Smart Power-5 coaches know how to include a “gimme” in their out-of-conference schedules, often at the very beginning of the season. P.J. Fleck is brand new in the Twin Cities, but has to like the Gophers’ chances against Buffalo, a MAC school that he punished as head coach at Western Michigan. Meanwhile, Bulls QB Tyree Jackson will try to dump water on Minnesota’s cupcake.
Who: Buffalo Bulls at Minnesota Golden Gophers
When: Thursday 8/31, 7 PM EST
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis MN
Lines: Buffalo (+26) at Minnesota (-26) / O/U: No bets
By setting the ATS line at (-26), sports books are throwing down the gauntlet. Will the Golden Gophers win by at least 4 touchdowns? The number is tricky, because coaches do not consider 28 points to be the benchmark of a comfortable lead. Instead, point differentials like 17 and 25 dance in their heads – trying to get your side up by more than 2, or 3 touchdowns respectively, regardless of 2-point conversions.
If Minnesota is going to cover, they’ll need to dominate in the 1st half and not depend on a 3rd or 4th-quarter rally. New head coach P.J. Fleck’s playbook isn’t all that different from what Minnesota is used to, so there won’t be a rough transition. But ironically, peeking into Fleck’s head could be the key to a successful pick.
The former Western Michigan skipper is concerned enough with his quarterback situation – with 2016 red-shirt Demry Croft and unproven Conor Rhoda battling for the starting job – that he announced on 8/17 that the Gophers will be ]opening the season with a dual-QB system. We’re open-minded to a 2-QB system such as Texas has recently employed – but with proven commodities at the most important position. In Fleck’s situation, waffling into a series-by-series QB-swap game plan means only one thing – he’s not fully comfortable with either player’s skill-set.
There’s one more fly in the ointment that leads directly to a value-bet recommendation.
Jackson should be better for the Bulls this season, and his offense has nowhere to go but up. Under normal circumstances, Minnesota’s solid DTs could penetrate the pocket and make the nimble sophomore anxious for 60 minutes. But the home-standing ‘D may find itself putting in more minutes, with less favorable field position, than a Big Ten squad typically does in a season-opening squash.
Fleck is not only unsure of his QBs, he will tend to have extra respect for a MAC team after years of fighting off Buffalo at WMU. That means the Gophers will tend to be cautious, driving the ball slowly and trying to stifle the Bulls when on defense.
We think the Gophers will win, handily. But Buffalo can eek out enough points, and Minnesota will be just tentative and flat enough on offense, to bring about a 31-13 or 34-10 result. Both of those scores win for the underdogs ATS.
Take the Buffalo Bulls and 26 points for a nice payday to begin the NCAA slate.