Friday, July 18, 2008 | 2 a.m.
After suffering its worst season since 1963 last year, Notre Dame emerged in early preseason chatter as a prime candidate to become college football’s most improved team.
This week it became official ... or at least as official as it gets in Las Vegas. Oddsmakers set a line, and gamblers can bet into it.
The over/under on Notre Dame’s regular-season victories opened at 7, according to the Las Vegas Hilton sports book, which just released season-win totals on 30 college football teams.
Last season the Fighting Irish finished 3-9, meaning oddsmakers and the betting marketplace figure the team will pick up four more victories — by far the biggest projected improvement of any team on the board.
Besides posting regular-season win totals, the Hilton released point spreads on 90 college football “games of the year,” several each week from Sept. 6 through Dec. 6.
Three teams have victory totals of 10 1/2 attached to them, although Southern Cal stands out because bettors must lay minus-200 (risk $2 to win $1) on the over, with an option of plus-170 (risk $1 to net $1.70) on under 10 1/2.
The Trojans also had the highest over/under on the board heading into last season at 11 victories, but “under” bettors cashed when they finished with 10 regular-season wins. USC lost to Stanford as a 39-point favorite and to Oregon as a 3-point underdog. (Hawaii was also listed at 11 but with a heavy premium on the under.)
Oklahoma and Ohio State are listed at 10 1/2 this season, minus-140 on the under.
Notre Dame is expected to bounce back in a big way after a miserable season in which it lost its first five games by double digits and later lost consecutive games to Navy (as a small betting favorite) and Air Force (by 17 points as a small underdog).
The Irish opened as a 16 1/2-point underdog at the Hilton in what will likely be their toughest game of the season, Nov. 29 at USC. Notre Dame is also listed as an underdog in two other road games that appear in the Hilton’s games of the year, by 3 points Sept. 20 at Michigan State and by 2 points Oct. 11 at North Carolina.
Another team oddsmakers expect to improve in 2008 is South Carolina, which finished 6-6 a year ago but opened at 7 1/2 victories, minus-125 on the over. The Gamecocks play one of the tougher schedules in college football, including Nov. 15 at Florida, a game in which they are a 13 1/2-point underdog, according to Hilton odds.
The team projected to have the biggest decline from a year ago is Kansas, with an over/under of
7 1/2 victories, minus-150 on the under, after winning 11 regular-season games last season.
In the Hilton’s games of the year, Kansas is a 6 1/2-point underdog Sept. 12 at South Florida, a 15-point underdog Oct. 18 at Oklahoma, a 3-point underdog Nov. 15 against Texas, and a 7-point underdog Nov. 29 against Missouri. The Jayhawks are favored by 5 points Nov. 1 against Kansas State.
Defending BCS champ LSU has an over/under of 9 wins attached to it, representing a slight decline from the 10 regular-season games it won a year ago. LSU under bettors also cashed, as the Tigers entered last season with an over/under of 10 1/2.
UNLV, coming off a 2-10 season, opened at over/under 4 1/2 victories for 2008.