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Cappin’ the B1G: Rutgers Football and other Big Ten Week 1 Predictions and Picks Against the Spread

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NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome everyone to my first official weekly edition of “Cappin’ the B1G.” If you missed my picks for each B1G teams 2016 regular season win total, you can find that here. This will be the first installment of my weekly article where I will pick each Big Ten team’s matchup from a handicapping perspective. This means that I will attempt to pick which team I think will cover the point spread in each matchup as well as whether the game will go over or under the oddsmakers totals. I will be using www.vegasinsider.com for all of my lines. I will also be keeping track of my “betting” this season by wagering imaginary units on each game, ranging from 0-5 units per game. This will help show which level of confidence I have in each of my picks. A lot of the games I will feel as though the oddsmakers did an excellent job of creating a point spread and will elect not to wager on that matchup. There will also be a few times this season where I feel very strongly about one side or another and wager the full 5 units. At the beginning of each article, I will post my record of overall picks, wagered picks that I put units on, and then tally up how many units I’m up or down for the season.

Now that we have all of that out of the way, lets dive into these week one matchups. I will first preview the Rutgers game and then the rest of the matchups will be listed in order of their kickoff time.

Note: For games where a team is matched up against a FCS opponent, I will not preview the game as there are no point spreads listed for FBS vs FCS games. This week that includes Murray State at Illinois, Howard at Maryland, Eastern Kentucky at Purdue, and Furman at Michigan State.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. Washington Huskies

Saturday September 4th, 2PM EST

TV: Pac-12 Network

Point Spread: Washington -27

Total: 54.5

I think I speak for all Rutgers fans when I say it feels good to get a hard reset on the program for the first time in 15 years. We are finally washing our hands of the old mantras of the Schiano/Flood days and I couldn’t be happier to usher in a new era of football on the banks. New Head Coach Chris Ash has a pretty tall order in his first game as he and the Scarlet Knights travel across the country to face off against a very hyped up Washington Huskies team in Seattle. The Huskies are seemingly everyone’s pick to have a breakout year in their 3rd season under Head Coach Chris Peterson.

On offense, the Huskies are poised for a monster year with QB Jake Browning going into his second season. Joining Browning in the backfield is talented RB Myles Gaskin who killed it last season, rushing for 1,300 yards and 14 TD’s a year ago. Washington loses their top two WR’s from last season, but they have some phenomenal athletes ready to replace them. This spells trouble for a Rutgers defense that allowed 5.1 yards per carry and 64% completions last season. I expect Ash to tighten up the defense a good bit but the growing pains may show in this matchup, especially after losing our top 3 leading tacklers from last season as well as all 3 starting LB’s.

On offense, the Scarlet Knights are giving the reigns to QB Chris Laviano who threw 12 INT’s last season, but will look to take a step forward after a strong offseason. Helping out Laviano are a stable of solid RB’s and a serviceable offensive line that will return a ton of experience between them. The Huskies were a force against the run last year, only letting up 3.3 yards per carry on the ground which will give Rutgers fits in this game.

I think that Rutgers loses this one by a couple of TD’s, but they move the ball enough due to great field position via Janarion Grant returns and are able to find paydirt of their own a couple of times to keep this one respectable. I would wager more on this but I want to see how the new defense looks first.

Projected Score: Rutgers 17 – Washington 35

Spread Pick: Rutgers +27 (2 units)

Total Pick: Under 54.5 (0 units)

Indiana Hoosiers vs. Florida International Panthers

Thursday September 1st, 7:30 PM EST

TV: ESPNU

Point Spread: Indiana -9

Total: 61

This season the Hoosiers will travel to Miami to open their 2016 campaign against the Florida International Panthers in a rematch from last year that saw FIU going toe to toe with Indiana in Bloomington well into the second half before the Hoosiers ended up winning 36-22.

