Seventeen points. That's the number South Point Hotel and Casino put out this week for Nebraska's October trip to Madison to face the Badgers: Wisconsin -17. It was part of the sports book's "Games of the Year" release. Season win totals are scheduled to be released on Sunday.
Wisconsin should be pretty good (again) in 2018. Nebraska? Who knows, but the presumption is better than last year. That might make 17 points feel a little big, so let's look at some context.
From Nebraska's side, that's the sixth-largest line favoring a Nebraska opponent in the last 10 years according to Gold Sheet's logs. The Huskers were bigger underdogs at Penn State (+27.5) and against Ohio State (+24.5) in 2017, at Oklahoma (+21.5) and at Texas Tech (+20.5) in 2008 and at Ohio State (+17.5) in 2016.
For the Nebraska half of this equation, it's how good can the Huskers be in 2018? I'm certain they'll be better than 2017. Can they be 2016 good? (A 9-4 season that was worse than it looked.) 2008 good? (Bo Pelini also went 9-4 in Year 1, and the Huskers, according to Sagarin if not the actual polls, were a top-25 team at the end of the year.) From my point of view, this Nebraska will be better than the 2016 version and maybe 2008, too. I don't know if the record will show that––the schedule is difficult––but in terms of actual quality the Huskers can be better than those other teams that ended up heavy underdogs because I think they'll have their highest level of coaching over that span.
That all leads me to believe that opening line for the Wisconsin game will come down.
But you also have to consider how good the Badgers will be this season. Better than 2017 might be tough, as good seems likely and significantly worse feels highly unlikely. Wisconsin was favored by at least a touchdown in every home game a year ago and was a favorite of 15 points or more in five of seven. The Badgers were -16 against Northwestern on Sept. 30 and -17 against Purdue on Oct. 14. Those two games sandwich the weekend Nebraska and Wisconsin play this year and, given the line similarities, feel like good analogs for Huskers-Badgers in 2018. Those two teams were pretty good a year ago. Northwestern ranked 20th and Purdue 37th at the end of the year according to Sagarin. If that's where Nebraska finishes 2018, that would be a successful Year 1, the sort of season that has people talking about the Huskers next offseason.
So maybe 17 points is about right. Of course, a lot can change between now and Oct. 6, and all of that will influence where this line ends up. But the fact that South Point is willing to put out a line now and take bets on it indicates the degree of confidence its oddsmakers have in their internal power rankings. That's what makes it more than just a curiosity in May.
South Point put out two other lines for the Huskers. Nebraska opened as a 6-point underdog at Northwestern on Oct. 13 and as an 8-point underdog at Iowa at the end of the regular season. Those are interesting markers as those teams should be closer to Nebraska in terms of overall quality in the Big Ten West. I have Iowa higher and Northwestern lower in my preseason Big Ten power rankings, but my guess is both of those will be lower come game time. Overall, Nebraska feels a little undervalued based on these lines.
And just in case you're curious, UCF went 8-4 against the spread in Scott Frost's first year there while going 6-7 straight up.
The Grab Bag
- A look back at the history of Kick Sixes, one of the rarest plays in football.
- Kentucky safety Marcus Walker was arrested on drug trafficking charges this week.
- Good read from Ian Boyd on the future of the "ascendant" dime defense.
- ICYMI: Couple of good recruiting updates from Greg Smith––Nebraska's staff continues to make friends on the recruiting trail and a breakdown of one of the Huskers' top quarterback targets in 2019.
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.