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Why Michigan Could Flourish in Underdog Role

The Wolverines will frequently be highlighted as underdogs, and I feel that's a perfect fit for 2015

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Golden Nugget sportsbook has given recreational bettors an early Christmas for the past nine years. And by early, I'm talking stocking stuffers and all within the dog days of summer.

It releases a full docket of 'Games of the Year,' with spreads that begin on opening Thursday, stretching all the way to mid-November. While fans were quick to hop on the Michigan bandwagon in regards to future National Championship bets, the 'books will mark the Wolverines as underdogs in a plethora of contests in 2015, and I think this bodes extremely well.

Opening Week: Utah Utes

The Games of the Year list six Michigan contests, and the Wolverines will be highlighted as underdogs right off the bat versus Utah (-5 points). I noted earlier that Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham has been a notorious sluggish starter, he and his clubs supplying just a 3-6-1 against the spread the previous ten openers.

While it's truly a scarce sample size, I won't shy away from the trend. The trio of wins have come by a combined eight points (via the spread), and I'm wondering if the Utes' game plan will be shuffled around with the intensity of a Week 1 opener versus a Big Ten foe. Utah sauntered into the Big House in 2014 and seemingly handled the Wolverines--I expect that to be fresh in the minds of a defense that surrendered 26 points to a rather mediocre offense.

Rivalry Games

I can understand the Ohio State infatuation, the Buckeyes opening up as 16-point favorites in many locations. That game is purely a toss up with the hefty amount of digits that Urban Meyer is lending to the Maize and Blue, and too far down the road to even consider.

However, one spot that I really like is Michigan receiving 5.5 points at home versus Sparty. We've had zero answer for Michigan State's defense since 2008, managing 14.1 points per game, all while dropping six of seven.

With mastermind Pat Narduzzi departing from the Michigan State defensive coordinator slot and entering his first year as Pittsburgh's head coach, perhaps it's a godsend that the Wolverines won't be measured up with his stifling gimmicks, although they'll be in for quite a battle with a tenacious Spartan defense.

The Spartans appear (using this word rather loosely) short-handed at the skill position for 2015, unlike 2014, where quarterback Connor Cook busted through a barrier and slung it all around the gridiron. It may not take 24 or 28 points to overcome the Spartans, but Michigan's defense can certainly contain this offense at home this fall.

And then there's Happy Valley. Perhaps a bit of a head-scratcher initially, but the Nittany Lions have owned the Maize and Blue in their friendly confines: you'd have to date back to 2006 to dig up a Michigan win at Beaver Stadium. They're chalked up as 4.5-point favorites in 2015. The Wolverines will hope to dial up the same defensive pressure as last year, as they held Christian Hackenberg to just 160 yards passing and 21 completions. You can contain this team if you keep the ball in front of you, and they did that in 2014 by holding Hackenberg to just 4.8 yards per attempt.

With the unending hype, it may not seem like the proper occasion to call them "underdogs," yet it should be dually noted that it's slightly a 'nothing to lose' mentality. Try telling that to the fans, though. Minimal pressure? Yeah, right. It's like the Permian Panthers circa Friday Night Lights in Ann Arbor.

I'm not going to make excuses for potential losses and say, "you know what, it's okay, we weren't even favored." But i'll be damned if it doesn't add an extra chip on Michigan's shoulder, knowing that they're once more expected to drop to the high-society of the Big Ten.