It has been strange all year watching Nebraska play in the Big Ten. The strangest moment of all will come this week, though, when the Huskers visit the most iconic building in the conference, and perhaps in the country.
This is not the first time the two legendary programs have met—they played in bowl games in 2005 and 1986—but it is their first regular season meeting as conference rivals.
Beyond the history that will be made, there are some big implications for this game. Michigan State controls their own destiny in their pursuit of the first Leaders Division crown in the Big Ten, but if they falter then the winner of this game will be in the best position to take their place.
Nebraska beat Michigan State, so they would only need the Spartans to lose once to win the division if they win out. The Wolverines need to win their last two and have the Spartans lose their last two.
Nebraska at Michigan Betting Storylines
The biggest challenge for Nebraska is going to be to come into this game focused and ready to play. This is their second road trip to play in front of more than 100,000 fans in a row, and last week’s trip to Penn State was as emotionally draining as a regular season game can be.
On top of that, the move to the Big Ten hasn’t been as smooth or easy as the team seemed to expect, so Nebraska has to be weary by this point. The Wolverines are going to be fired up for this one, so if coach Bo Pelini doesn’t have this team completely focused then there could be issues.
Michigan is going to be thrilled to play at home, and the home crowd is going to be happy to see a top-level opponent in the Big House. The Wolverines have played four of five on the road, and the lone home game was a one-sided contest against Purdue.
They are a perfect 6-0 at home this year, and are very close to being 6-0 ATS as well—they only beat Eastern Michigan by 28 as 28.5-point favorites. Having 110,000 fans on your side is always a big advantage, but it should be a particular advantage in this one.
For Michigan the biggest priority has to be getting the offense working—especially against a decent defense. The transition from the spread offense of Rich Rodriguez to the more traditional Brady Hoke offense hasn’t always been smooth.
As the season has gone along QB Denard Robinson has looked less and less confident. His feet aren’t nearly the threat they were in non-conference play, and he continues to struggle through the air.
What has kept the team going reasonably well is that Michigan has found a running game beyond Robinson, with Fitzgerald Touissant emerging as a premier back. Nebraska has definitely been vulnerable on the ground this year, so Michigan will very likely look to exploit that early and often in this game.
Hoke is trying to return Michigan to a more traditional type of play like Lloyd Carr preferred. One aspect that unfortunately defined Carr’s time in Ann Arbor, though, was consistent struggles against mobile quarterbacks.
Michigan needs to be ready for a quarterback who is as much a threat on the ground as through the air when Taylor Martinez rolls into town.
Actually, Martinez and the Huskers have been dramatically better on the ground than through the air this year.
The defining matchup for this game will come down to the Michigan defensive line against the Nebraska offensive line. If the Huskers can find a way to run then they will be in a good position to win. If Mike Martin and the defensive line can assert themselves early, though, then the Huskers will be in trouble.
Nebraska at Michigan Betting Odds and Trends
The betting action has been relatively split between the two teams in terms of the number of bets, but given that the line has climbed from the key number of three to 3.5 it seems as if smart money is favoring the home team. The total opened at 51, according to college football odds, and has been stable in early betting action.
Nebraska is just 3-6-1 ATS this season. Michigan is just 6-23 ATS in their last 29 conference games, but at 4-2 ATS this year they are clearly showing signs of reversing the ugly trends of the Rodriguez era.
This is just the second time all year that Nebraska has not been the favorite. They failed to cover as 9.5-point underdogs against Wisconsin.
Nebraska at Michigan Predictions and College Football Picks
Michigan is going to get a big boost from returning home, and will be fired up for this game. After having made a November collapse a tradition in recent years they are focused on keeping things rolling this year, and they have been looking forward to their last two games since before the season started.
They have the better defense in this one, and despite the struggles of Robinson in recent weeks they have the better quarterback as well. They also have stronger coaching.
I expect Michigan to win this one reasonably comfortably, so they are the clear ATS pick—especially if you could still find the spread at three points
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports football picks Web site.