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College Football Pick
Get this one: Northwestern is ranked 24th in the nation and are 11-point underdogs to an unranked team who may be without their starting QB, Denard Robinson. On the outside, it doesn't make sense, but if you dig a little deeper it's understandable. The Wildcats are 7-2, but they don't really have a good win this year. None of the teams they beat in the Big 10, have a winning conference record. None of the teams they beat all year have more than five wins. Their losses are to Penn State and Nebraska, which are respectable. Looking at Michigan, they don't really have a great win either unless you count a home game against Michigan State. Their losses were more reasonable though to two undefeated teams in Alabama and Notre Dame and at Nebraska. Their most important win may have been at Minnesota last weekend with Devin Gardner at QB.
In last year's meeting, even though Robinson threw three interceptions he finished with 454 total yards and four TDs in a 42-24 win. If the Wildcats want to have a chance, they'll need to find out how to stop the Michigan offense no matter who is at quarterback. Even after losing Dan Persa at QB, the Northwestern offense has been able to move the ball relatively well this season.
Robinson is splitting reps at practice this week with Gardner and is questionable to play. Gardner, the former QB turned WR turned QB again last week, played well at Minnesota. Whether it's Robinson or Gardner at QB, the Gophers will have to be wary of deep balls and option plays out of the backfield. The Wolverines aren't a great passing team, but when they do complete the ball, it'll most likely move the chains. Their top five receivers all have averages over 15 yards per catch. That's what a good ground game can do for you. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint hasn't had over 85 rushing yards all season, but he's usually not needed to as Robinson is their main rusher. Even outside of Robinson, Michigan has 13 rushing TDs as a team.
Northwestern knows they will have to put points on the board and will do so with an attack much like Michigan's. In fact, the Wildcats average more rushing yards per game than the Wolverines which says a lot. Between QBs Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter, Northwestern only has seven passing TDs. On the ground is where they do their damage. Running back Venric Mark has been huge this year, hitting 100 rushing yards in six of nine games. He already has 1,072 yards and nine TDs for the season. Option QB Kain Colter also has his big games as seen in his 166-yard, three TD effort against Iowa last weekend. Colter has 11 rushing TDs himself. Michigan's defense has picked it up since hitting Big 10 play and are surprising a lot of people. They'll need to step up their game once again against this running attack.
The Wildcats are a solid 8-1 ATS in their last nine games overall and 4-1 ATS in their last five road games. The Wolverines are a little more disappointing going 10-26 ATS in their last 36 conference games and 2-8 ATS in their last 10 home games vs. a team with a winning road record. The road team is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings between these schools and the under has hit in four of those games.
This game opened Michigan -12 and has been bet down to -11. We agree with the move. Our model has this one right around the number, however, if you take a glance at the yards per point numbers for both squads you'll notice they are dead even. You can adjust that yards per point number with when considering schedule strength. Michigan has played a slightly more difficult schedule, but perhaps by a field goal, not 11 points. Also note that Northwestern is +6 in turnover differential, 30th in the nation while Michigan is -4, 88th in the nation.
Nothing strong here but we'll take a shot with Northwestern. Note that Michigan has historically dominated Northwestern. There is no doubt, a talent gap between these two programs and there really are no signs that the gap has closed any. So tread lightly. Northwestern +11