Michigan Wolverines (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. Utah Utes (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
College Football Week 1
Date/Time: Thursday, September 3/8:30pm ET
Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium
TV: Fox Sports 1
by Evergreen, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MICH +5.5/UTAH -5.5
Over/Under Total: 46.5
The summer never fails to fly by and while I will certainly miss the warm weather that is soon coming to an end soon here in the Upper Midwest, I do look forward to football season. No matter if you like NCAA or NFL football more, this is an anticipation heavy time on the yearly sports calendar. There are not many marquee matchups in the early college season but one of note has the Michigan Wolverines traveling to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes. This is a primetime kick on Thursday night and there are plenty of story lines swirling around the Michigan program so many will be tuning in just to see what new Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh has in store for his alma mater.
Harbaugh is heading back to the college coaching ranks after a four year stint as the 49ers head coach. San Francisco made three straight trips to the NFC Championship game under Harbaugh and faced Baltimore in SuperBowl 47. The former Michigan QB also had coaching success at San Diego and Stanford, turning both of those programs around in quick order so the hope is that Michigan will see a sudden return to relevance and eventually glory. While successful in all his stops, Harbaugh often proved to be a polarizing presence on more than one occasion and he starts his UM career with more of the same as he is not listing a starting quarterback for the opener.
Both the online betting sites and Vegas books installed Utah as an early 5.5 favorite and while that line has bounced a little to list Michigan at +6 at times, it is pretty standard to find the Utes laying 5.5 points. The over/under for this game is listed at 46.5 with Michigan on the money line in the +180 range with Utah somewhere around -210. The Wolverines are looking to buck a few nasty trends as they are 1-6 against the spread in their last seven non-conference games and are riding a 0-8 ATS streak against the PAC-12. The Utes on the other hand have gone 5-0 against the spread in their last five against Big Ten foes. The under looks to be the percentage play in this one as the under has hit in six straight Michigan non-conference games and 8-of-11 overall for Utah.
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This game is the back half of a home-and-home with the Utes getting a 26-10 win at Michigan last year. The game was pretty ugly overall with the teams combining for just 594 total yards and Michigan failed to score an offensive touchdown. The Wolverines did hold DeVontae Booker to a season-low 34 yards on the ground and kept the game close but ultimately fell as their offense would never move the ball with consistency. It appeared that the teams were pretty evenly matched, especially in strength-on-strength terms, and that could prove the case this Thursday as the teams are separated by just three slots in the Sagarin ratings. Utah starts the season as the 38th best NCAA team with Michigan clocking in at 41st.
As I mentioned before, Jim Harbaugh is being very coy about his starting quarterback situation. Jake Rudock and Shane Morris are both listed as the starter essentially and while they reportedly know who is starting the opener, we dont and wont until the pre-game warm-ups. That makes for a dicey handicapping situation but I think the best bet is to approach this thinking that Rudock is under center. The former Iowa signal caller is a fifth-year Senior with plenty of experience and enough athleticism to appropriately win this job. In his last two years at Iowa, Rudock threw for 4,819 yards and 34 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. He added 394 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground and has the shiftiness to hurt the opposing defense with his feet. Providing Harbaugh is just engaging in some gamesmanship here, I expect the Michigan offense to be solid at the start with either Rudock or Morris as there are enough quality offensive options to use. If neither are performing however, Michigan will continue to struggle with consistency.
Utah has no quarterback questions as Travis Wilson begins his fourth year at the helm. Wilson is a polished product that has thrived in Kyle Whittinghams system. Wilson didnt throw an interception for the first eight games of last season, becoming the last regular starting quarterback to throw a pick. He is solid through the air and on the ground and will test what is scheduled to be another above average defensive unit for the Wolverines. Booker is coming off a 1,512 yard, 10 touchdown campaign and is looking for some revenge after Michigan shut him down last year in Ann Arbor. Utah is especially strong at Rice-Eccles Stadium with both of their 2014 home losses (ASU/ORST) coming in overtime.
This game is most likely going to be newsworthy based on things associated with Jim Harbaugh and that does say a lot about what is expected of these teams. Neither are ranked to start the year and there are modest expectations but the winner this Thursday is clearly off and running while the loser is immediately reeling. Both squads have some veteran leadership and Im sure that both sides assume they are bowl bound. I think this game is shaping up to be another grinder, similar to the one we saw last year. Give the edge to Utah based on home field and some more dependable options on offense but Michigan should come out fired up under a new coach and will likely have some wrinkles as Harbaugh looks to improve to 6-2 in NCAA season openers. Expectations are this one will be played close, especially early as the teams look to get their rhythm under the primetime lights. I see Michigan with a small early lead with the Utes pulling away late for the win. I do think there is enough to get behind Michigan with the points assuming the game goes that way. Something in the 13-10 range around halftime feels right with Utah eventually getting a 24-20 win. Its an uneven start for Michigan under Harbaugh but they ultimately get the ATS win.
Evergreen’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Michigan
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