Moneyline: Northwestern +340 / Nebraska -455
Spread: Northwestern +11 / Nebraska -11
Total: Over / Under 51.5
The Big Ten’s College Football season kicks off with Northwestern and Nebraska meeting in Dublin Ireland on August 27th. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30p.m. eastern time with the game airing on FOX. This marks the first international regular season College Football game in over 5 years.
Both Scott Frost’s Cornhuskers and Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats finished 3-9 last season but the feelings surrounding the coaches are quite different. This is Scott Frost’s 5th season leading Nebraska and he has yet to have a winning season. He’s sitting firmly atop the hot seat. Fitzgerald on the other hand has had just 2 losing seasons since 2015 and secured Big Ten West division titles in 2018 and 2020. He has full support from everyone inside and outside the University.
There’s been some major changes in Nebraska entering Scott Frost’s make or break season. To start, he’s moved on from play calling duties and his offense, handing the reigns over to Offensive Coordinator Mark Whipple from Pittsburgh. Whipple oversaw a top 10 offense at PITT featuring Kenny Pickett a season ago. He gets to work with a Nebraska offense that wasn’t terrible last season either. They averaged 27.9 ppg and were 2nd in the Big Ten in yards per play (6.5) but finished the year with 18 turnovers. They also added starting QB Casey Thompson from Texas and WR Trey Palmer from LSU through the transfer portal. If the new OC can instill the discipline that Scott Frost’s offenses have lacked, they have all the talent they need to have a breakout 2022 campaign.
Defensive Coordinator Erik Chinander has done a good job for Nebraska the past few years. His defense has kept Nebraska in every game they’ve played, all 9 off their losses last year came by single digits. He deals with some turnover as only 5 starters return from last year, but he gets 3 starting linebackers back to solidify the middle of his defense. Only 1 starter returns to the secondary and defensive line. They do however get a friendly matchup against a Northwestern offense that averaged just 16.6 ppg (worst in the Big Ten) a season ago to get their feet wet. The addition of 3-year starter DE Ochaun Mathis from TCU via the transfer portal adds an elite pass rushing threat.
As previously mentioned, Northwestern’s offense was abysmal in 2021. Mike Bajakian returns as Offensive Coordinator, so the scheme remains the same at least. But they need to get better production from the Quarterback position. 4 Different players threw passes last year and they combined to throw just 13 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. They haven’t and won’t name a starter before this game which isn’t exactly reassuring. The age old saying goes “having multiple QB’s is the same as having No QB’s”. They did however field a 1,000-yard rusher in Evan Hull that will return this year. Their run game should remain efficient behind All American Left Tackle Peter Skoronski.
Under first year Defensive Coordinator Jim O’Neil the Wildcats defense struggled to replicate the strong Northwestern defenses of years past. They surrendered over 30 points per game a season ago and ranked dead last against the run in the Big Ten. They should fare better in year 2 under Jim O’Neil despite losing standout Linebacker Chris Bergin and Safety Brandon Joseph. Most of their starters return from a year ago.
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Like last year I find this to be a tough matchup for Northwestern. Nebraska routed them 56-7 a season ago and I expect them to jump all over them again. Even if there’s some hiccups in Whipple’s newly implemented offense, this is still a much better roster than last year. The QB play will be much better with Casey Thompson under center, and they’ve got playmakers all over the field whether at RB or WR. Maybe Northwestern won’t have the worst defense in the conference this year, but they aren’t going to be good. Nebraska is going to be able to score and once they get ahead the Wildcats effective run game will be rendered useless as they try to play catchup. Nebraska is simply too explosive for Northwestern to keep up with.