The Northwestern Wildcats are off to a surprising 6-1 start while Nebraska is a somewhat disappointing 4-2 after a blowout loss at Ohio State. Take the points at home with Northwestern Saturday.
Two teams that are almost mirror images of each other stylistically square off Saturday when the Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-2, 0-2 away) pay a visit the Northwestern Wildcats (6-1, 4-0 home) at Ryan Field in Evanston, IL at 3:30 ET in a game televised regionally on either ESPN2 or ABC.
The point spread at Bookmaker Sportsbook has Northwestern as a decided home underdog for this contest at a current line of +5.
It is somewhat surprising to see Northwestern as this much of an underdog at home. While it is true that Nebraska averages about 100 more total yards per game offensively (507.3-407.9), the fact remains that the Wildcats are 6-1 and a perfect 4-0 at home while the Cornhuskers are 4-2 and winless in two road games, these teams have nearly identical stats defensively overall and both have the same style offensively with running quarterbacks.
Many did not know what to expect from Northwestern after lost the heart and soul of the team that went to the Meineke Car Care Bowl last year in quarterback Dan Persa, who was a great dual threat quarterback that ran the Wildcats’ offense flawlessly.
Well apparently a two-quarterback system with a passing quarterback in Trevor Siemian and a running quarterback in Kain Colter has served as a suitable replacement considering the start that the Wildcats have had, although Colter figures to get most of the playing time this week as he looks like the best option to exploit Nebraska’s defensive weaknesses.
Northwestern was off to a 5-0 start before losing 39-28 on the road at Penn State two weeks ago with Siemian being the predominant quarterback. However, the Wildcats bounced back with a nice road win last week 21-13 at Minnesota, led by 182 rushing yards from running back Venric Mark. The interesting footnote about the win though was the quarterback situation, as the passer Siemian completed just 1-of-7 passes while the runner Colter was a perfect 10-for-10.
Nebraska is a perfect 4-0 at home, but the Huskers lost a non-conference game at UCLA earlier in the year and then their second road trip of the season was a disaster, as the Cornhuskers were thoroughly embarrassed 63-38 at Ohio State in their last game! The Nebraska offense put up 437 yards in the loss, but the defense struggled with Ohio State’s spread offense run by Braxton Miller, as the Buckeyes rushed for a whopping 371 yards.
Now on paper, these two defenses are very close. Nebraska is allowing 367.0 total yards per game on 4.4 yards per rush and 6.1 yards per pass attempt, while Northwestern is allowing 380.7 total yards on 3.5 yards per rush and 6.4 yards per pass. However, the Cornhuskers’ rushing defense obviously took a hit vs. Ohio State’s spread and Northwestern runs that same style when the mobile Colter is at quarterback.
The Wildcats average a nice 228.4 rushing yards per game overall on 5.1 yards per carry, and you may recall that Northwestern went into Lincoln last year and upset Nebraska 28-25 while rushing for 207 yards. Yes that puts the Cornhuskers in a revenge spot, but their performance last game suggests that they still have not figured out how to adequately defend the spread, and they are now playing in hostile territory.
The Nebraska running game is still scary though at 292.0 rushing yards per game on an amazing 6.2 yards per carry, and that is the only reason why we are not flat out calling for an upset, although it would be not at all surprising if Northwestern prevails. We do feel that getting more than a field goal in this matchup is worthwhile though, so we simply cannot pass up taking the home team at +5 on Saturday.
College Football Pick: Northwestern +5 (-110)