Indiana is going to do what they’ve done in recent years and put up a ton of points using their top shelf offensive line, a solid RB in Devine Redding along with a stacked WR unit. Indiana lost Nate Sudfeld to the NFL, but he will be replaced by big armed QB Richard Lagow. Lagow should have an advantage against an FIU defense who is returning five starters from a unit that struggled mightily last season.

FIU has a pretty potent offense of their own, led by QB Alex McGough who is back along with almost the entire offense from last season. RB Alex Gardner is a do everything back who will keep the Indiana defense guessing and the X factor for FIU is TE Jonnu Smith who is a big threat in the receiving game. The Indiana defense will struggle mightily to rush the passer early on this season as they return zero starters who got pressure on opposing QB’s last year. Over the past six seasons, Indiana has given up over 30 points per game so I look for this one to be a track meet all game long.

The spread looks accurate to me and I feel much more comfortable putting a unit on the over here.

Projected Score: Indiana 38 – FIU 28

Spread Pick: Indiana -9 (0 units)

Total Pick: Over 61 (1 unit)

Oregon State Beavers vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Thursday September 1st, 9 PM EST

TV: BTN

Point Spread: Minnesota -13

Total: 55.5

What a mascot matchup we have here with the Beavers traveling east to take on the Golden Gophers of Minnesota in a primetime Pac 12/Big Ten matchup. Minnesota is my sneaky pick to win the Big Ten West this year, so all my chips are in the middle on the Gophers in 2016.

Minnesota is led on offense by QB Mitch Leidner, who has seemingly been around since Bill Clinton was in office. Leidner plays the QB position with a linebacker mentality, looking to bulldoze defenders with the ball in his hands. RB Shannon Brooks is iffy to play in this one, but even if he doesn’t go the Gophers will find plenty of success running the ball against an Oregon State defense that allowed 226 rushing yards per game last season. The Minnesota offensive line is one of the heaviest offensive lines in the country and will have a significant weight advantage versus the undersized defensive line of Oregon State. The Gophers offense won’t dazzle anyone watching this game, but they will grind their way onto the scoreboard and end up with a nice total when the final whistle blows.

The Beavers will be rolling with a new QB this season in Utah St. transfer Darrell Garretson while last seasons QB Seth Collins makes the move to WR. Along with Collins, the Beavers return their top two WR from last season which may be problematic for a Gophers squad that lost a ton of experience in the secondary. The issue for Oregon State on offense will be their complete inability to run the football, which will allow the Gophers to rush the passer relentlessly.

This is going to be a close game against the spread but the Gophers are my squad this year and I have to put my money where my mouth is so I’m taking them to cover in this one.

Projected Score: Oregon State 17 – Minnesota 34

Spread Pick: Minnesota -13 (1 unit)

Total Pick: Under 55.5 (0 units)

Western Michigan Broncos vs. Northwestern Wildcats

Saturday September 4th, Noon EST

TV: ESPNU

Point Spread: Northwestern -5

Total: 52

This will be one of the best games of the weekend as we see whom I believe to be the best team in the MAC versus a Big Ten West Contender in the Northwestern Wildcats. College football fans remember Northwestern grinding their way to a victory against Stanford in their season opener last year and Western Michigan has been knocking on the door of beating a big time program for a while now.

Northwestern will try and keep the ball away from the Broncos high powered offense by running the ball with RB Justin Jackson who ran for over 1400 yards last season. Wildcats QB Clayton Thorson is excellent at moving the chains using his arm and his legs, which will be huge against a Western Michigan defense that allowed over 200 yards rushing in four of their last five games in 2015. The Wildcats return virtually no receiving talent this season, but I don’t expect that to matter much in this one as they will be able to run the ball at will and keep drives alive with Thorson’s legs.

Western Michigan is led on offense by senior QB Zach Terrell who threw for over 3500 yards and 29 TD’s a year ago. Terrell will be relying on RB Jarvion Franklin as well as future NFL WR Corey Davis. The Wildcats defense was ranked 3rd in the country last year in pass efficiency defense and only gave up 5 TD passes all season. It will be interesting to watch the Broncos offense versus the Wildcats defense in this one, since something will have to give.

