NCAAF Odds, Picks for Eastern Michigan vs. Minnesota | Back the Gophers?
Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis.
Eastern Michigan vs. Minnesota Odds
Minnesota’s season is off to an exciting start.
On one hand, the Gophers forced a turnover and scored 10 points over the final three minutes in Week 1 in a comeback win over Nebraska.
On the other hand, Athan Kaliakmanis and the Gophers offense looked pitiful for 57 minutes.
However, the Eagles looked much worse in Week 1, and that’s where our Eastern Michigan vs. Minnesota best bet lies.
I was soaring high with the Eagles last season, and I almost rode them to a MAC Championship appearance. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. A couple of bad bounces against Toledo sunk that dream.
Still, nine wins is a good year. Unfortunately for the Eagles, I expect major regression in 2023.
Quarterback Taylor Powell is gone, which is too bad because I quite liked him.
Austin Smith takes on starting quarterback duties after backing up Powell for a few seasons. He’s 3-1 as a starter but still a significant downgrade with a 59.7% career completion percentage, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
The Eagles can lean on the ground game, as the Samson Evans-Jaylon Jackson running back duo is the best in the MAC.
But the offensive line has to replace three starters, including Sidy Sow, the best lineman in program history and a fourth-round draft choice of the New England Patriots.
Also, only one of the top five receivers from last season returns. It’s top option Tanner Knue — who recorded 45 receptions for 632 yards and nine scores — but the unit lacks depth.
All in all, the offense lost seven starters from last year’s squad.
While the defense returns seven starters, the Eagles lost star pass rusher Jose Ramirez to the NFL. Replacing the MAC Defensive Player of the Year is pretty much impossible.
The secondary returns a boatload of talent, and I love the linebacking corps, but losing a defensive lineman who regularly drew double- or triple-teams is rough.
Also, I project more general regression for EMU. The 2022 Eagles went 5-1 in one-score games. They posted a 6-3 conference record despite a -9 net yards per game differential, leaning on a +7 turnover margin.
Turnovers and one-score games are highly variable and don’t translate year over year. The Eagles overachieved last season and got worse in the offseason.
It could be a long year in Ypsilanti.
Projecting Minnesota is about one question: Do you believe in Athan Kalikamanis? You better if you want to back the Golden Gophers.
Minnesota is reworking its entire offensive identity.
Gone is the Mohamed Ibrahim rush-first era, as the Gophers lost their all-time program rushing leader alongside three starting offensive linemen in the offseason. Now, they have only 49 career FBS starts on the line.
Instead, the Gophers will lean into a pass-happy attack behind the “Greek Gunslinger” and a deep pass-catching corps. Kaliakmanis will be tasked with making quick decisions and accurate throws to his playmakers, likely while under pressure.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, this new era is off to a lousy start. The Gophers threw the ball 44 times to 25 rushing attempts against Nebraska, and Kaliakmanis went 24-for-44 for 196 yards and 4.5 yards per attempt.
The Gophers finished with a 27% Success Rate on passing downs.
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s defense, which lost five starters and six of its top seven tacklers from last year’s unit, allowed 181 rushing yards on 4.9 yards per attempt against Nebraska. If Jeff Sims weren’t such a lousy quarterback (11-for-19 passing), the Gophers would’ve looked much worse.
Overall, Minnesota was outgained 295 yards to 251, only winning because Sims threw three picks. The Huskers boasted a Success Rate 14% higher than the Gophers (47% to 33%), and Nebraska had a 95% post-game win expectancy.
Eastern Michigan vs Minnesota
Betting Pick & Prediction
While I just spent 600 words dragging each squad, I’m far more concerned about Eastern Michigan than Minnesota.
The Eagles battled FCS Howard and allowed 23 points. They allowed the Bison to create three methodical and three explosive drives, resulting in six scoring opportunities (drives past the opponent's 40-yard line).
EMU scored 33 points, but 16 came from two kickoff return touchdowns and a safety. The Eagles created only four offensive drives past the Howard 40-yard line.
Meanwhile, the Bison outgained the Eagles 398 yards to 285, generating five more first downs (21 to 16).
Howard went 1-for-5 on fourth down, too. The Gophers were a tad lucky on late downs.
To recap, it took Eastern Michigan two kickoff return touchdowns, a safety and four fourth-down stops to scrape past FCS Howard, which plays in the MEAC.
That is a monster red flag for a team that I projected to take a significant step back.
Minnesota played poorly in Week 1, but at the minimum, that was against a Big Ten opponent. And I actually like Nebraska’s defense, which returned eight starters from 2022 and is implementing a better-coached 3-3-5 scheme after hiring defensive coordinator Tony White from Syracuse.
Kaliakmanis is still a strong-armed quarterback, and the Gophers still have talent.
Both squads played poor football in Week 1, but Minnesota faces a monster step down in competition, while Eastern Michigan is stepping up. Only one of those teams is going to improve on its past performance.
Our Action Analytics team projects Minnesota as a 27-point favorite against Eastern Michigan, giving us a touchdown edge over the market. Bill Connelly’s SP+ projections also make Minnesota a 25-point favorite.
If EMU performs how it did last week, I smell a 30+ point blowout.
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