Ohio State vs. Minnesota College Football Betting Preview: Odds, Picks & Predictions for Thursday’s Week 1 Big Ten Showdown (Sept. 2)
David Berding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive lineman Esezi Otomewo (9).
Ohio State vs. Minnesota
Ryan Day has been one of the more profitable head coaches through the past two seasons, supporting a 20-2 straight-up record and covering 13-of-22 games.
A loss to Alabama in the national title game and a 2020 Sugar Bowl loss to Clemson signify that every season is championship or bust for the New Hampshire alum.
Over in Minneapolis, PJ Fleck is searching for answers after a forgettable 3-4 season through the 2020 pandemic. The defense reached all-time lows in a number of advanced statistical areas, while the offense floundered under new coordinator Mike Sanford Jr.
A solid running game returns while the Gophers look for the 2019 magic that made them Playoff contenders late into November that season.
Not only has Day become a head coach gamblers can trust, but he also has not been afraid to make changes where necessary to advance the Buckeyes. He installed a sugar huddle before a semifinal win over Clemson, and Day now tinkers with his defense to create a new bullet position.
Ohio State has one of the lowest TARP rankings in all of FBS. The national average sits at 76% on both sides of the ball, with the Buckeyes returning 60% on offense and 49% on defense.
This is The Ohio State, a team that once returned four starters and won the national title.
The Buckeyes’ handicap always comes down to a number of important elements. Will the defense stop explosive pass offenses running a modified 4-3? Will the quarterback position be plug-and-play after Justin Fields? Will the offensive line protect the quarterback and plow holes for the rushing attack?
The headlines are populated with new quarterback CJ Stroud, one of the current top contenders for the Heisman Trophy.
The on-field sample of Stroud is limited with just a single designed rush attempt last season and a handful of plays from the spring game.
Stroud will be throwing to the best wide receiver unit in the country with Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Both players are interchangeable between the outside and slot and average at least 13 yards on average depth of target.
Day elected to run more 12 personnel usage, a tick up from 21% to 31% from 2019 to last season. That’s great news for tight end Jeremy Ruckert, who had 17 targets and served as a weapon in the play-action passing game.
The expectation is that Stroud may not do much in the passing game against Minnesota.
The biggest news for Ohio State comes on the offensive line. Harry Miller takes over at center after logging just 69 snaps at the position last year. Projected NFL starter Thayer Munford had 512 snaps at left tackle and has zero snaps of experience at his new position of left guard.
Paris Johnson and Nicholas Petit-Frere move to the other side of the offensive line, making this Minnesota game an all-eyes event on the Buckeyes trench.
The big news from the offseason came in a scheme change for the defense. Ohio State ran almost exclusively in a 4-3 on first and second down but mixed in a 4-2-5 in half of the third-down attempts.
Now, the Buckeyes will run primarily out of the 4-2-5 with the new bullet position. The Buckeyes have the size and speed on the defensive line to be effective rushing just four, allowing players like Sevyn Banks to create additional Havoc.
Sevyn Banks with the 55-yard scoop-and-score for Ohio State.
He almost had the Daniel Jones crash landing, but kept his footing on the stumble. pic.twitter.com/1a6NuDPhcJ
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) October 24, 2020
Secondary coach Matt Barnes indicated the scheme would not change much, but the 2021 “Silver Bullets” may put the speed needed on the field when the time comes against college football’s elite offenses.
A number of players are expected to fill the hybrid nickel, but the position will be under the microscope from the first snap.
The Gophers’ past two seasons were miles apart when comparing the final record.
An 11-2 record in 2019 ended with an Outback Bowl victory over Auburn. Then offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca departed for Penn State, and wide receiver Tyler Johnson’s 18 deep-ball targets left for the NFL. Mike Sanford Jr. took over as coordinator, and quarterback Tanner Morgan’s efficiency took a dive.
The usage of 11 personnel fell from 55% to 43%, while the rush rate dropped from 63% to 49%. Morgan was asked to pass more while losing his best deep-ball target.
As for the defense, a move from the 3-3-5 to the 4-2-5 allowed every opponent to run wild in the trench. The Gophers finished 122nd in Opponent Rushing Success Rate, making that the biggest point of emphasis for the 2021 season.
Golden Gophers Offense
Sanford is in Year 2 as coordinator and now understands the strengths and weaknesses of his players. The coach also understands that PJ Fleck wants to establish the run and own the time of possession stat.
The great news for Minnesota is the offensive line returns everyone in the two-deep. Not only was the Opponent Sack Rate in the top 45 in 2020, but the Minnesota Rushing Success Rate was also top-45 — this will be important as it returns one of the best running backs in the conference in Mohamed Ibrahim.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 25, 2020
Morgan has lost Johnson and now Rashod Bateman over the past two years, leaving his most explosive target to be Chris Autman-Bell. The junior had an incredible 16.1 yards average depth of target but is now a game-time decision.
The Minnesota offense will look to run Ibrahim as much as possible while owning time of possession against Ohio State.
Golden Gophers Defense
The 2020 advanced statistics are hideous with ranks outside the top 100 in Opponent Success Rate, Havoc and Line Yards. If there was a shining light, a rank of fifth in tackling, per PFF, did help in stopping a few explosive plays.
Now, Minnesota brings back 87% of the defense, per TARP, but the question is whether or not that’s a good thing after the 2020 season.
Minnesota extended defensive coordinator Joe Rossi, who will now look for answers from a group of players that loses just a starting corner.
The transfer portal does bring in new blood with Clemson nose tackle Nyles Pinckney and NC State defensive tackle Val Martin.
Rossi mentioned that six different players could see time at linebacker, the unit with the most turnover in the offseason.
Rossi emphasized the need for tackles for loss — the Gophers ranked dead last in the category last season, which saw a drop from 115th in 2019.
Ohio State vs. Minnesota Matchup Analysis
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Minnesota Offense vs. Ohio State Defense
Ohio State Offense vs. Minnesota Defense
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Ohio State vs. Minnesota Betting Pick
The identity of these two teams is well known heading into this game. Minnesota wants to establish the run and own the clock. Ohio State wants to take the pressure off Stroud and give opportunities to a new backfield.
The swap of players along the offensive line may take the Buckeyes a few series to get acclimated in a live game. Although Ohio State has the best wide receivers in the nation, Day has made it clear that this game will not be put on the quarterback’s arm.
There are not many positives from the Minnesota defense, but the transfer portal should improve plugging holes in opposing rushing attacks. If the Gophers’ ultimate goal is to drain clock on offense with Ibrahim, Ohio State has an offensive line that is capable of producing the same results.
Mother Nature may also play a role in this Big Ten opener, as there is an increasing chance of rain on Thursday night.
Our Action Network projection sits at Ohio State -12.5 on the side and 60 as the total.
While the total is the better bet considering the offensive agendas for Fleck and Day, Minnesota is only worth a small look at any spread north of two scores.