Nebraska vs. Northwestern Week 0 Odds, Picks: Bet Cornhuskers To Cover In Ireland

Nebraska vs. Northwestern Week 0 Odds, Picks: Bet Cornhuskers To Cover In Ireland article feature image

Michael Hickey/Getty Images. Pictured: Scott Frost.

Nebraska vs. Northwestern Odds

Saturday, Aug. 27
12:30 p.m. ET
Nebraska Odds
-110o / -110u
Northwestern Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via Caesars. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

Not all 3-9 teams are alike. That will become evident when Nebraska and Northwestern go head-to-head in Dublin to kick off the college football season.

These teams have traded home victories against each other over the past four seasons but will now kick at a neutral site across the pond. Aviva Stadium will host its fourth college football game in the past decade, as Aviva's perennial ryegrass has seen no shortage of explosive plays.

📍Aviva Stadium

— Nebraska Football (@HuskerFBNation) August 23, 2022

For Nebraska, the "business trip" is an unspoken must-win after multiple changes in the offseason by Athletic Director Trev Alberts.

Head coach Scott Frost was stripped of offensive play-calling duties to give more focus to special teams and defense. Both factors have played into a record of 15-29 since 2018.

Pat Fitzgerald came to Big Ten Media Days to announce that the formula for Northwestern is simple.

In seasons with a plethora of returning experience, the Wildcats thrived with a 26-10 record over the 2017, 2018 and 2020 seasons. When no returning production was present, the 2019 and 2021 seasons both ended with a 3-9 record.

Northwestern enters Ireland with a mixed bag of experience from a TARP perspective. An opening win as a double-digit favorite would set the tone for the remainder of the Wildcats' season.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

The Cornhuskers covered seven games and won just three last season, rarely blowing opponents out.

The one exception came against Northwestern in a 56-7 thrashing last October. Quarterback Adrian Martinez had three rushing touchdowns by the end of the first quarter — a prelude to another four rushing scores posted throughout the remainder of the game.

The Wildcats would finish the season outside the top 100 defensively in Stuff Rate and against explosive runs.

Fast forward 11 months, and the formula in Dublin will be much different.

Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple joins the program after a successful stint at Pitt. Quarterback Kenny Pickett emerged as a highly-coveted NFL Draft pick, while the Panthers finished top-25 in offensive tempo.

When asked about his involvement with the offense this summer, Frost stuck to a playbook answer of, "Whipps is in control."

That may be good news for Texas transfer quarterback Casey Thompson.

As someone who loves sports it always amazes me to listen to players and coaches break down plays, game plans, situations, etc.

Huskers quarterback Casey Thompson broke down Northwestern's defense today and I was blown away.

Here's Thompson's in depth break down.

— Eddie Messel (@EddieMesselTV) August 21, 2022

Thompson leaves Austin in the wake of the Quinn Ewers era after posting a 26:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The quarterback has no issues in arm strength, racking up twice as many big-time throws as turnover-worthy plays on passes over 20 yards.

The numbers fall off in dropbacks with a crowded pocket, but Nebraska returns 83% of offensive line snaps. The hope is new offensive line coach Donovan Raiola can improve on pass blocking ranks outside the top 100.

While the offense gets most of the attention in the offseason, the Cornhusker defense quietly had an impressive 2021 campaign. Coordinator Erik Chinander's aggressive 3-4 blitz scheme turned in a top-30 mark in coverage while posting one of the best numbers against the explosive run.

With 70% of tackles and 87% of pressures returning from last season, Nebraska is expected to field another top-10 unit in Finishing Drives after allowing opponents just 2.9 points inside the 40 last season.

Northwestern Wildcats

The numbers for Northwestern spiraled further south as the 2021 season progressed. The offense scored more than 14 points just once over the final seven games, and the defense fell outside the top 100 in Success Rate and Finishing Drives.

Generating Havoc was the staple of the Wildcats' defense in 2020, but they fell to the bottom 10 in FBS last year when it came to tackles for loss, sacks and pass breakups.

Northwestern returns a modest 65% back on each side of the ball, but some positions are direr than others.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian saw the wheels come off the offense last season, failing to finish inside the top 100 in almost every statistical category.

A trio of quarterbacks were ineffective, as Ryan Hilinski returns from that group to battle freshman Brendan Sullivan for starting duties. Hilinski finished 129th of all FBS quarterbacks in average depth of target — a limitation of the Northwestern offense to create chunk plays.

Fitzgerald has yet to name a starter for this game, but Hilinski has completed just seven big-time throws in 590 career passing attempts.

Leaning on two of the best offensive tackles in the Big Ten, Northwestern will look to lean on experience at running back to slow this game and keep Whipple's offense off the field.

The Wildcats are looking for answers on defense, as leading tackler Chris Bergin graduated with his 141 tackles. Also in the lost experience category is safety Brandon Joseph, who now suits up for Notre Dame thanks to the transfer portal.

Although this secondary has not logged any interceptions, cornerbacks Cameron Mitchell and AJ Hampton are the strength in the defensive backfield.

Nebraska vs. Northwestern Betting Pick

The biggest question in the handicap of this game is simply asking what has changed with each program since the Wildcats got drummed last season.

Northwestern lost a key piece of the secondary in Joseph without replacement. The Wildcats return less than 50% of their pressures from last season, which could equate to Thompson having plenty of time to hit any deep shots for the Huskers.

While Fitzgerald pointed to experience being the key cog in this program, it's the lack of Havoc on defense that will prevent Northwestern from getting back to 2018 and 2020 form.

Nebraska has gone through numerous changes this offseason.

Whipple is an upgrade at offensive coordinator, specifically when drives extend past the 40-yard line. Frost never finished within the top 50 in points per opportunity while calling plays in Lincoln, but Whipple has a long history of cashing in when red-zone opportunities present themselves.

Defensively, Nebraska lost almost half of its passes defensed from last year — an aspect Northwestern will not be able to challenge from the quarterback position.

Northwestern will open with a one-dimensional running attack against a Nebraska team that finished 80th in Defensive Rushing Success Rate last season.

The Wildcats must stay on schedule and avoid passing downs with Hilinski, while Bajakian must find resolution in a dreadful mark of 2.9 points per drive that extended past the 40-yard line.

The bigger question might be what Northwestern does offensively if Nebraska has a second-half lead.

Frost said he's ready to "let it rip" against the Wildcats, possibly signaling that Whipple will test Northwestern's secondary early and often with Thompson.

The safeties will look to patrol the middle in zone coverage, but the focus is also on Hampton and Mitchell at cornerback. Hampton had one of the highest ranks in the nation at forced incompletions, but his 4.3% explosive play rate shows a boom-or-bust mentality that Nebraska may choose to expose.

Whipple has been one of the best offensive minds in college football for years and is a great fit for the cerebral Thompson, who obsesses about perfection.

The Northwestern secondary will struggle in the wake Joseph's transfer, while the Cornhuskers may elect to throw in standard downs if Rahmir Johnson and Markese Stepp can't find success carrying the ball.

After a hit piece on Nebraska football from the Irish Times, both Frost and Whipple have said the article has motivated the team.

Northwestern was unable to defend Martinez on the ground last season and will struggle to stop Thompson's uptempo air attack in Dublin.

Action Network projects this game at Nebraska -16, giving plenty of room to take the current number up to two touchdowns.

Pick: Nebraska -13 (Play to -14)

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