Interesting tidbit: Northwestern is 0-7 in their last 7 games against the spread versus MAC opponents. I’m leaning towards taking the Broncos in this one and would feel a lot safer getting 6-7 points as opposed to 5, but I still think it’s worth a play and an outright win for P.J. Fleck’s squad wouldn’t surprise me.

Projected Score: Western Michigan 24 – Northwestern 27

Spread Pick: Western Michigan +5 (1 unit)

Total Pick: Under 52 (0 units)

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors vs. Michigan Wolverines

Saturday September 4th, Noon EST

TV: ESPN

Point Spread: Michigan -40.5

Total: 54.5

I don’t know who put Hawaii’s 2016 schedule together, but they sure are racking up the frequent flyer miles. Hawaii played Cal in Australia last Friday night and this week they are traveling all the way to Ann Arbor to play a very talented Michigan team in the Big House at noon eastern time. Michigan will be all juiced up to hit somebody and get their season started against a Hawaii team that just gave up 600 yards of offense to Cal.

Michigan has not announced a starting QB yet, but conventional wisdom says they will roll with Houston transfer John O’Korn due to his experience. Michigan could probably pick a drunken 40 year old fan out of the stands to play QB and still win this game. The Wolverine’s will be able to do whatever they want on offense in this one with the passing and rushing attacking being equally as effective against a jet lagged Hawaii defense. It’s going to be ugly watching the Michigan offensive line completely dismantle the Hawaii defensive line.

Hawaii’s offense looked better than I thought they would last week against Cal. If QB Ikaika Woolsey was a little more accurate, it could have been a very close game but Woolsey did look very good on some of his throws. The Hawaii ground game looked promising against Cal but they will be dealing with a different animal this week in the Michigan defense.

This game could get very ugly, as Harbaugh will show no mercy and Hawaii may just want to get this game over and done with and get the hell out of Ann Arbor in a hurry. I actually heard that Harbaugh refused to send Hawaii some practice footage to even the playing field since Hawaii had a game on tape already this year. Not surprising. This spread is ridiculously high but I still give a slight edge to Michigan for a unit.

Projected Score: Hawaii 7 – Michigan 52

Spread Pick: Michigan -40.5 (1 unit)

Total Pick: Over 54.5 (0 units)

Bowling Green Falcons vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

Saturday September 4th, Noon EST

TV: BTN

Point Spread: Ohio State -28

Total: 63.5

The big story in this game will be how Ohio State is one of the most inexperienced teams in the country. However, Bowling Green will be undergoing a lot of changes of their own after losing Head Coach Dino Babers and QB Matt Johnson, who threw for almost 5,000 yards along with 46 TD’s last season.

Despite all of their losses, Ohio State will return Heisman contender J.T. Barrett at QB and I expect big things out of him this season, even though the Buckeyes will be reloading at the skill positions. I already cursed WR Torrence Gibson by gushing over him in my Ohio State preview only to have him suspended for the season a few days after it was published. The Buckeyes have a bevy of talent thanks to Head Coach Urban Meyer’s superb recruiting, but I expect them to look a little rusty in their first game of the season. Bowling Green is very inexperienced along the defensive line and secondary and they gave up 299+ yards rushing in three games last season so look for the Buckeyes to run the ball all day long with a good deal of success.

On offense, Bowling Green will have James Knapke taking over at QB and he has a 3,000 yard passing season on his resume already. The Falcons offensive line is very experienced and will be the centerpiece of their offense. The Falcons main issue will be at the skill positions where they lose their leading rusher as well as top two WR’s from a year ago. On defense, the Buckeyes have tons of talent, but are short on experience. The leader of Ohio State defense is all-world LB Raekwon McMillan who is an absolute tackling machine in the middle of the defense. Bowling Green will be able to move the ball a fair amount in this one due to the strength of their offensive line and QB, but I can’t see them finding pay dirt too often here.

