The 2023 college football season kicks off with a high-profile opener in Dublin, Ireland as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the Navy Midshipmen on Saturday afternoon (evening local time).
The temperature at kickoff is expected to be in the 50's with rain in the forecast. I wouldn't anticipate weather playing a major role apart from making fans in the stands slightly uncomfortable.
Notre Dame will be ushering in a new (albeit brief) era with Sam Hartman taking over at quarterback. Hartman joins the team following five seasons at Wake Forest. All indications are that he has already more than won over his new teammates and has made a point to entrench himself in the community.
The question becomes whether we see the Irish lean heavily on Hartman's arm right out of the gates and unleash an aerial assault on the Midshipmen, or elect to pound away and control proceedings on the ground in an effort to 'win and move on' in this critical season-opener. Running back Audric Estime was one of the more underrated runners in the country last year as he racked up 935 rushing yards on 156 carries, not to mention 11 touchdowns. Few offensive lines carry more upside than that of the Irish.
The Midshipmen will be guided by Brian Newberry in his first year as head coach after serving as the team's defensive coordinator over the last four seasons. Navy did make positive strides on the defensive side of the football last season but defending the pass remained a sore spot. The good news is, there's plenty of returning talent in the secondary. In fact, that's arguably the most experienced group on the Middies roster. After ranking top-three in the country stopping the run a year ago, the front line will once again need to be stout with plenty of question marks on offense.
Perhaps the biggest change for Navy comes on offense, where they'll shift to a more hybrid attack after running the option for what seems like an eternity. The Middies boast a pair of capable quarterbacks in Tai Lavatai and Blake Horvath but having two options under center isn't always better than one. Regardless, Navy's number one goal will be to possess the football for extended periods to effectively shorten this game against a talent-superior Irish squad.
Of note, the Midshipmen are a perfect 6-0 ATS when priced as an underdog between 10.5 and 21 points over the last two seasons and have been outscored by an average margin of only 2.7 points in that situation. Notre Dame has won five straight matchups in this series with Navy last prevailing by a 28-27 score as a seven-point underdog in 2016.