The Big Ten Football season kicks off in Ireland between Northwestern and Nebraska
Three Big Ten Teams Begin their season Saturday as the College Football world looks on. For full season breakdowns check out Austin Schmidt’s Aug. 25th article: College Football Power 5 Betting Preview.
Week ZERO is officially upon us, and while it isn’t the deepest slate you’ll ever see, it is the perfect prelude to what promises to be an incredible CFB season, both across the nation and right here in Big Ten country. Beyond Ohio State, who I believe is going to run away with this thing from moment one, the rest of the Big Ten is as wide open as it has ever been. Three Big Ten teams will be in action Saturday, including the offseason darlings, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. An absurd amount of pressure will be sitting on the entire program’s shoulders in Ireland and throughout the entire season, as Scott Frost attempts to solidify his job and return the Huskers to some sense of relevancy.
Each of the three teams competing this weekend are looking to put a forgettable 2021 in the rear view mirror as Nebraska and Northwestern each posted 3-9 seasons, while Illinois managed a 5-7 campaign under first year coach Bret Bielema. As far as gambling goes, I understand it can be very difficult or impossible for Illinois residents to find action on these games with Illinois’ restrictions on college sports, but for those who have the luxury of betting at a physical location, betting offshore, or live out of state, you can find my best bets for the weekend here along with my preview for each game.
Nebraska (-13.5) vs Northwestern: O/U 50 (Dublin, Ireland) 11:30am CST
If I were to ask you the question, since Pat Fitzgerald took over Northwestern in 2006, how many consecutive losing seasons would you guess he’s had? Now mind you, I am not a Northwestern fan, this is not homer talk from a Wildcat faithful, I am incredibly neutral on this program from that sense. I have asked this question many times this summer and the consensus guess is in the 3-5 range. The correct answer is ONE. One time in the last 16 seasons the Wildcats put up two straight seasons with less than six wins and in fact it was consecutive 5-7 seasons in the 2013 & 2014 seasons.
I am very aware of how bad this team was last year, 3-9 (1-8 conf), I’m not blind to that, it was a brutal year to watch. Now I want you to direct your attention to 2019, a season in which NU also went 3-9 and won one conference game. Fitzgerald and his team flipped that into a 7-2 record (covid shortened 2020) and a date with Ohio State in the Big Ten Title Game the following year. NOW, before the Wildcat fans get themselves in a tizzy, I am by no means suggesting history will repeat itself, and Northwestern is going to win the Big Ten West, I absolutely do not expect that. What I do expect is this staff to once again be the best in the entire nation at using down to even horrific years, as a way to give his guys experience and be a totally different team in that following year.
So what does that mean this weekend against a Nebraska team that is getting an immense amount of buzz this offseason, with many calling this the return of the Cornhuskers to relevancy? What I expect is actually a fairly competitive game. Nebraska is still the more talented team, however, with increased experience defensively and some pieces filled via the transfer portal, I think the Wildcat defense will be greatly improved and will at minimum keep them in this game.
The expectation from the offensive side of the ball is very uncertain, but optimism does increase with the return of Cam Porter who burst onto the scene in 2020, only to miss the entirety of 2021 due to injury. That really is the recipe for Northwestern to somehow pull off an upset, or at the very least cover the 13.5 point spread. A legitimate and consistent ground attack, and a defensive performance that keeps Nebraska in the low 20s.
The Cornhuskers offense will be led by Texas transfer, Casey Thompson. Thompson threw for 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions across 12 games in 2021. Time will only tell what type of effect the trip to Ireland will have, if any, on either of these teams, but if you’re a Northwestern fan, you’re hoping Nebraska shows the same type of rust that they showed last season in Week 0 as they lost 30-22 in Champaign. I can see this game going a number of different ways, but I’ve put way too many eggs in the ‘Northwestern will be frisky’ basket this year, and I can’t pass up the points to kick things off. Give me a loss, but a cover for the Wildcats, though if they can find a way to pull off the upset, you can count on Scott Frost not leaving Ireland with his squad.
RMags’ Pick: Northwestern +13.5
Wyoming at Illinois (-11): O/U 44 (Champaign, IL) 3:00pm CST
The buzz and optimism heading into year two of Bret Bielema’s tenure at Illinois has not exactly been boisterous. In year one, Bielema inherited a less than formidable Big Ten roster that saw massive growing pains, yet given the circumstances the approval rating for the job that was performed was respectable. Now, as we head into year two, it’s very likely we will see a near mirror season, as roster turnover has taken place, and the reality that we won’t see the fruits of Bielema’s recruiting until at least next season.
As has been the case for the majority of Illinois’ recent history, the Fighting Illini will start a new QB under center in the form of Tommy DeVito, a grad transfer out of Syracuse. DeVito’s career has been interesting to this point, getting the bulk of the QB duties at ‘Cuse in 2019, only to find himself on backup duty over the past two years, tallying a total of seven games played with five touchdown passes to four interceptions. In that 2019 season however, he led the Orange to a 5-7 record throwing 19 touchdowns on five interceptions. While the jury is out on how effective he will be, it does appear that this is an improvement over Artur Sitkowski who played five games last season, finishing with a completion percentage of exactly 50%. Despite the uncertainty, it does appear that Illinois will have the QB advantage in this upcoming game.
Wyoming will start Andrew Peasley, a transfer from conference foe Utah State. Peasley’s time there was less than impressive, recording 18 games played over four seasons, with a completion percentage near 50%. For context on both quarterbacks, the over-under on each player’s passing yards in this game is DeVito o/u 166.5, and Peasley o/u 128.5. I do not expect either team to light up the game through the air, but I definitely like the potential for more efficiency from DeVito, and with the right defensive game plan and execution, this could be a very long day for Peasley and Wyoming’s offense.
The area that I feel most confident in for this matchup is Illinois’ rushing attack led by Chase Brown up against this Wyoming rush defense. In 2021, the Cowboys ranked 99th in both rushing yards allowed per game and yards per attempt allowed. With some serious turnover on defense, we could even see an even bigger dip in those categories in 2022. Chase Brown returns as the starting RB for the Illini after posting 1,005 yards rushing across 10 games. 2021 was fairly up and down for him on a week to week production basis, however, when given a matchup this favorable, he has excelled. Three times he was given over 20 carries and each time he saw massive production, twice exceeding 200 yards. The down weeks can be chalked up to stingy Big Ten rush defenses, or games in which Illinois was down three scores in the blink of an eye. I fully expect Brown to be the player of this game, and will confidently predict at least 125 yards on the ground for him.
While I do believe Illinois will win this game, I am hesitant to endorse the -11 selection this weekend. I honestly have this in the 24-10, 24-14 range, putting the spread at a tossup and ultimately, a stay-away. However, you will absolutely see me with plenty of Big Ten unders this season, and given the prediction that I just laid out, I’m taking my first Big Ten under of the season at under 44, along with a Chase Brown prop if you can grab it!
RMags’ Pick: Under 44 & Chase Brown Over 101.5 Rush Yds
Week 0 Bonus Pick: FAU -7.5
FAU will host Charlotte in a matchup of two 5-7 teams from 2021. On the surface you may think this is closer than a touchdown matchup, but look deeper and you will find that Charlotte is really bad. FAU heads into year three under Willie Taggert and should have a big edge defensively in this game. I’m predicting a blowout in this one.
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