Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Opens as a 23-Point Underdog at Oklahoma

September 12, 2021

The first words Scott Frost spoke at his postgame press conference Saturday following Nebraska’s 28-7 win over Buffalo were “I am ready for next week, ready for Monday.”

It’s an easy week to want to attack. It’s the way a Nebraska-Oklahoma week, the first since 2010, should be. It’s the opposite of that dark Friday in March when we learned the Huskers had explored getting out of the game.

It’s also going to be a challenging week. The Sooners (2-0) look mostly like the Sooners, and the Huskers (2-1) still look mostly like the Huskers.

The sportsbooks release a batch of early lines near the start of summer each year, the “Game of the Year” lines. Limits are low and it’s more of a talking point than much else, but it is most people’s first glance at the perceived strength of key teams.

On that early line, Oklahoma was a 19-point favorite.

On Sunday, six days out from kickoff, the Sooners were up to -23 on the opening line at Circa Sports.

Oklahoma, led by Heisman-candidate quarterback Spencer Rattler, responded to a first-week scare from Tulane with a 76-0 win over FCS Western Carolina on Saturday. The Sooners averaged 8.2 yards per play and allowed 2.8. It was like that. It was the second time under Lincoln Riley that Oklahoma topped 70 points in a game and the sixth time scoring more than 60 since his tenure began in 2017.

The Huskers have rebounded from a season-opening loss to Illinois to win two straight games for the first time since September of 2019. Nebraska’s defense allowed one touchdown and one field goal, total, in the wins over Fordham and Buffalo, but if the Huskers are going to stay in the game in Oklahoma the offense likely has to have its best day yet.

The five teams to beat Riley’s Sooners averaged 40.4 points in those wins. Nebraska hasn’t scored 40 or more points against an FBS opponent since beating Maryland 54-7 in the second-to-last game of the 2019 season.

On to some other line notes from around the Big Ten:

–As usual, turnovers are playing a big role in way-too-early reactions through two weeks. Iowa had two pick-sixes in its Week 1 win over Indiana, then forced four more turnovers, while committing zero, in the 27-17 win over Iowa State this week. But’s postgame win probability formula––a way to look at how often a team “would” win just based on the stats––had the Cyclones winning that game 91% of the time. Iowa State had an edge in efficiency (success rate) and explosiveness and its offense did more with the majority of its plays than Iowa’s did based on predicted points added. But Iowa State had a massive deficit in turnover margin and, thus, field position. Classic Iowa stuff.

The Hawkeyes are good and are currently the Big Ten’s highest-ranked team. The point here isn’t to say, “this 2-0 start is all smoke and mirrors.” Rather, it’s just to note that Iowa’s averaging 3.5 takeaways per game so far. No team since 2014 has finished a season averaging more than three. Louisiana Tech and TCU both managed it that year. The Hawkeyes opened as a 21-point favorite at home over Kent State.

–There are four Big Ten teams that have yet to commit a turnover–Maryland, Penn State, Michigan and Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights (2-0) are also second nationally with eight takeaways and have the best turnover margin so far this season (+8). Rutgers should start the season 3-0 as it hosts Delaware this week.

–Penn State made it look easy in a 44-13 win over what should be a pretty good Ball State team. Now the Nittany Lions welcome Auburn to State College. The Tigers, under new head coach Bryan Harsin, outscored their first two opponents (Akron, Alabama State) 122-10. The opening line favored Penn State by 7.

–Michigan State was perhaps the toughest team to peg in the Big Ten. A preseason poll of conference media members had the Spartans picked last in the East, but Michigan State is 2-0 as it heads to Miami this week. The Hurricanes won 25-23 over Appalachian State, but it wasn’t pretty. gave the Mountaineers a 76% postgame win probability. Michigan State was listed as an 8-point underdog on the opening line.

–Indiana has a chance at some measure of redemption from the season-opening loss at Iowa as the Hoosiers host Cincinnati. The Bearcats opened as a 4-point favorite.

–Notre Dame nearly lost to Toledo (despite having a 98% postgame win probability) in Week 2. In Week 1, the Irish were taken to overtime by Florida State . . . a Florida State that then lost to FCS Jacksonville State in hilarious or maddening fashion (depending upon your leanings).

Now Purdue gets a shot. The Boilermakers are 2-0 with wins over Oregon State and Connecticut. Jeff Brohm has already used four quarterbacks in 2021, but combined they’re completing 75.6% of their passes. The Irish opened as a an 8-point favorite.

–And in the last of what is a big week for Power 5 matchups in the Big Ten, Minnesota travels to Colorado. The Buffs were last seen nearly knocking off Texas A&M in Denver and it wasn’t a fluke (postgame win probability 60% for the Aggies). Minnesota, meanwhile, jumped out to a 21-3 first-half lead over Miami (Ohio) and never trailed, but needed 10 fourth-quarter points to hold on for a 31-26 win. The Gophers are a 3-point road favorite to begin the week.

Northwestern also travels to Duke after both programs got their first wins of the season thanks to FCS scheduling in Week 2. The Wildcats opened at -2.

–Rounding things out, Maryland (-7) hosts Illinois on Friday, Michigan (-24.5) welcomes Northern Illinois and Ohio State (-31) will likely exorcise some demons against Tulsa following the Buckeyes’ first regular-season loss under Ryan Day.

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