For those unfamiliar with my segment at MnB, I periodically cover the betting subdivision of the Big Ten—and nation—respectively.
While I’m not condoning wagering outside the cordial confines of legal sportbooks, my secondary mission acknowledges what to perhaps expect once the weekend slate transpires.
Take it for what it’s worth, or sit back, kick the heels up, and absorb the previews. Lo and behold, let’s dive right into 2015’s openers.
Date: Thursday, September 3rd (8:30 ET)
Line: Utah -5.5, 47
Let’s blanket the basics real quick: whichever team has the minus sign is the favorite, and the 47 entails the projected amount of combined points. It’s up to the bettor to either take Utah (they’d have to win by more than five points) or Michigan (Wolverines would need to lose by five or less, or win straight up). As for the total, it’s rather simple: over or under the respected number
The 5.5 has fluctuated all over the grid since opening up, falling all the way to 4.5, back up to 6, and now returning to its original position.
Harbaugh’s return in an attempt to breathe life into the Michigan program begins with a west coast trip to mingle with Kyle Whittingham’s Utes, a team that stormed into the Big House last season and robbed a road win, 26-10.
This game goes two paths in my opinion: we’re either going to see flexing of the muscles, or one club attempt to get super fancy and open things up. By flexing muscles, I’m talking your prototypical, "we’re going to run it right down your throat and try to win the possession game." The latter? One team jumps right off the get-go with a trick play touchdown, sending the meeting into a full-out track meet.
I firmly believe we’re going to endure a 14-13 type of game, or one that sees both teams surpass the 35-point mark, and no gray area in between. The first half opens up a grand opportunity for Harbaugh to settle in his quarterback, and for Kyle Whittingham to establish the ground game in Devontae Booker, in an attempt to perhaps stretch the defense as the game progresses.
I hate siding with the public and predicting a slow start, but it could be a feeling out process to start the game, only to see it potentially pick up as the sun sets in Utah.
Pick: First Half Under 23.5
Texas Christian at Minnesota
Date: Thursday, September 3rd (9 ET)
Line: TCU -14.5, 56
Those that have scanned numerous posts from yours truly are aware of my weariness of Texas Christian come Week 1.
But I’m also high on Minnesota in this position.
I’ll reiterate the large point that I noted in my content from weeks prior: Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill has relished in the underdog role, scoring a win as a 8.5-point or larger underdog four times since taking the helm in 2011.
I feel the months of preparation for TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin plays a huge role, and it should be dually noted that Minnesota’s secondary is the best that nobody talks about. The tandem of Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun will match up with Josh Doctson and Kody Listenbee, and I’ll be damned if the Gophers let the Horned Frogs do whatever they want on offense.
Kill won’t opt for a shootout versus the lethal offense, so I expect them to run the ball against a defense that may be a bit short-handed this season on defense. It’s not a flashy bunch, but get someone else to assist wide receiver K.J. Maye and this Gophers club can mimic last year’s success.
I’ve actually placed Texas Christian on upset alert for Week 1, because the No. 2 team in the nation being upended would be ‘so college football.’ I’ll grab the full 14.5, however.
Pick: Minnesota +14.5
Michigan State at Western Michigan
Date: Friday, September 4th (7 ET)
Line: Michigan State -18.5, 57.5
Mark Dantonio-P.J. Fleck. Experience versus youth. The big guns versus the little guy.
I’m extremely high on Michigan State this season—it’s defense in particular—and I’m rather anxious to see it in the opener versus Western Michigan. The Broncos seemingly return an entire offense that helped nab a bid to the MAC Championship game a season ago and should see their success in the top-tier of the conference this season.
While it’s a bit different matching up with a stout Big Ten defense, I feel this is too many points right off the bat. I expect the Spartans to do whatever they want on offense, but even 18.5 points leaves a chance for a late cover.
Pick: Western Michigan +18.5
Kent State at Illinois
Date: Friday, September 4th (9 ET)
Line: Illinois -14.5, 56.5
A week prior to Illinois’ opener, head coach Tim Beckman gets the boot out of Champagne, which means decisions desired addressing. For the football team, Bill Cubit steps in as the interim. For Vegas, they’ve dropped the number from 16 to 14.5.
I’m not going to buy into the mental dilapidation just yet, however. Cubit, the former offensive coordinator, will surely press the issue on offense, and that’s no problem with quarterback Wes Lunt and running back Josh Ferguson.
Illinois has seen its fair share of high-scoring affairs with mid-majors over the years, and now that the offensive coordinator is distributing orders, I like the Illini to light it up, as they have the opportunity to rally around the setback(?) of losing their head coach.
Pick: Illinois -14.5, Kent State-Illinois Over 57.5
Stanford at Northwestern
Date: Saturday, September 5th (12 ET)
Line: Stanford -12, 45
Amidst the PAC-12 jumble, I’ve a soft spot for David Shaw’s Cardinal, a team that truly separates itself from the supplementary programs. The way Stanford has shut down offenses over the recent half-decade has served as the primary fragment for success, and now the offense appears fine-tuned with quarterback Kevin Hogan, along with skill players Devon Cajuste and the highly-touted Christian McCaffrey.
For Fitzgerald’s Wildcats, quarterback Clayton Thorson will act as the primary engineer for a rather stagnant offense; the efficiency from 2013 to 2014 dropped off extremely hard and it’ll take some unfamiliar faces to rev the engines in 2015. Stanford traveling to the Midwest for a 11 P.M. start, the Wildcats still hoisting red flags aplenty on offense, not to mention both head coaches are 21-7 to the under when the total is set in the 40s, I’ll join hands with the public and call for a low-scoring affair, which means Stanford wins 56-38.
