Late last week Vegas released the line for Nebraska’s opener against Arkansas State. On Monday, a few other puzzle pieces fell into place as the South Point Sportsbook released its “Games of the Year” numbers. We now have opening lines for three more of Nebraska’s games.
9/9 Nebraska at Oregon (-4): Yes, the Huskers are underdogs against the Ducks, a team that went 4-8 a year ago and fired the head coach. But that’s only a surprise if you’re fixated on that 4-8 because Oregon returns playmakers aplenty on offense and a bunch of starters on defense. A not very good defense a year ago, sure, but that’s why new head coach Willie Taggart went out and got Jim Leavitt. Considering the old adage that the home team gets 3 points just for being at home, South Point is actually giving Nebraska a good deal of credit here in my opinion.
10/7 Wisconsin (-8) at Nebraska: Eight total points have separated the Huskers and Badgers in rounds one and two of the Mike Riley-Paul Chryst battle, so to see eight here, in Lincoln, is a mild surprise. Wisconsin is 5-1 against Nebraska since it joined the Big Ten and the early years of that new series included some pretty humiliating losses for the Huskers during the Bo Pelini era. But Riley and Chryst seem to think about the game the same way and the past two games may have shown just what that similarity means. I think this line will be lower by kickoff.
11/24 Iowa at Nebraska (-3): Meh. Give the Huskers three points for playing at home and let the teams sort it out. It’s hard to disagree with that at this early stage. Iowa has won the last two in this series convincingly, but barring some massive change this Black Friday game seems destined to fall in that field-goal range. Last year the Hawkeyes were a three-point favorite in Iowa City. In 2015, third-ranked Iowa was just a two-point favorite over a 5-6 Nebraska team in Lincoln. No matter the records or the recent scores, it seems like the Huskers and Hawkeyes are viewed as the same team. We start with the same basic premise in 2017.
So what are these early lines good for? Talking points mostly — unless you immediately see value here and actually want to hammer the line — but if you’re curious here’s the same release from South Point last year. That slate included two Nebraska games.
The Huskers opened as a two-point favorite over Oregon, a line that closed at Huskers by three and a game that finished as a three-point Nebraska win. Wisconsin was a four-point favorite last year on the opening line (remember, most everyone thought the Badgers’ scheduled destined them for a middle-of-the-division finish), a nine-point favorite at kickoff and won by six in overtime.
As long as a team hews pretty close to its preseason projection, these early lines probably won’t be too out of whack. When teams don’t, however, you get some wild ones. Oregon opened as a 4.5-point favorite over Washington at South Point last year and lost 70-21.
If you’ve got a bead on those type of games in 2017, have at it.
Bill Connelly of SB Nation and Football Study Hall published his Oregon preview last week, so if you’re looking for the deepest of dives on the Ducks, here you go.
You can go inside all the numbers there — love those radar graphs — but the central question for Oregon comes down to this:
Because of returning production, recent recruiting success and Oregon’s not-so-distant past as an elite team, S&P+ is giving Taggart and the Ducks the benefit of the doubt. They are projected second on offense, 77th on defense, and 23rd overall, which puts them in position to be favored in as many as 10 games.
It’s not hard to see that, is it? In Freeman, Nelson, and Carrington, the Ducks boast some high-ceiling holdovers from the previous era, and Brooks-James could be ready for a massive star turn. The defense just got a coaching upgrade and is infinitely more experienced.
It’s not hard to see the opposite, though. The massive turnover on the staff, a potential culture change, and some tactical tweaks might take a while to pay dividends on offense, and … when your defense is as bad as Oregon’s was a year ago, the Ducks might need a couple years.
I guess Vegas leans more to the upside side of the equation.
The Grab Bag
- Nebraska is headed to Corvallis — home of top-seed Oregon State — for the NCAA baseball tournament. Here are a couple of tournament-field breakdowns from D1Baseball.com and SI.
- Northwestern wide receiver Solomon Vault will miss the season following an injury. Not an insignificant blow given that the Wildcats’ receiving corps is one of the bigger question marks.
- Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com highlights five coaches on the rise entering the 2017 football season.
- Bob Diaco makes this list of assistants who will be head coaches again soon.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.