College Football Odds, Predictions, Picks for Nebraska vs Minnesota: Back Rhule in Cornhuskers Debut
Via Steven Branscombe/Getty Images. Pictured: Head coach Matt Rhule of Nebraska Cornhuskers and quarterback Jeff Sims #14 of Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on April 22, 2023 in Lincoln, Nebraska.
- The Nebraska Cornhuskers take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in a Big Ten West college football showdown on Thursday night.
- The Gophers enter as favorites of just over a touchdown as Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule looks to kick off his tenure in Lincoln on a high note.
- Check out BJ Cunningham's betting pick and prediction for Nebraska vs Minnesota on Thursday, August 31, below.
Nebraska vs Minnesota Odds
Two Big Ten West rivals meet to open the season in Minneapolis as Nebraska takes on Minnesota.
Nebraska is entering a new era under Matt Rhule, who has a track record of turning programs around. He's done it at Temple and Baylor, but the first year is usually pretty rough. Eventually, Rhule's goal is to return Nebraska back to prominence, but for now, there are a lot of changes happening on both sides of the ball.
Minnesota begins Year 7 under P.J. Fleck after a nine-win season and a second-place finish in the Big Ten West in 2022.
The Gophers have to replace two of their longtime stars in quarterback Tanner Morgan and running back Mohamed Ibrahim at running back. Half of the defense is also gone, so it's going to be a bit of a transition year for Minnesota.
Where does the betting value lie in Thursday's Big Ten opener between Nebraska and Minnesota? Let's dive into the odds and find a pick.
Changes are coming to the Nebraska offense.
Marcus Satterfield comes over from South Carolina to be the offensive coordinator, which means a more under-center pro-style offense rather than the spread and uptempo offense it played under Scott Frost.
Nebraska will also have a new quarterback in Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims.
Sims is an incredible runner, but he's not great as a passer. Last season, before his injury in Week 8, he had a 52.0 PFF passing grade, averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt and tossed five big-time throws compared to 10 turnover-worthy plays.
But as a runner, he averaged 5.7 yards per carry and forced 22 missed tackles.
Jeff Sims with the TOUCHDOWN RUN and Georgia Tech takes the lead 26-21 over Louisville. pic.twitter.com/FgsvBtet5j
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) October 10, 2020
The good news for the Huskers is they should be a very stout rushing attack. Last season, they transitioned from a run-based attack to a passing attack under then-offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Now, they'll feature a more run-based attack.
The Huskers have 120 starts across their offensive line, and their top back, Anthony Grant, returns along with Gabe Ervin.
Defensively, Nebraska was a mess last year. The Huskers finished the season 123rd in Success Rate Allowed, 88th in EPA/Play and 114th in Havoc. Consequently, new defensive coordinator Tony White enters from Syracuse, and he will implement a 3-3-5 defense.
Last season at Syracuse, his defense boasted a top-five PFF coverage grade and top-10 tackling grade. Nebraska finished outside the top 50 in both of those categories last season, so he should immediately improve those two aspects of the defense.
The Cornhuskers return six starters on the defensive side of the ball. They bring back their top-three tacklers, four starters in the secondary and added an impressive transfer in Georgia linebacker MJ Sherman, who was a four-star recruit coming out of high school.
Nebraska should be significantly improved defensively.
Morgan and Ibrahim have moved on, which means someone is going to have to fill their shoes.
Athan Kaliakmanis will take over as the starting quarterback for the Gophers, and he does have some experience after starting the final five games of last season when Morgan was hurt.
Minnesota made a couple of internal hires, promoting Greg Harbaugh Jr. and Matt Simon to co-offensive coordinator. They've been with Fleck for over a decade, so you most likely won't see many changes to the Minnesota offense
Minnesota was one of the most rush-heavy offenses in the country, carrying the rock on 66.3% of offensive plays — the highest average for a non-triple option offense in the country. That was because they had Ibrahim, one of the best backs in the country.
The Gophers added Sean Tyler from Western Michigan via the portal, but he was a pretty average back in the MAC who averaged 4.9 yards per carry with a 72.0 PFF rushing grade. Plus, only two starters return on the offensive line.
As a result, there may be more pressure on Kaliakmanis in the pocket. He wasn't very good in those five starts at the end of the season, putting up a 69.3 PFF passing grade and a 61.3% adjusted completion percentage, so the Minnesota offense should take a step back.
The Minnesota defense was very good last season, finishing 15th in Success Rate Allowed, 32nd in EPA/Play Allowed and fourth in Finishing Drives Allowed.
However, it's likely going to take a step back. Only three starters return in its front seven, and two of its best players in the secondary are now in the NFL. Plus, the Gophers lost two of their top three tacklers.
Nebraska vs Minnesota
Betting Pick & Prediction
Even though Nebraska is going through a transition period with a new quarterback and head coach, its run-based attack with Sims at quarterback and 120 returning starts on the offensive line is going to be a great asset.
The fact that the Golden Gophers lost their best two offensive players, a lot across the offensive line and significant contributors in their front seven on defense without adding significant replacements is a big issue.
The Huskers competed in this game last season as 14-point underdogs and lost, 20-13, and they will be even more competitive on Thursday.
Plus, it's always been profitable to back Matt Rhule as an underdog.
I only have Minnesota projected as a 5.2-point favorite, so I think there's a little bit of value on the Cornhuskers at +7, but that's the lowest I would play them.