This line and total look accurate to me so I am going to pass on an official play in this matchup of Urban Meyer’s former team against his current one.

Projected Score: Bowling Green 17 – Ohio State 45

Spread Pick: Ohio State -28 (0 units)

Total Pick: Under 63.5 (0 units)

LSU Tigers vs. Wisconsin Badgers @Lambeau Field (Green Bay, WI)

Saturday September 4th, 3:30 PM EST

TV: ABC

Point Spread: LSU -10

Total: 44.5

In the opening weekend of the 2016 season, this is one of the games I’m looking forward to the most. Two of the best programs in the country are going to battle in one of the most classic sporting venues in America.

LSU comes into this matchup with arguably the best player in the country with Heisman hopeful RB Leonard Fournette against a Wisconsin team that had the best scoring defense in the country last season. LSU’s offense runs through Fournette and their solid offensive line. However, it will be fun to watch them go against a Badgers run defense that allowed less than 100 yards per game on the ground a year ago. The Badgers front seven looks very strong this season despite the loss of LB Joe Schobert. Wisconsin will also have a very inexperienced secondary this year as they return only one starter from last season. LSU QB Brandon Harris has looked very shaky passing the ball in his career and he will need to keep the defense guessing with some play action in this one in order for LSU to pull away.

On offense, Wisconsin will have a very difficult time moving the football in this game as ex-Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is at LSU this season and his experience in Madison will weigh heavily in the outcome of this one. Wisconsin RB Corey Clement is expected to be fully healthy this season, but I don’t see him instantly becoming a force this early in the season. Wisconsin averaged only 3.8 yards per carry last season and just lost starting offensive lineman Dan Voltz to retirement due to injury. Wisconsin QB Bart Houston will have to face a ferocious LSU defense without the help of last years leading WR Alex Erickson so it could be a long day for Houston.

I really like LSU in this game and expect them to win this by at least 2 TD’s as the Wisconsin offense will have a very difficult time moving the ball down field and finding paydirt. This will be my most confident pick of the opening week.

Projected Score: LSU Tigers 31 – Wisconsin Badgers 13

Spread Pick: LSU -10 (3 units)

Total Pick: Under 44.5 (0 units)

Kent State Golden Flashes vs. Penn State Nittany Lions

Saturday September 4th, 3:30 PM EST

TV: BTN

Point Spread: Penn State -21.5

Total: 45

Penn State is expecting a step forward this year despite losing QB Christian Hackenberg (coughBUMcough) and running a new offense under former Fordham HC Joe Moorhead. The Nittany Lions will look to open up their season on a high note against the Kent State Golden Flashes who have been struggling mightily since HC Paul Haynes took over and has since amassed a 9-26 record. Haynes job doesn’t get any easier as he opens his season in the hostile territory known as Happy Valley.

On offense, the Nittany Lions will hope to improve behind an experienced offensive line and new QB Trace McSorley. The Penn State offense will have its hands full against a solid Kent State defense who finished 3rd in the MAC in total defense last season but the Nittany Lions will be able to rely on star RB Saquon Barkley to move the chains all afternoon. The big task for Penn State for this entire upcoming season will be keeping their QB on his feet after giving up 83 sacks in the past two seasons.

Kent State will be rolling with a true freshman QB in Justin Agner and it doesn’t get much more difficult than your first career start coming in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions only return 5 starters on defense but Kent State was the lowest scoring team in the country last season, mustering just 13.1 points per game and I can’t see them hitting 13 points on Saturday.

Betting trend: Kent State is 1-8 in their last 9 games against the spread versus Big Ten opponents. The last time Kent State visited Happy Valley in 2013 they took a 34-0 loss. The spread looks correct to me on this game but I can’t see how Kent State will move the ball down field against Penn State in this one so I’m loving the under here for a couple of units. Bold Prediction: James Franklin yells a lot and makes some really dumb coaching decisions.

