Notre Dame in the college football playoffs? Really?

The only people happy with the inclusion of Notre Dame in the semifinals of the national college football champion are the school’s many fans and ESPN, which is how the Fighting Irish managed to make the final four after getting embarrassed by Clemson.

You see, ESPN paid $7.5 billion for the rights to broadcast the college football playoffs through 2025, and they have to sell a lot of 30-second ads at $500,000 each to justify the investment. ESPN needs good ratings, and that’s where Notre Dame comes in.

If there truly is a national college football team, Notre Dame is that team. In a season plagued with cancelations and schedule changes brought on by the pandemic, the Fighting Irish attracted the highest ratings throughout the season. They played in the highest rated weekly national broadcasts four times during the season, and finished second two other times.

Despite never getting above No. 4 in the rankings, the team played in the two most widely watched games of the season, both of them against Clemson. That leads to my belief that Texas AM, rather than Notre Dame, should be in the top four.

Notre Dame barely beat then No. 1 Clemson 47-40 in double overtime at South Bend when the Tigers were without their top player, Heisman Trophy contender winner quarterback Trevor Lawrence. With Lawrence leading the team in the ACC league championship game, Notre Dame got clobbered 34-10.

This continues a history of Notre Dame flaming out in the truly big games. In the 2013 national championship game against Alabama, it lost 42-14. When it played Clemson in the semi-final game in 2018, it got beat 30-3.

Since the start of the BCS era in 1998, Notre Dame has played in six BCS or New Year’s Six bowl games. Its record is 0-6, losing by a total of 144 points. The closest they came to winning any of those games was 14 points.

The Vegas odds makers expect more of the same when the Fighting Irish face Alabama on New Year’s Day. They have the Crimson Tide favored by 20 points—the biggest underdog in the BCS era. But ESPN got the four teams that figure to generate the highest ratings, and that’s what really counts.

***

The trading operations of Wall Street stalwarts like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs usually make the most money when the markets are chaotic, and the same appears to be true when it comes to the performance of Nevada’s bookmakers.

If there’s one word that applies to this year’s pro and college football seasons, it’s chaotic. The combination of canceled games, rescheduled games, and players going in and out of the COVID-19 protocols made for treacherous going if you like to bet on football games.

But that worked to the advantage of the bookies. The legal books in Nevada recorded a record gross profit of $61.8 million on $502 million in bets for November, according to the state gambling commission.

That 12% return is about three times what sports books make in a typical year. Sports betting is the least profitable operation for the average casino, earning about 3 to 4% on the handle, so November was truly a good month. Clearly the odds makers were generating sharp lines and their customers were making bad bets.

Given that, I feel better that my season record is 34-25, at 57% three points below my goal. I’ve hit at least 60% winners for the last 10 years, and 68% twice during that period.

A couple of the bowl games I liked were canceled, so I currently stand at 3-1 during the bowl season. The bowl games I like for the rest of the season include:

–Tulsa (+2.5) over Mississippi St.

–Army (+7) over West Virginia

–Indiana (-6.5) over Mississippi

–Iowa St. (-4.5) over Oregon

The last week of the NFL regular season is a problematic one. You have teams that are locked into their playoff seeds and are just going through the motions, and the teams that are out of the playoffs and just going through the motions. Then there’s COVID-19.

Just look at Pittsburgh’s game against Cleveland. The Steelers have their playoff seed locked up so they decided to bench quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and other players will probably make just a brief appearance. The Browns need the win to secure a playoff spot, but exposure to COVID-19 is rampant throughout the team. Its four top receivers were in quarantine in last week’s loss, and who might play this week changes every day. Cleveland is favored, but a prudent bettor (is that an oxymoron?) would pass on the game.

 Among the games that have something worth playing for, the New York Giants (+3.5) over Dallas is the only one that meets my parameters.

But if you really want something to bet Sunday, here’s an angle that works well on the last day of NFL regular play, as well as the final day of regular season games in the NBA and MLB: Find the games where neither team is in the playoffs and is just playing out the season. Bet the underdog.

Three games meet those criteria this week: New York Jets (+3) vs. New England; Detroit (+6.5) vs. Minnesota; and Denver (+2.5) vs. Las Vegas. I’m not betting them, but you can.

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