Hawaii-Vanderbilt Pick & Prediction
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.
The total for this game has mostly remained the same since we bought the over at 55.5 in the early week column, but some books are getting a bit more aggressive. Caesars has already gassed it up to 56.5. Pinnacle, a sharp book, lists it at 56. It remains to be seen if the market is trending toward a higher number, but it’s better to be on the safe side and buy the over at 55.5 now than to risk losing out and having to buy it at 56 or higher.
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.
Hawaii-Vanderbilt Week 0 Pick: Over 55.5 -110 at FanDuel
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