I have discussed on this website often the importance of separating football issues from betting issues. Contrary to popular belief, coaches are not often worried about margin-of-victory while on the sidelines.
Sure, if they get a big lead late in a game they might run-it-up a little to try to impress the CFP committee. But a quality HC is not in the business of taking teams lightly, and is usually focused on getting out of dodge without losing on Saturday.
There is no reason to think Minnesota is a good bet to cover the spread at the Big House this weekend. New head coach P.J. Fleck has admitted to taking “Year Zero” as a rebuilding, at least of the Gopher offense. Fleck is starting sophomore Demry Croft at QB despite green-horn mistakes from the youngster. Michigan is 6-2 and still in the running for a major bowl engagement in the postseason.
But the Wolverines are also in hardcore survival-mode, having been whipped soundly by Penn State 2 weekends ago and bothered by lowly Rutgers until the 4th quarter last Saturday.
Who: Minnesota Golden Gophers at Michigan Wolverines
When: Saturday, November 4th, 3:33 PM EST
Where: The Big House, Ann Arbor, MI
Lines: Minnesota (+15) at Michigan (-15) / O/U Total: (41)
Jim Harbaugh is likely to start redshirt freshman QB Brandon Peters for the first time on Saturday. Wilton Speight is out with a neck injury.
The Wolverines are not in serious danger of losing this one. But they’re absolutely in danger of losing their status as a national contender if the disappointments keep coming. Harbaugh’s seat is actually beginning to get warm, something unfathomable just a few months ago.
I think the coach will opt for a straight-forward, run-oriented game plan against the Gophers. His philosophy is “don’t give them anything” which sometimes helps an underdog cover the spread, since Harbaugh is so concerned with winning straight-up even if by only a few points.
It also plays into Minnesota’s hands. The Gophers have a quality defensive backfield and work-in-progress offense that Fleck has told to play loose and have fun building a pattern of small successes. It’s a novel approach, and it’s paying off with wins such as 48-14 over Oregon State in Week 2.
We’re thinking that Michigan will spend the game parrying threats, real or imaginary, and continuing to play tense football. If Minnesota ever grabs a lead, the Wolverines will blitz Croft and force mistakes. But if the score is 35-21 in the 3rd quarter, expect the teams to trade scores – or for Michigan to commit a turnover and keep it interesting.
Take the Golden Gophers, and the points.