College Football Week 0 – Best Bets and Predictions

ryan hilinski northwestern wildcats
Ryan Hilinski #12 of the Northwestern Wildcats throws a first half pass against the Michigan Wolverines. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/AFP

Week 0 in college football is almost here, and the top sportsbooks have released their odds for the upcoming action!

One game, in particular, interests me as worth investing in: Nebraska vs. Northwestern, which will take place in Dublin, Ireland.

Let’s look into why you should play both the total and the spread for this game at your preferred online sportsbook.

Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Northwestern Wildcats

Saturday, August 27, 2022 -12:30 PM EDT at Aviva Stadium

Lack of Continuity in Nebraska’s Offense

The first game of the season creates a significant obstacle for Nebraska’s new offensive pieces.

These new pieces include quarterback Casey Thompson, the transfer from Texas who has been named his new team’s starting quarterback.

He’ll have to develop chemistry with a group of wide receivers, which is only mostly new to him because he has reunited with fellow Texas transfer Marcus Washington.

Moreover, the Cornhusker offense gets a new coordinator in Mark Whipple from Pittsburgh.

Finding a Fit at Quarterback

It was obvious that Adrian Martinez was not going to be well-suited for Whipple’s new pro-style attack, so Martinez has, appropriately, hopped ship and is now at Kansas State.

In order to replace him, Nebraska pursued an aggressive array of options, none of which included Thompson.

Nebraska looked at Fresno State’s Jake Haener, Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler, LSU’s Myles Brennan, and USC’s Kedon Slovis among others.

Thompson in a New Offense

One may knock Thompson’s performances last year at Texas in the sense that two-thirds of his passing touchdowns came in high-scoring contests against the likes of Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Kansas, but Thompson’s performance last year is a bit hard to judge, given the injuries that he battled through.

However, reportedly, his offseason hand surgery improved both the velocity and accuracy of his passes.

His main obstacle won’t be anything physical, instead, he will have to acclimate to playing in a different offense.

Under Steve Sarkisian in Texas, he played in an RPO spread attack, while Mark Whipple’s offense is pro-style.

Offensive Outlook

Whipple’s worth as a coordinator is overstated by what as an anomalously good year for him at Pittsburgh, for which an elite quarterback-wide receiver tandem was responsible.

This tandem was largely a product of development over time – before last season, Kenny Pickett was not who we now know him to be.

Before last year’s anomaly, Whipple’s Pittsburgh offense ranked 78th in scoring, which is much more representative of the sort of mediocrity that his offenses have produced. So, Thompson may be viewed as being positioned now at the beginning of a promising development.

But this is only the beginning. He and the Cornhusker offense have a lot of development to accomplish in general, and also in terms of accumulating chemistry with each other, and learning their new offense.

While, as I will describe, there’s a lot to dislike about Northwestern’s defense, the Cornhusker offense’s raw and undeveloped quality automatically gives the “under” value.

Northwestern’s Quarterback

The Wildcat offense has a ton of improvement to accomplish after ranking 113rd in yards per game last year.

Whereas Nebraska’s offense will be hampered at first by its unique degree of fluidity in terms of concept and personnel, Northwestern’s offense will feature much of the same absence of quality that plagued it last year, plus, we don’t know who Northwestern’s starting quarterback will be.

Ryan Hilinski

While the Wildcats’ former three-star recruit Brendan Sullivan has received local hype, it should be concerning, with view to this upcoming game, that he hasn’t beaten out Ryan Hilinski.

As someone who, whether at South Carolina or Northwestern, struggles to complete 60% of his passes and to throw more touchdowns than interceptions, Hilinski is a known variable.

A former four-star recruit largely because of his arm, Hilinski is constantly held back by inaccuracy and poor decision-making.

A good example, furthermore, of his lack of anticipation is evident in his team’s game last year against Rutgers when, with a clean pocket and all day to throw, he stares down a hopeless receiving option while missing the fact that he needed to wait a second longer to hit an open receiver who would have gotten the needed first down.

Wildcat Wide Receivers vs. Cornhusker Cornerbacks

The strength of Northwestern’s offense is, perhaps, its wide receiving corps.

Their top two wide receivers are clear starters, but Northwestern will miss last year’s leader at the position.

Quinton Newsome

Nebraska, meanwhile, misses its top cornerback but returns Quinton Newsome. Newsome started every game for his team last year and had a career-best year.

Beyond Newsome, Nebraska can boast more depth of ability in its secondary than Northwestern can at wide receiver.

Tommi Hill

More so than long-time almost-starter Braxton Clark, former four-star transfer from Arizona Tommi Hill merits optimism. He didn’t get the chance to play for an Arizona State team that was laden with experienced upperclassmen and that suffered a staff shakeup.

But his versatility and talent – scouting reports indicate his nice speed, ball skills, arm length, and other strong qualities – yielded offers from the likes of Florida and Miami once he hit the transfer portal.

He already had connections with Nebraska’s coaching staff, which had already been seeking him before he went to Arizona State in the first place.

Running Game

If Northwestern’s wide receivers don’t form its most talented position group, then it’s definitely the running backs, however, the Wildcat offensive line remains awful.

They say that an offensive line is as bad as its weakest link… Well, Northwestern’s offensive line has four weak links.

Ranking 121st in line yards per carry last year, returning Wildcat offensive linemen lack the ability to help their running backs off the snap.

Particularly Nebraska’s loaded returning linebacking group will form a significant obstacle to Northwestern’s hopes of establishing the run.

The Verdict

A new Nebraska offense and a bad Northwestern offense will combine for a low scoring output.

NCAAF Pick: Under 50.5 (-110) at FanDuel

Northwestern’s Unique Defensive Line Issue

While both offenses will have their problems, Northwestern’s defense will be deficient in respects that Nebraska’s won’t be.

The Wildcats have to replace four of their top five defensive linemen. Overall, just over 30% of their defensive linemen snaps return after the team ranked 122nd in rushing defense and 114th in sacks per game.

While Nebraska’s defensive line is also transfer-reliant, its additions boast much more proven quality experience.

The key here is two-time All-Big 12 selection Ochaun Mathis, who started 34 games for TCU. Fellow newcomer Devin Drew, moreover, started 13 games for Texas Tech.

Key Players Missing for Northwestern

Meanwhile, while Nebraska remains well-stocked at cornerback, and returns key havoc-creator and sack artist Garrett Nelson at linebacker –alongside Luke Reimer, with his 108 tackles and six pass breakups–, Northwestern loses key defenders in the back seven that it can’t replace.

Most notably, the Wildcats lost leading tackler Chris Bergin, and All-American safety Brandon Joseph fled the coop, transferring to Notre Dame.

Plenty of experienced Cornhusker returning receivers plus former five-star newcomer from LSU Trey Palmer will exploit superb ball-tracker Joseph’s newfound absence in the secondary.

For your best bets, expect Nebraska’s offense to secure a multi-touchdown Cornhusker win.

NCAAF Pick: Cornhuskers -12.5 (-110) at FanDuel