Hot Reads: Ohio State an Early Line Favorite Over Nebraska
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: Ohio State an Early Line Favorite Over Nebraska

March 20, 2019

Pull out your offseason bingo card, it's time to mark another square.

On Tuesday, Bet Online, an offshore sports book in the business of being first because people like me always write about, released opening lines for its "Games of the Year." Forty-five of 'em.

Nebraska is playing in just one game of the year, I guess by definition. Ohio State opened as a 7.5-point favorite over the Huskers for the Buckeyes' Sept. 28 trip to Lincoln.

That's good news (for me). It means that one of my first offseason predictions is probably going to be correct. Since it might be the only offseason prediction I get right, I'm not ashamed to mention it now.

Back in January, Wayne Staats of identified a handful of games that would impact the Playoff race in 2019. Ohio State-Nebraska was on that list, with Staats likening it to Buckeye road losses to Iowa in 2017 and Purdue in 2018. Ohio State was favored by 20.5 and 12.5 points respectively in those games.

And that's why the upcoming trip to Lincoln felt a little different to me:

Since we're all making predictions for a season that's still seven months away, here's one: Nebraska-Ohio State will be more of [an upset] warning than [an upset] watch for the Buckeyes.

Based on the "way-too-early" view of Nebraska that's building, I don't think the Huskers will be a double-digit dog in that game. Nebraska will be favored in its four games before Ohio State with a decent chance to be 4-0. The Buckeyes will be favored in their first four –– Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, at Indiana, Miami (Ohio) –– as well, though that game against the Bearcats might go in the upset-watch category.

And if both teams head into that game (presumably at night) at 4-0 and ranked, it will receive a drastically different billing than Ohio State's trips to Iowa City and West Lafayette did. Part of the reason those games were as shocking as they were, beyond the margin, was that 2017 Iowa was 5-3 when it demolished the Buckeyes and finished 8-5. Purdue was 3-3 and finished 2018 6-7.

Unless Nebraska has an absolute nightmare start to the 2019 season, that line is staying under 10.

Seven other Big Ten games also received lines in this initial roll offering.

9/21 Wisconsin +6 Michigan
9/28 Nebraska +7.5 Ohio State
10/19 Penn State +5.5 Michigan
10/26 Ohio State -9 Wisconsin
11/9 Wisconsin -5.5 Iowa
11/16 Michigan -11 Michigan State
11/23 Ohio State -10.5 Penn State
11/29 Michigan -4.5 Ohio State

With some simple reverse engineering you can get a sense of how one sports book views the top half of the Big Ten.

Michigan, based on the lines here, is viewed as the class of the conference. In addition to the conference games, the Wolverines are also an 8.5-point home favorite over Notre Dame. Making everything relative to Michigan, and using what might be a conservative 2.5-point allowance for home field, Ohio State is just a step behind (2 points, based on these lines) Michigan.

Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State are all tightly bunched in the second tier, between 8 and 8.5 points back of Michigan. Iowa's next up (11.5 back of maize-and-blue) followed closely by Nebraska (12).

That all feels pretty right for March to me, minus maybe Michigan State. Using the same numbers and method, you could also guess a line for two key Nebraska games in November.

Based on what's here, Nebraska would be about a 1-point home underdog against Wisconsin on Nov. 16 and a 2-point home favorite over Iowa in the regular-season finale. I'd be surprised if those lines held.

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