NCAA Football Preview & Free Pick: Northwestern vs. Nebraska

Aug 26, 2022

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Game: Northwestern Wildcats vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Date: Saturday, August 27

Time: 12:30 p.m. ET

Odds: Northwestern +12, Nebraska -12

Total: 50.5

The 2022 college football season officially commences in Dublin, Ireland on Saturday when the Northwestern Wildcats take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the Aer Lingus Classic at Aviva Stadium. Nebraska has lost five consecutive season-openers against the spread by an average of 11.6 points per game. The Cornhuskers are one of four teams that are 0-5 ATS in that span (Akron, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon State). Nebraska head coach Scott Frost is 15-29 SU and 18-22-2 ATS during his tenure in Lincoln, including 7-14 ATS as a favorite.

Desperate for a winning season, Frost brought in 44 new players, including 22 transfers. Adding to the instability is new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple who served in the same role at Pittsburgh last year. Texas transfer Casey Thompson, who passed for 24 touchdowns in ten starts last season, was recently named the starting quarterback for the Huskers. Thompson was just 2-5 in one-score games as a starter for the Longhorns.

There is no question that the Cornhuskers are prime candidates for positive regression in 2022. Nebraska was 3-9 last season, winning three games by a combined 119 points while losing nine by a combined 56. Nebraska went 0-8 in one-possession games in 2021, plus a ninth loss by nine points against Ohio State. The Cornhuskers went 1-8 in Big Ten play with a +0 scoring margin.  Of the 21 teams over the last eight seasons that suffered five or more close losses by seven points or fewer and brought back their head coach and at least half of their starters (11-plus), only two finished worse the next season.  The average win improvement was 2.4 per season, an 18.7% increase!

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald enters his 17th season in Evanston and will be coaching his 200th game on Saturday. Fitzgerald has had this game circled ever since last season’s 56-7 loss in Lincoln and will have his team ready to play. The Wildcats welcome back fourteen starters, including nine on the offensive side of the ball. The key to Northwestern’s offense will be quarterback Ryan Hilinski and running back Evan Hull, who rushed for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns.

Fitzgerald guided the Wildcats to the Big Ten West titles in 2018 and 2020, the latter of which resulted in a top-10 finish. He’s the winningest coach in school history and consistently overachieves based on the talent he fields. The only concern is the fact that Fitzgerald is 52-65-2 ATS during the months of August, September, and October, compared to 44-29-2 ATS from November out.

Since 2016, college football teams that won three games or less the previous season are a profitable 224-166-9 ATS (57.4%) as underdogs in season-openers. Since 2016, Week 0/1 conference favorites are just 9-9 SU and 7-11 ATS. Coming off seasons in which teams lost at least six games by 20 points or more, teams with at least fourteen starters back have improved by 3.7 wins per season over the last nine years.  These teams have improved by 22.9% against-the-spread over that span. Take Northwestern and invest with confidence.

Totals Alert: Over the last five years, the under is 36-21-1 (63.2%) in neutral site games, going under the total by 3.8 points per game.

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