Editor’s Note: Odds expressed are for entertainment purposes only.
Nebraska football is an intriguing team to handicap.
Last year, the Huskers’ opponents covered the opening line of a game ten out of thirteen times. What likely caused this is most top 25 teams’ itch to run up the scores on their opponents. Sports books account for this and fans bet accordingly.
With a defensive-minded head coach and a run-first offense, Nebraska doesn’t generate the monster points Oregon, LSU, Oklahoma and other current top teams do. Also, Tom Osborne is an old-school coach who frowns on embarrassing lesser opponents which has to play into Pelini’s coaching.
The other two teams last year that often didn’t cover the spread as favorites were both coached by older conservative coaches, Virginia Tech (Frank Beamer) and Penn State (Joe Paterno).
While fans like to scream about lines, a betting line is partially based on public perception of a team. While oddsmakers do study teams and players, they also consider how average fans will perceive a line and bet on it. Nebraska’s first game of 2012 reflects that principal well.
Southern Miss (+14.5): This line is probably going to fluctuate some, given the game will likely be in a prime ABC or ESPN window and is one of the top games of opening week.
It’s a dream scenario for Nebraska: an opening week game against a good team who won on a huge national TV stage the final week last year (USM defeated Houston in the C-USA title game). However, the Golden Eagles lose their coach, quarterback and the majority of their starters. If not for the Houston win, I would put this line around 17 or 18.
@ UCLA (+17.5): The Bruins aren’t going to have much of a home field advantage given how well Nebraska fans travel. Don’t be surprised one-third to one-half of the Rose Bowl is red.
UCLA will likely go with redshirt freshmen Brett Hundley at quarterback and while Jim Mora Jr. may be able to turn the program around eventually, his team isn’t likely to pose a serious threat to Nebraska this year.
Expect Taylor Martinez to play in front of a large home contingent, too. A point in UCLA’s favor: Rick Neuheisel upset then-ranked Tennessee in his first game as the Bruins’ head coach in 2008.
Arkansas State (+18.5): While the Red Wolves went 10-3 last year, they didn’t beat a team from a power conference. Two of their losses were to Illinois by 18 and Virginia Tech by 19, both away games.
While Nebraska beat ASU easily in 2009, the Red Wolves scared Iowa later that year and this is going to be Gus Malzahn’s best chance to impress Razorback nation.
Remember when the Luke Fickell-led Ohio State Buckeyes hosted Toledo last year? The Rockets’ upset bid had Tim Beckman trading up at season’s end.
Idaho State (+38.5): Last year, Nebraska was favored by forty over Tennessee-Chattanooga. Didn’t cover.
Wisconsin (-3.5): On a paper, I would favor Nebraska. Wisconsin is coming in with a (technically) new starting quarterback, offensive coordinator and more importantly, an offensive line that lost three multi-year starters.
Nebraska’s going to have a huge motivational edge, but because the Badgers will likely be 4-0 coming into the game and has shown up in most big games over the last two years while Nebraska has shrunk, Wisconsin is going to be favored.
If the Badgers crush Oregon State, I’m guessing this line will be two to three points higher.
@ Ohio State (-5.5): The Buckeyes play four winnable home games before traveling to Michigan State, then return home for this game.
Even though Nebraska beat Ohio State last year, Braxton Miller gained invaluable experience as did their young guns who were forced to play because of suspension. This could be Urban Meyer’s coming out party in Columbus, and I would put the true line a little higher, maybe -7 ½ for Ohio State.
Northwestern (+12): Like the UCLA and Minnesota last year, journeying Nebraska fans could have a huge presence.
The Wildcats can be a hard team to judge. They can give a good team fits as they did to Nebraska a year ago, but teams with elite talent across the board were ultimately able to overwhelm them.
Pat Fitzgerald is one of college football’s best coaches, but with two weeks to prepare, the Huskers should be able to find a way to win this game. However, Kain Colter has the talent necessary to frustrate the Blackshirts.
Michigan (-9): The Wolverines will likely have a 7-1 or 8-0 record when they visit Lincoln for their first conference road test.
This could be the game that decides the Legends Division and whether or not Nebraska goes to a BCS Bowl. Like Wisconsin, I’m going to downgrade Nebraska’s chances given how lopsided the score was last year and The Huskers’ recent performances in big games.
@ Michigan State (-2): Sparty hasn’t lost in East Lansing in two years, so right now, they’re the narrow favorite.
Like last year, Nebraska plays MSU at the end of a brutal stretch and the Spartans lack experience on offense. On a neutral field with two weeks to prepare, these teams are dead even in my mind.
Penn State (+14.5): This game’s perception could change dramatically between now and when it’s played.
The Nittany Lions, who overachieved last year by winning close games, do bring back an experienced (if underwhelming) quarterback, but lose their entire secondary and most of their offensive line.
They also face four dangerous road tests (Ohio, at Virginia, Navy, Temple). Penn State’s greatest weakness could be a fan base that that may turn quickly on new coach Bill O’Brien if he loses early.
Minnesota (+21.5): Fewer points than last year, but I expect Minnesota to be improved behind MarQueis Gray, a quarterback whose running style can give Nebraska some fits. The Golden Gophers could also be playing for a bowl berth which keeps the line conservative.
@ Iowa (+6.5): I can’t picture putting Iowa any closer to Nebraska after the Blackshirts made Marvin McNutt and Keenan Davis disappear in Lincoln last year. Their faces are still on milk cartons. This line could be Iowa +5 or +4 should the Hawkeyes take advantage of their early schedule and if Nebraska struggles in one or more of their higher-profile games.