Projected Score: Kent State 7 – Penn State 28

Spread Pick: Kent State +21.5 (0 units)

Total Pick: Under 45 (2 units)

Miami (Ohio) Redhawks vs. Iowa Hawkeyes

Saturday September 4th, 3:30 PM EST

TV: ESPNU

Point Spread: Iowa -27.5

Total: 51.5

Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz is going to try and start another perfect regular season Saturday as they take on Miami Ohio in their home opener. Iowa had a dream regular season last year, winning the Big Ten West but losing to Sparty in the B1G Championship Game and then got absolutely abused by Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Miami Ohio will take a step forward this season but this is a rough opening game to start a new campaign.

Iowa’s offense will look very similar to last year’s version as they will run the ball and limit their mental errors and turnovers. Senior QB CJ Beathard was very efficient last season and will return a strong running game and WR Matt Vadeberg will help him out just like he did last season when he was the Hawkeyes leading receiver. Miami Ohio returns 6 starters to a defensive unit that had a decent campaign last season when they allowed just 169 yards on the ground per game and were able to sack opposing QB’s 30 times.

On offense, the Redhawks have 9 returning starters including QB Billy Bahl who struggled last season with 44.5% completions and 13 INT’s, but he got some much needed experience and hopes to take a step forward this season. It will be pretty difficult for the Redhawks to move the ball consistently against an Iowa defense that appears to look better than last year’s version. Iowa’s all world CB Desmond King will make sure that the Redhawks aren’t able to get anything going through the air in this one.

The line and total look pretty good to me so I’m going to take a pass on this game.

Projected Score: Miami Ohio 13 – Iowa 40

Spread Pick: Miami Ohio +27.5 (0 units)

Total Pick: Over 51.5 (0 units)

Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Saturday September 4th, 8 PM EST

TV: BTN

Point Spread: Nebraska -28

Total: 62

Nebraska HC Mike Riley is looking to rid himself of the bad luck demons he dealt with in 2015 and start off a promising 2016 campaign against the Fresno State Bulldogs in their home opener. Everyone in Nebraska is expecting a trip to the Big Ten title game and Fresno State is coming off of a three win season which is not what Bulldog fans have been used to in the past couple of seasons.

Nebraska will be led on offense in this matchup by 16th year Senior (joking, but not really) QB Tommy Armstrong who will be the triggerman for a very potent offense this season. Look for Armstrong to connect early and often with WR Jordan Westerkamp en route to the Huskers being able to easily put up 40 plus points against an awful Fresno State defense.

On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs will be led on offense by redshirt freshman QB Chason Virgil who will have a very tall order leading his team into hostile territory for their season opener. The strength of the Fresno State offense will be their WR group which has some very quick athletes. The running game will take a hit as they lose last year’s leading rusher and an offensive line that only has two returning starters. Fresno should be able to find a decent amount of success through the air early but Nebraska will adjust and when the score starts getting out of hand the Huskers DL will be able to pin their ears back and rush Virgil with reckless abandon. The Nebraska defense will be without potential star FS Nathan Gerry along with a couple of other suspensions on both sides of the ball.

It’s hard to get a grasp on this game due to the injuries and suspensions and with the line and total looking pretty accurate, I’m going to take a pass on this game as well.

Projected Score: Fresno State 17 – Nebraska 45

Spread Pick: Nebraska -28 (0 units)

Total Pick: Over 62 (0 units)

Weekly picks recap in order of units wagered:
  1. LSU Tigers -10 (3 units)
  2. Rutgers Scarlet Knights +27 (2 units)
  3. Kent State/Penn State UNDER 45 (2 units)
  4. Indiana/FIU OVER 61 (1 unit)
  5. Minnesota Golden Gophers -13 (1 unit)
  6. Western Michigan Broncos +5 (1 unit)
  7. Michigan Wolverines -40.5 (1 unit)