Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Scott Frost
- Michigan is a 19-point favorite at home against Nebraska on Saturday.
- The health of Huskers quarterback Adrian Martinez is the X-factor in betting this line.
- The Action Network analyzes the best way to bet this Big Ten opener.
Michigan is 1-2 ATS so far in 2018, covering a 27.5-point spread against Western Michigan two weeks ago and failing to cover a 37-point spread against SMU last week.
Nonconference games and monstrous lines are over (well, until Michigan plays Rutgers) for Wolverines bettors. Nonetheless, in Michigan’s Big Ten opener, it’s got a 19-point line to cover against 0-2 Nebraska at home.
Michigan wins the game with or without Huskers freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez on the opposite sideline. But can it cover?
Here are three things to consider about the Big Ten opener before betting on it.
Will Adrian Martinez Play?
This game weighs heavily on the health of Martinez (187 yards passing, 117 rushing against Colorado). The California native left Nebraska’s game against Colorado with a knee injury; the Cornhuskers had the lead when he went down.
Walk-on backup Andrew Bunch (23-of-36, 226 yards in 2018) replaced him in the inevitable loss to the Buffs and in the upset loss to Troy.
Bunch won’t be able to handle a vicious Michigan front seven that gets exposed only against dual threats. Martinez is the only quarterback who can keep this game close.
With Martinez listed as probable following some encouraging words from Nebraska’s staff there’s enough reason to believe the true freshman will start on Saturday (though I’d hold off on a final bet until that’s official).
He surpassed 100 yards in the pass and rush game against Colorado with a staggering completion percentage of 75%.
Michigan’s pass defense allowed SMU’s James Proche to snag 156 yards receiving to go along with two touchdowns — both passes coming from a dual-threat true freshman.
Martinez will give this Wolverines defense fits — more so with his arm than legs.
Nebraska’s Pass Rush is Lethal
Everyone knows the narrative that Michigan’s offensive line has struggled for the majority of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure. With new offensive line coach Ed Warinner in his first season, it wasn’t going to be an overnight fix — that was obvious against Notre Dame.
Even though the line has certainly picked up its play — albeit against inferior opponents — it hasn’t seen a front quite like Nebraska’s.
The Irish sacked Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson three times, hurried him six and totaled seven tackles for loss. Notre Dame is tied for 74th in the country in sacks per game with 1.7 and 90th in sack percentage, sacking the QB 3.73% of the time.
Compare those numbers those of Nebraska, which is second in sacks per game, averaging five a contest. Plus, the Cornhuskers’ 12.35% sack percentage is good for eighth in the country and nearly 10% higher than the Irish’s.
Patterson, and Michigan’s offense in general, looked far more comfortable at home the past two weeks than against Notre Dame. Plus, Nebraska’s passing defense ranks 80th nationally, allowing 230.5 yards a game.
This Huskers pass rush won’t win them the game, but it certainly could prevent Michigan from covering.
Michigan Strong in Big Ten Openers
It’s been a small sample size in Jim Harbaugh’s three-plus seasons in Ann Arbor. Nonetheless, the head coach is 3-0 ATS in Big Ten openers, which we pointed out earlier this week.
Even without Harbaugh, the Wolverines have been a force in the first game of conference play.
Michigan is 47-3 since 1968 in Big Ten openers, along with winning 11 of its last 12.
It comes down to this for me: If Martinez plays, this feels like a seven- to-17 point win for Michigan. If he doesn’t, the Wolverines should cover.
Keep an eye out on the injury report before making your bet final. Though, if you like Nebraska either way, grab +19 ASAP.
Editor’s note: The opinion on this game is from the individual writer and is based on his research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.