Saturday's Big Ten game betting preview between No. 13 Northwestern and No. 18 Michigan. The Wolverines are -7.5 on 5Dimes college football odds with a scant total of just 36 points.
Wildcats Winning With Defense
That total is easily the lowest on the board for this week's games and I believe the lowest anywhere this season. Who would have thought this game would be so important back in August? Neither the Wildcats nor Wolverines were ranked entering the year. NU was just 5-7 last year and Michigan the same, which led to the firing of Coach Brady Hoke and the hiring of former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh as the new coach.
Northwestern (5-0) already has a quality win over a good Stanford team. NU opened Big Ten play last Saturday with a 27-0 domination of Minnesota. Freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson completed 14 of 19 for 128 yards and rushed 11 times for 24 yards and two scores. Sophomore running back Justin Jackson rushed for 120 yards. It was his seventh 100-yard effort in the last eight and 10th of his career. Jackson has led the ‘Cats in rushing in each of his first 17 career games. Jackson is 10th in the nation with 636 rushing yards and leads the country with 138 attempts.
It was the Wildcats' largest margin of victory in that series since 1943. It was also NU’s first shutout of a Big Ten team since the No. 11 Wildcats defeated No. 24 Wisconsin 24-0 in Northwestern's Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl season of 1995. The Wildcats have allowed just 35 points all season, their fewest given up through five games since allowing 33 in 1943. In that season, NU yielded 64 points in eight games. The Wildcats have not allowed a touchdown in 17 of 20 quarters this season and only three touchdowns overall. Minnesota was successful on just 4 of 16 third conversion attempts. For the season, Wildcat opponents have gone just 15-for-75 (20 percent) on third down. No opponent has thrown or rushed for 200 yards, and Northwestern has forced 10 turnovers.
The last time Northwestern began season 6-0 was in 1962, the year it rose to No. 1 in the AP poll. The Wildcats are 4-1 against the spread on college football odds and 0-5 'over/under.'
U-M Pretty Good On D Too
Michigan opened the season with a loss at Utah, which is looking like a better defeat every week with the Utes up to No. 5 in the latest AP poll and receiving seven first-place votes. U-M won its fourth straight game this past Saturday, 28-0 over Maryland. It was Michigan's second straight shutout after beating then-No. 22 BYU 31-0 on Sept. 26.
The Michigan defense held the Terrapins to just 105 total yards -- including 37 in the second half -- and had eight tackles-for-loss (four sacks), six pass breakups and three interceptions. Since giving up 24 points in the season opener at Utah, Michigan has allowed only two touchdowns in its last four games.
"Back-to-back shutouts is a heck of a thing," said Harbaugh. "Looked it up and 2000 was the last time Michigan did that."
U-M hasn't posted three straight shutout since 1980; Michigan beat Indiana 35-0, Wisconsin 24-0 and No. 16 Purdue 26-0. That Michigan team won Coach Bo Schembechler his first Rose Bowl. This Michigan team ranks No. 2 nationally in total defense, allowing just 184 yards per game. It is No. 2 to Northwestern nationally in scoring defense, giving up 7.6 per game. U-M is No. 1 in the country in third-down conversion defense (19.4 percent).
The Wolverines did lose starting linebacker Mario Ojemudia to a season-ending Achilles' injury in the win over Maryland. The senior was injured too late in the season to apply for a redshirt year. Ojemudia has played in the hybrid rush linebacker/defensive end role and was third on the Wolverines in tackles (19), second in tackles for loss (six) and had two sacks. Running back De'Veon Smith and cornerback Channing Stribling are set to return this week after injuries kept them out of the Maryland game.
Michigan is 3-2 ATS on college football picks and 0-5 O/U.
Michigan won at Northwestern last season 10-9 -- Hoke's final victory. Smith ran for 121 yards and a touchdown. Northwestern came within that one point on a Trevor Siemian 3-yard TD pass to Tony Jones in the final seconds, but Coach Pat Fitzgerald opted to try for the win rather than kick the PAT. Siemian slipped attempting the 2-pointer. Ojemudia had two sacks in the game. Michigan has won 31 of the past 35 meetings.
Free College Football Picks: Take the points and go 'Under.' The underdog is 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The 'under' is 6-2 in the past eight.