College Football Group of 5 Parlay: 3 Picks for Week 0, Including Ohio, Navy & More
Mike Mulholland/Getty Images. Pictured: New Mexico State quarterback Diego Pavia.
It’s been eight long months since a Group of Five team took the field. That last taste of G5 football was an iconic 46-45 win for Tulane in the Cotton Bowl over USC.
To say Mike Calabrese and Mike Ianniello have been champing at the bit for its return would be an understatement. After previewing all five G5 conferences, with some love sprinkled in for the independents, the boys are back with their weekly G5 Parlay series.
This week, we kick things off on the Emerald Isle for an international title between Notre Dame and Navy. Then we ping pong back across the globe, heading 5,200 miles west for Ohio and San Diego State. We wrap things up in the sweltering heat of Las Cruces, New Mexico, for a game only a true college football degenerate could love.
Luckily, we have two of them and a write-up to boot.
Navy vs. Notre Dame
College football games in Ireland date back to 1988. The inaugural Emerald Isle Classic got things kicked off 35 years ago, resulting in a 38-24 win for Boston College over Army.
Saturday’s tilt between the Irish and Midshipmen will be the eighth game played on Irish soil, and if recent attendance numbers are any indication, the locals love our brand of football. The last four games in Dublin have averaged 46,000+ in the stands and close to 90% capacity when playing in Aviva Stadium.
On the field, this game has a chance to be run-heavy. Navy shook things up this offseason, firing longtime head coach Ken Niumatalolo and replacing him with defensive coordinator Brian Newberry.
Navy had sputtered in recent years offensively, and one of Newberry’s first decisions as head coach was to bring in Grant Chesnut from Kennesaw State. The offensive coordinator worked magic at the FCS level, helping the Owls finish in the top three of ground attacks in six of the last seven years.
His triple-option attack will incorporate more short passing schemes, moving away from the ineffective play-action deep shots that doomed Navy’s aerial attack in recent years. Essentially, Navy’s new look will pepper in more sets with tight ends, five to 10 more pass attempts per game and an overall passing strategy that forces opponents to defend the width of the field (flares, screens, crossing routes).
The goal is to give Navy's opponents more pregame homework while improving its middling performance on third downs (38.33%, 68th in 2022). With the new clock rules that will only stop the game clock following first downs in the final two minutes of each half, Navy has a chance to shorten this game even more than usual if it's successful on third downs.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame made major waves this offseason when it welcomed in Sam Hartman from Wake Forest and named Gerad Parker its new offensive coordinator.
Hartman was a savant in Dave Clawson’s offense, accounting for 3,800+ total yards and 39 total touchdowns last season.
The Parker promotion from tight ends coach is less encouraging, given his performance at West Virginia. As the Mountaineers' OC in 2020 and 2021, WVU finished 82nd and 88th in scoring offense, respectively.
Leddie Brown was his bellcow in 2021, averaging 22 touches per game while finding the end zone 14 times. I foresee a similar situation playing out in September for the Irish as Parker relies on his gifted offensive line and Audric Estime.
Notre Dame has little experience from a pass-catching perspective, returning just 52 receptions across its three starting wide receivers and tight end.
If the Irish do opt to run behind an offensive line led by All-American candidate Joe Alt, they’ll be running into a strong Navy run defense. The Mids return nine starters from a unit that finished third against the run in 2022. Navy allowed only 11 runs of 20 yards or more last season (29th), so if we see long, sustained drives for Notre Dame, the new clocks rules will really shorten this game down.
In Parker’s two years as an OC, his offenses finished 24th and 23rd in time of possession. Even with a lousy offensive showing last season, Navy finished second in TOP. I foresee this one being played in the low 40s as both teams play keep away.
Play: Under 50.5 (Play to 49.5)
Ohio vs. San Diego State
The Aztecs went 12-2 in 2021 behind a salty defense (12th in total defense) that was lights out against the run and got off the field on seemingly every third down (eighth).
That defense carried an anemic offense that put up 30 points just once in conference play.
Last season, the defense took a minor step back across the board, but thanks to elite red-zone play calling from defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix, SDSU finished third in scores allowed inside its own 20.
This season, the Aztecs lose a ton on defense, registering a -4 in TARP on that side of the ball. That includes the graduation of three-time All-Mountain West performer Caden McDonald at linebacker and Patrick McMorris’ decision to leave the program for Cal via the portal.
The secondary should still be very good by MWC standards, but the front seven is missing the kind of impact players SDSU has grown accustomed to featuring.
