Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman tried to preempt any questions about looking ahead to Ohio State this week, beginning his Monday press conference by insisting his team would do no such thing with the Central Michigan Chippewas coming to South Bend this weekend. But the college football odds favoring the Irish by only 34.5 points makes it clear bookmakers expect Notre Dame to look ahead, regardless.
With a Top-10 matchup a week away, can the Irish focus enough against the Chippewas?
Here are our free college football picks and predictions for Central Michigan vs Notre Dame on September 16.
Central Michigan vs Notre Dame best odds
Central Michigan vs Notre Dame picks and predictions
Pick your metric and it likely favors Notre Dame by more than five touchdowns, something closer to 40 points, if not -41 or -42. Yet, this spread has hung out at fewer than five touchdowns all week.
Why? The situational spot is too clear. It would be a shock if Notre Dame is not looking ahead to Ohio State. Since the 2022 season ended, everyone has known neither the Buckeyes nor the Irish would be genuinely tested before next week’s matchup, and thanks to Notre Dame so summarily dispatching North Carolina State last weekend, that expectation is just routs of Central Michigan and of Western Kentucky (by Ohio State) away from being reality.
These are 18 to 23-year-olds — well, plus Irish quarterback Sam Hartman, who's 24 but looks 30. Looking ahead is the epitome of human nature.
How much does that matter? Perhaps not much given the talent disparity between Notre Dame and Central Michigan, at least not until the game is effectively decided. It may be Freeman’s coaching staff who looks ahead more than anything. The game plan should be conservative, and the starters should be benched once the game is out of hand. Those aspects best explain the touchdown discrepancy between the expected spread and the real-life spread.
The coaching staff will not ease up out of the gates, though, and the Irish should not need an elaborate game plan to dust the Chippewas early. Of Hartman’s 27 drives behind center at Notre Dame, 17 have produced touchdowns and three have produced field goal attempts. The other seven were all a testament to North Carolina State’s defensive front.
Six of those seven were three-and-outs, the exception a Hartman fumble on the second play of the drive. Of those 20 snaps, the Wolfpack stood up a Notre Dame running back for a gain of two yards or less on eight of them. That defensive front hassled Hartman twice and sacked him twice, including the forced fumble. A dozen different times, North Carolina State won in the trenches to undo seven different Irish drives.
The Wolfpack enjoy one of the best defensive lines in the ACC. Conservatively, call it a Top-5 front in the league, behind Florida State and Clemson for sure.
Central Michigan does not have that kind of defensive front. Tackle Robi Stuart deserves some attention, but he alone will not break up one of the best offensive lines in the country. And with a woeful secondary behind him, opposing offenses have been able to choose when to run against the Chippewas. Hartman may feast until he is pulled with a healthy lead.
As dynamic as Central Michigan quarterback Bert Emanuel Jr. is, he will not be able to keep up with Hartman as long as Hartman is playing. The Chippewas scored just seven points against Michigan State to open the season, a defense considered a bit worse than Notre Dame’s. Assume the Irish keep Central Michigan to no more than one first-half score before pulling the starters after the break. Can Hartman & Co. score 28 points to cover a 20-point first-half spread? Given Hartman’s track record in a plain gold helmet, that may be a question of if they can simply get four possessions.
Betting that first-half number as long as it stays below three touchdowns will protect against Notre Dame genuinely looking ahead in the second half, be that the Irish coaching staff or the players.
My best bet: Notre Dame first half -20 (-110 at BetMGM)
Central Michigan vs Notre Dame same-game parlay
As of late Thursday, no book will allow a first-half spread to be combined in a same-game parlay with a player prop.
The best bet is for Notre Dame to win the first half by three touchdowns, so a 28-point win for the full game should not be asking too much, especially given Hartman’s efficiency. Finding a spread further from a Central Michigan backdoor cover is worth the loss in value.
Again, Hartman has led 17 touchdown drives on 27 possessions. Ten of those scores have been courtesy of his arm. Central Michigan’s pass defense is problematic enough, but Hartman should pick it apart before he gets pulled with Ohio State looming. The Hartman odds do not properly account for that Chippewas’ weakness.
And then there is Emanuel. He brings the value to this parlay, listed at +380 to score a touchdown. He rushed for two last week against New Hamsphire. Even including sacks, he leads Central Michigan in rushing yards. Adjust for sacks and Emanuel has rushed for 182 yards on 32 carries, an average of 5.7 yards per carry.
If anyone for the Chippewas will find the end zone, it is most likely Emanuel on the ground, particularly since his three touchdown passes have gone to three different targets.
When the Irish play the reserves late, one blown assignment could lead to Emanuel breaking away. If he puts together a quality drive earlier than that, then head coach Jim McElwain likely will put the ball in his quarterback’s hands on the perimeter in the red zone, attempting to create such a blown assignment where it matters most.
Not intended for use in MA.
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Central Michigan vs Notre Dame spread and Over/Under analysis
This spread opened as low as 32 points on Sunday, the bookmakers making it clear from the outset that they expect the Irish to spend some of the week — be it during practices or in Saturday’s second half — more worried about Ohio State than Central Michigan.
In his debut season last year, Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman was 1-5 against the spread as a multiple-score favorite, something he has already appeared to have adjusted to by going 2-0 ATS in those situations this season, including covering a lofty 49-point spread against Tennessee State two weeks ago.
The total hit the market at 56.5, falling to 52 midweek and nestling at 51 or 51.5 by week’s end. Again, chalk that up to the expectation that the Irish will not fire on all cylinders, even if that only shows itself by pulling Hartman in the third quarter.
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Central Michigan vs Notre Dame betting trend to know
The Irish are 9-0 all-time against MAC teams, going 2-2 ATS in the four games since 2018 with the games averaging a spread of -30.4, a number detailed here in an effort to underscore the talent differential between Notre Dame and MAC opponents. Find more college football betting trends for Central Michigan vs Notre Dame.
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Central Michigan vs Notre Dame game info
|Location:||Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, IN|
|Date:||Saturday, September 16, 2023|
|Kickoff:||2:30 p.m. ET|
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