Michigan is fresh off of a convincing 56-10 victory over Nebraska last week, which helped catapult them back into the College Football Playoff conversation. The Wolverines suffered a disappointing 24-17 loss to Notre Dame in the season opener, but boosted its playoff chances by five percent last week with the convincing win. According to ESPN’s 2018 Playoff Predictor, Michigan now has a 10 percent chance to reach the College Football playoff, thanks to a grueling conference schedule that will feature four chances for quality wins against top-25 teams.
Michigan dominates and improves playoff chances
Michigan cruised to a Week 4 win last week against Nebraska, leading 39-0 at halftime before prevailing with an eventual 56-10 victory. While it might seem like a meaningless victory, Wolverines fans have a lot to be excited about after the win over Nebraska. The run game continues to be the bread-and-butter of the Michigan offense and running back Karan Higdon returned to the field to compile his second consecutive 100-yard game against the Cornhuskers. Higdon ran for 136 yards and a score on just 12 carries, pushing his season total to 364 yards, while averaging an impressive 7.9 yards per carry. Meanwhile, true freshman quarterback Dylan McCaffrey flashed his potential by throwing a 56-yard touchdown pass to cap off the blowout win. McCaffery, who is currently grooming behind junior starter Shea Patterson, has shown moxie in limited playing time this season, completing 8 of his 15 passes with two touchdowns and 41 rushing yards in three games.
Michigan’s defense also appears to have returned to form. Since falling behind in the first half to the Fighting Irish, the Wolverines defense has allowed just 36 points over their next three-and-a-half games. Michigan is allowing just 14.2 points and 240 yards of total offense per game this season, while averaging 421 yards of total offense per game — more than half of which (212 yards/gm) have come on the ground.
Northwestern blows big halftime lead vs. Akron
Northwestern is fresh off of a second consecutive disappointment after losing at home to Akron 39-34. The Wildcats built a commanding 21-3 halftime lead, but were undone by a game-changing 96-yard interception return for a touchdown after head coach Pat Fitzgerald elected to go for up on 4th-and-3 despite being up 21-13. Northwestern seemed to unravel after that, as Akron scored two more defensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Clayton Thorson completed 33 of his 52 passes for three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also lost a fumble on the night and all three of his turnovers were returned for touchdowns. Jeremy Larkin led the team in rushing with 82 yards and two touchdowns, while Cameron Green caught 11 balls for 125 yards and two scores for his best performance of the year.
Thorson, a senior quarterback with more 1,200 career pass attempts, is off a rough start this year. He has thrown as many touchdowns (three) as he has interceptions through three games and the competition is only going to get tougher as the Big 10 schedule moves along. His current 49.7 adjusted QBR would be the lowest mark since his freshman season in 2015.
Northwestern is averaging 24 points per game despite averaging 424 yards per game of total offense and they are giving up 29 points per game on the other side of the ball coming into this game.
- Wildcats are 3-8 ATS in their last 11 games in September.
- Wildcats are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 home games vs. a team with a winning road record.
- Wolverines are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 conference games.
- Under is 4-1-1 in the last 6 meetings in Northwestern.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Michigan’s defense has been lights out since the second half of the Notre Dame game, but the x-factor in this game is going to be starting quarterback Shea Patterson. He has rebounded since his disappointing Week 1 performance, throwing for seven touchdowns and just one interception over his last three games. Northwestern is allowing just 130 rush yards per game, but more than 250 per game through the air. After back-to-back losses at home, it is hard to side with the Wildcats here. Take Michigan to cover the spread and roll to another convincing win in this spot on Saturday.
Prediction: Pick: Michigan Wolverines -13
Full-Game Total Pick
This is going to have the feel of a grind-it-out conference battle. Both of these teams excel at stopping the run, but I expect Michigan to dominate the battle in the trenches here. Their defense has been as good as advertised since the second half of the Notre Dame game and they are allowing just 101 rushing yards per game coming into this matchup. The Wildcats were turnover prone last week and they are going to have to do a better job of taking care of the football against a tough Wolverines defense. Take the under in this Big 10 battle on Saturday afternoon.
Full-Game Prop Bet
Michigan obliterated Nebraska last week and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Wolverines put together another dominant performance in this spot. Shea Patterson continues to look more and more comfortable in Jim Harbaugh’s offense, while Donovan Peoples-Jones has found the end zone five times already this season. Look for Michigan to go over their projected team total on Saturday afternoon.
Prediction: Michigan Team Total – Over 31.5
Half-Time Side Pick
Northwestern is winless at home so far this season and Michigan is coming off of their most impressive performance of the season against Nebraska last week. The Wolverines defense is now No. 3 nationally in yards allowed and Northwestern is going to be without its top running back from here on out, so take the Wolverines to cover the halftime spread on the road in this matchup.
Prediction: Michigan -7.5
Half-Time Total Bet
The sudden retirement of Wildcats running back Jeremy Larkin is going to be a huge blow to this Northwestern offense. Larkin had compiled 346 yards and five touchdowns through the first three games of the season. Northwestern’s second-leading rusher has 21 yards on the season and senior quarterback Clayton Thorson is still looking to find his form after recovering from a torn ACL. Take the under on the halftime total in this game.
Prediction: Under 23.5
Half-Time Prop Prediction
It is hard to envision this Wildcats offense moving the ball on Michigan, especially after their starting running back was forced to retire due to a spinal condition. That should give the Wolverines a couple of chances to get into the end zone early against a team that’s given up a combined 60 points over their last two games against the likes of Duke and Akron. Take Michigan to score in the first 6 1/2 minutes of this game on Saturday afternoon.
Prediction: Michigan to score in the first 6 1/2 minutes of the game