Pick: Stanford-Northwestern Under 45
Penn State at Temple
Date: Saturday, September 5th (3:30 ET)
Line: Penn State -6.5, 38
You can frequently catch the books’ drift. Listen, I get it. Temple returns the entire defense, and Penn State’s defense could potentially stifle Owls quarterback P.J. Walker.
I’m not buying it, especially with the motive of Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg. Following a subpar 2014, eyes are fixated on the junior to blossom into one of the nation’s underrated signal callers, and what better way to defy the naysayers than to pick apart a mid-major defense?
He’s got some pure talent alongside him with wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, and the mobility of P.J. Walker on the opposite sideline could turn into a rather exciting contest. 38 should depict a tight, monotonous game, but Penn State could very well notch 30 alone in my opinion.
Pick: Penn State-Temple Over 38
BYU at Nebraska
Date: Saturday, September 5th (3:30 ET)
Line: Nebraska -6, 64.5
I’ll get down to the nitty gritty right away with this one: BYU’s schedule appears one of the most rugged in all of college football. A trip to Lincoln to open up the ledger, the Big House, and games versus UCLA, Missouri, Cincinnati and Boise State, Bronco Mendenhall’s job is to get the Cougars on the right foot as soon as possible.
Do I think BYU saunters into Lincoln and robs a road win? Not necessarily, but I don’t think I want to fade the Cougars this early in the season. Once the schedule toughens up and the mentality perhaps grows weary, then absolutely. It should also assist Mendenhall’s defense that the Huskers are down one receiver, and a big-time one at that, in De’Mornay Pierson-El.
I like Nebraska in a nail-biter. Sue me, corn eaters.
Pick: Brigham Young +6
Wisconsin vs. Alabama
Date: Saturday, September 5th (8 ET)
Line: Alabama -10, 52.5
On loose-leaf, I see 2-3 yards a rush, punt, repeat. I’ve also made the mistake of judging future events without becoming fully intact on what’s going on with both clubs.
Alabama’s quarterback conundrum, no more Melvin Gordon; offense appears scarce, but I’m not budging that this game will be a snooze fest. I think we’ll see Wisconsin WR Kenzel Doe make some plays on offense and in the return game, a lot of Bama RB Derrick Henry, and perhaps some trickery from both sides.
Big game, neutral site? No problem for Nick Saban: he and the Tide are averaging 36.4 points per game the previous eight contests held on neutral confines. Don’t let the boring jersey colors fool you--we need points.
Pick: Alabama Team Total Over 31.5, Alabama-Wisconsin Over 52.5
Purdue at Marshall
Date: Sunday, September 6th (3 ET)
Line: Marshall -7.5, 64
Your eyes do not deceive: a Big Ten club is catching a touchdown versus a C-USA program. Marshall’s one of the better stories spanning the country in terms of inclining on a national platform, and those scurrying around, wondering how the Herd will tack on double-digit wins again in 2015 without all-everything quarterback Rakeem Cato need to grab a seat and enroll in AK 3001, a class that lectures how replacing star-studded talent is more than possible.
Enter Michael Birdsong, a James Madison transfer, and a 6"4’ gunslinger that has dazzled in the offseason. His supporting cast looks primed to notch gaudy numbers once more, with running back Devon Johnson and wide receivers Hyleck Foster and Davonte’ Allen acting as primary protagonists for Doc Holliday’s offense.
For Purdue, I’m never really sure what’s going on in West Lafayette. They lose Danny Etling to LSU, Robbie Hummel has another torn ACL for the basketball team, and okay, Akeem Hunt is a pretty solid tailback.
There’s scarce buzz for the Boilermakers, and while I will periodically vie for a lower-tier Power Five program over a high-society Group of Five, ask Illinois how that went in last season’s bowl game versus La Tech.
Pick: Marshall -7.5
Ohio State at Virginia Tech
Date: Sunday, September 6th (8 ET)
Line: Ohio State -10.5, 53.5
"Do I have to cover Ohio State?"
"Yes, Alex, we need to be fair and unbiased."
"But I don’t want to. I don’t like them. I like Michigan."
"Well it looks like someone’s not getting Xbox privileges for two weeks."
"Fine, I’ll do it then."
A genuine conversation with my mother before dialing up Ohio State’s Week 1 opener versus the Hokies, here we are.
Jokes aplenty, but this is a tremendous spot for the Buckeyes to be perfectly honest. A slew of guys sidelined, yet the talent is all but present for Urban Meyer’s core, a team seeking revenge for the lone blemish on their 2015 National Championship. The public is already purchasing Valentine’s Day Pokemon cards for the Hokies, but I’m not ready to hop on the bandwagon, even with Buckeye suspensions galore.
Upon opening up as 18-point favorites, those that purchased Brutus slips prior to the suspensions were robbed of the value, but as the line moves towards single digits, it returns.
Close, low-scoring game to start out, yet whomever’s taking snaps (Jones or Barrett) finds a groove to dismantle Frank Beamer, who aside from last year, is 0-7 against the spread in FBS openers. Buckeyes win 33-17.
Pick: Ohio State -10.5
Which games stick out to you? Tweet us your takes @MaizenBrew