In what would have been the 1997 season’s championship game, Nebraska takes on Michigan to open conference play. While Scott Frost’s Huskers would have been favored 21 years ago, it’s Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines that look to be the superior team this year.
Fun Fact: I get the feeling that, if Harbaugh is here for awhile, these two coaches could get under each other’s skin as Frost doesn’t seem one that would be keen to Harbaugh’s antics. The seeds were already planted when UCF played Michigan two years ago.
How did Michigan look last week?
Good. While the offense got off to a slow start last week against SMU, they eventually pulled away and Shea Patterson is looking better as the weeks go on. Against the Mustangs, the former top recruit went 14-for-18 for 237 yards and three touchdowns against just one interception. It was the run game Michigan tried to lean on, with 41 total carries for 197 yards.
Michigan’s defense looked the part too, as they held SMU to just 3.5 yards per carry. Through the air, however, the Mustangs’ quarterbacks combined to go 19-for-34 for 309 yards and three touchdowns versus one pick. This is a big game for Jim Harbaugh, whose seat is getting hotter by the day, to carry the Wolverines out of – being just a top 15-20 team – and into the championship spotlight.
How did Nebraska look last week?
Bad. Not as bad as a loss to Troy should look, but they still lost to Troy. First of all, lots of respect to Neal Brown and the Trojans, who have 21 wins in the past two seasons.
They’re a legit squad. But, a Big Ten team with a top-tier coach shouldn’t lose to them at home. Discipline is Nebraska’s biggest weakness so far. The Huskers had three turnovers and another three fumbles (by backup, walk-on, JUCO quarterback Andrew Bunch) that the defense didn’t recover. They also had 10 penalties, just one less than they had against Colorado.
On the bright side, freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez has “done all the stuff” in practices this week and will travel with the team. It’s yet to be announced if he’s going to be the guy yet, but it’s looking promising. Secondly, the Huskers are top 20 in both rushing offense and rushing defense, which is perhaps the most promising statistic to come out of these last two weeks.
What is Vegas saying?
The Wolverines enter Saturday as 17.5-point favorites. While it may not seem like a lot on the surface, as Michigan is ranked in the top 20 and the Huskers are 0-2 against unranked opponents, it’s not that easy. In its last nine home games, Michigan is 3-6 against the spread at home. Conversely, Nebraska is 4-1 against the spread in its last five on the road. Add in the fact that Nebraska looks much better than its record shows, and this seems a little wide to me.
The over/under line is at 50.5. Michigan is averaging 37 points per game and the Huskers sit around 24. We can expect Michigan’s to dip a little because Nebraska’s defense is better than SMU and Western Michigan. Michigan’s defense is also better than Colorado’s and Troy’s, but if the Huskers have Martinez back and cut down on fumbles, the number could be around that.
On the other hand, four of Michigan’s last five home games hit the over, as did six of Nebraska’s last eight road games.
Prediction (with my heart): Nebraska 31, Michigan 30
Prediction (with my head): Michigan 33, Nebraska 24
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