimson Tide. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

In addition to defeating Clemson, Notre Dame also posted wins over Duke, South Florida, Florida State, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Boston College, North Carolina and Syracuse. 

Clemson exacted revenge over the Fighting Irish in the ACC championship game. With Trevor Lawrence back under center, the Tigers defeated Notre Dame, 34-10. The loss dropped Notre Dame from No. 2 to No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings. 

As the No. 4 seed, Notre Dame drew a semifinal matchup against the top-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide in the Rose Bowl. Notre Dame lost, 31-14. Alabama went on to win the national championship. 

Offseason turnover

Brian Kelly returns for his 12th season as the head coach of Notre Dame. Tommy Rees enters his second season as offensive coordinator. Former defensive coordinator Clark Lea has left the program to become the head coach at Vanderbilt. He has been replaced by Marcus Freeman, the former defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bearcats. 

Notre Dame ranks last in the nation in adjusted offensive TARP rating (transferring assets and returning production) with a 25% mark. 

Former quarterback Ian Book, the program's all-time leader in wins, is now on the New Orleans Saints. Replacing Book will be former Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan. Coan wasn't much more than a game manager as a Badger before losing his starting job after suffering an injury before the 2020 season. 

Notre Dame also lost three of its top receiving options from 2020. Javon McKinley, Ben Skowronek and Tommy Tremble all departed for the NFL. The trio combined for 90 receptions, 1,374 yards and eight touchdowns in 2020. 

One of Notre Dame's biggest strengths last season was the experience of its offensive line. That is no longer the case as the Fighting Irish lost three starting linemen to the NFL and another to graduation. Blake Fisher, a true freshman, is expected to start at left tackle. 

Defensively, things aren't as bleak. However, Notre Dame will have a tough time replacing the production of Butkus Award winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Pass rushers Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji have also departed for the NFL. 

Tough schedule ahead

After playing an ACC schedule in 2020, Notre Dame returns to its independent schedule in 2021 and it definitely won't be easy.

The Irish have four opponents ranked in the preseason top 15 with games scheduled against Cincinnati, North Carolina, Wisconsin and USC. In addition to that, Notre Dame has to travel to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech. It also has a road date against Virginia. 

What makes this schedule even tougher for Notre Dame is that these six opponents will all be coming off bye weeks before playing the Fighting Irish. These teams will be rested and have an extra week of preparation while Notre Dame runs a gauntlet of a schedule. 

The verdict

Almost everything went right for Notre Dame in 2020. It all but clinched a spot in the playoff after defeating a Clemson team without Trevor Lawrence. I don't expect that to continue into 2021. 

Under 8.5 wins for Notre Dame is +120 at BetMGM. The Fighting Irish lost too much talent on the offensive side of the ball and their schedule is too tough to confidently say they win nine games.