To put a finer point on it, the defensive line is missing anyone with real experience. That’s what makes this visit from Ohio so tricky.
The Bobcats return 75% of their offensive line starts, a physical runner with a nose for the end zone in Sieh Bangura and a big-bodied dual-threat quarterback who runs the read option to perfection.
Kurtis Rourke, known as the Maple Missile, has been cleared to play following knee surgery and successful offseason rehab. That’s great news for the Bobs because Rourke was a revelation last fall. He exploded for three five-touchdown games en route to MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors.
When you add in the return of Sam Wiglusz, who hauled in 73 receptions for 11 touchdowns, it’s easy to envision this offense moving the ball against an SDSU defense.
With SDSU expected to give up points in this one, the pressure to pull this game out will fall squarely on the shoulders of Jalen “Moose” Mayden. The former safety was predictably erratic as a passer, throwing nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns in his half-season worth of work as the Aztecs’ starter.
The lefty isn’t afraid to cut it loose, push the ball downfield or tuck it and run. When he does run, he’s a load and has to be accounted for, especially in the red zone.
He’ll give Ohio chances to make some plays because he remains a risk-taker with the football. The Bobs finished 16th in tackles for loss, 26th in passes defended and 11th in turnovers generated last season.
While they have plenty to replace up front, their secondary could feast in this one. Keep an eye on cornerback Torrie Cox Jr. His teammates call him “Scrawny Dog,” and he was named a third-team Freshman All-American by College Football News last season.
Overall, five Bobcats were named to PFF’s first-team All-MAC squad, and I think that high-end talent will be enough to push them over the top in this fascinating MAC vs. MWC opener.
Play: Ohio ML +115 (Play to -110)
UMass vs. New Mexico State
At first blush, this game is viewed as a certified dumpster fire.
After all, UMass is 3-37 since 2019 straight up and a ghastly 13-27 against the spread for the third-worst mark nationally. New Mexico State is 12-27 SU but a much more respectable 20-17 ATS during that time.
But make no mistake about it — the public views both of these teams in the same light, which, in my opinion, is a mistake.
The Minutemen, under Don “Dr. Blitz” Brown, fielded a solid pass defense in 2022. Outside of that, this team was a disaster.
They ran it a lot but never did it well. They ran it on 62.9% of their plays from scrimmage (seventh) and gained only 3.4 yards per carry (103rd). Ellis Merriweather, their top back is now a New Orleans Saint.
And while their offensive line may be improved this fall, it’s hard to imagine this running game popping. At quarterback, Taisun Phommachanh, steps in after unsuccessful stints at Clemson and Georgia Tech. He’ll be throwing into a Jerry Kill defense that held UMass to 13 points last season when these two teams met in Amherst.
Speaking of Kill’s defense, this unit came alive down the stretch and finished 16th against the pass while eliminating any big plays. In terms of opponents hitting plays of 20+ yards, the Aggies finished seventh nationally.
They’re replacing a handful of starters, but Kill and his staff played the transfer portal well and will integrate three- and four-star players like Penn State’s Jamari Buddin. Kill has earned the benefit of the doubt on defense, and this is the perfect game to get things started in 2023.
Offensively, NMSU had gone through a prolonged quarterback drought. To find a quality passer, you’d have to go all the way back to Chase Holbrook in 2008 when he threw for 3,361 yards and 25 touchdowns.
However, that drought is over. Diego Pavia, a Land of Enchantment legend, has arrived.
The Albuquerque native went the JUCO route and helped the New Mexico Military Institute win an NJCAA national title. Then he arrived in Las Cruces, won the job midway through last season and helped the offense take off down the stretch.
He scored 13 total touchdowns in the Aggies’ final three games and took home Quick Lane Bowl MVP honors. He was a former standout wrestler who received a scholarship offer from Nebraska, and you can see it in his body control and refusal to go down.
The sawed-off superstar is surrounded by a great G5 backfield and an experienced offensive line that returns four starters.
Keep an eye on the weather as well in this one because UMass could wilt in the Las Cruces heat. The temperature at kickoff will be a scorching 92° with a heat index approaching 100.
I’ll take the home team with the better running game and quarterback to cover this spread.
Play: New Mexico State -6.5 (Play to -7.5)
Calabrese's Week 0 Group of Five Parlay (+685)
- Navy vs. Notre Dame Under 50.5
- Ohio ML +115
- New Mexico State -6.5