B1G (Mis)takes: Weekly picks against the spread
We have some time until the weekly offering to the church of Irresponsible Fiscal Decisions opens its doors to a fervent congregation. Until Week 1 and in turn, the Big Ten season kicks off, let’s dabble in the slow-drip returns of season win totals in the Big Ten West.
No Excel documents or its internal convoluted formulas were harmed in the determination of win totals. A heartfelt thanks to my exaggerated sighing, just-missed paper cuts from frequent flips through Phil Steele’s 2019 College Football Preview and Athlon Sports College Football and check ins to see if Milton The Black Lab needed to add more dead spots to our side lawn for getting me through the trying times.
Below are my three favorite plays for the Big Ten West. All lines are from mybookie.ag in support of the local programming. Lines may have shifted from the column’s inception. Relax you Sydney’s, have a cream soda while we study some numbers.
Team: Northwestern Wildcats
The number: 6.5 wins -110
The play: Over
The logic: Pat Fitzgerald’s zeal to reprise the role of Rocky Balboa, the 1-2-3 Kid, and Norman Dale borders on obsessive. The number is low enough to generate underdog fervor from most groups. Even with the Wildcats happening upon the Big Ten Championship as representatives of the West last season, expect a more dynamic offense with the Hunter Johnson at quarterback to improve on a pitiful 4.7 yards per play.
Any sort of offensive productivity goes further with a team that embraces the discomfort of close games. Northwestern went 4-2 in one-possession games last year which not only makes them an underdog darling in every game where the Wildcats are plus points, but combined with the perfect road record of last year, the team is a tough out in every game.
There’s a good chance Northwestern enters the November 16 game against Massachusetts with five wins. With the Minutemen, Minnesota, and Illinois left on the schedule the fight for the final two wins seems very winnable.
Team: Minnesota Golden Gophers
The number: 7.5 wins
The play: Under -105
The logic: That John Popper is one hell of a prophet and fedora model. The hook brought me back to Minnesota as my tallying has them right at seven wins. P.J. Fleck’s second year as head coach produced a team high on acronyms and buzziest of buzzy catchphrases, but one incredibly middle-of-the-road in all major offensive and defensive categories. I don’t deny Fleck’s eventual success and immediate departure from Minnesota to a bigger program, but even the mix of returnees on both offense and defense seem like a year away from a big win haul. A road game against Fresno State in Week 2 is a scary travel destination, not to mention the four-game peppering of body blows to end the season with games against Penn State, at Iowa, at Northwestern, and home against Wisconsin. I love the 2020 version of the Golden Gophers, I like the 2019 version to the tune of seven wins.
Team: Nebraska Cornhuskers
The number: 8.5 -115
The play: Over
The logic: I don’t like myself for making the pick. It’s too cliche, drenched in the now, and suffering from a lack of emergency exits. Any 4-8 team does not deserve the rise to 8.5 wins in the next season. The whole number hinges on the health of quarterback Adrian Martinez. Any sort of time missed from the sophomore and I’d get more return from beachfront property in Omaha. Scoff at my lack of Nebraska geography, but I challenge anyone outside of the state, its bordering states, or with friends or relatives inside the state to name more than 3.5 towns in the Cornhusker State. I’ll hang up and listen for your answer.
In the meantime, we as sound-thinking football purveyors do not think the defense can be as gutter-water bad as last season when the unit finished twelfth in conference in three of the four major defensive statistical categories, do we? If the defense bends from head to toes without busting and forces the occasional turnover the offense is explosive enough for the Huskers to be a threat in most games.
The beefy win total of 8.5 is a high-wire act to navigate, but the combination of Martinez and Frost is as potent as any quarterback-coach tandem in the West. Nebraska can easily be 4-0 heading into the game against Ohio State at Memorial Stadium on September 28. Knock off the Buckeyes and life gets much easier for those of us foolish enough to play a trendy choice.