(A little season preview from a sports handicapping perspective on our Maize and Blue….plus a Pick-4 style preview of tomorrow’s opener. Speaking of Pick-4, ramble on over to the JCB at get in on the game. Do that first, then come back and read, yo! I’ll also have a full card of picks later today at the JCB, but I am already on the side of two, plucky double digit underdogs tomorrow)
Michigan enters the season not only trying to rebuild the mass wreckage that is their defense, but they're also trying to rally after a historically poor mark against the point spread. To be sure, the three-year Rodriguez run made Michigan among the most prime cut 'bet against' teams in the land as their 10-26 ATS overall mark the last three seasons attests. But 2010 hit a unique low for the Wolverines against the number as Michigan did not cover a single spread in conference play. Yuck. 0-8 ATS vs. the Big 10. And, before you ask: No, Michigan did not cover that Purdue game, they closed as a –12.5 road favorite in an eventual 11-point victory over the Boilers. Michigan did nothing but lose money to the league, a feat that probably would get most coaches down south not just fired, but tarred, feather and burned at the stake.
How rare was Michigan's shooting the moon, burn your wallet trick a year ago? In the previous decade, only four FBS programs lost every conference game against the spread in a single season. Those were some pretty famous clubs. How could anyone forget the 2003 Illinois squad that did not beat a single FBS team straight up that season? Or the 2002 Iowa State Cyclones and the 2003 Baylor Bears giving the Big 12 easy money, bet against teams in consecutive seasons? Or the 2008 Washington machine that did not win any games straight up and their only cover overall on the year was the controversial 1-point loss to BYU after the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jake Locker forced a longer than usual PAT after what could have been the tying touchdown. Michigan joining the company of the Iowa States and Baylors of the world? That is so Michigan during the Rodriguez regime. FIRE RICH ROD!
At least we can say this. Those previous four clubs went a combined 6-42 straight up. Michigan at least managed to cobble together a winning straight up record despite equaling those other clubs’ pathetic ATS feat. Their seven wins was more than than those prior four clubs combined. And they went to a bowl game, right? This qualifies as a progress in the three year vacuum of 2008-10. Of course, Michigan also added a bowl whipping and no cover to their 0-8 league mark. And, in the end, is achieving something that puts you in the conversation with the Ron Turners and Ty Willinghams of the world really something to crow about? Probably not, but make no mistake there are plenty of people sad to see their personal Rodriguez punching bag and subsequent money train gone. Coaching change or not, last year left such a negative impression of Michigan against the number that people are already lined up and ready to bet against them again this season.
But those people still bullish on betting against Michigan should beware and take a little notice at what happened in the follow-up year with those previous conference money burners. They all rebounded to at least a break even conference mark ATS the following season. Three had winning league ATS marks. From a straight up standpoint, they had a combined 12 more wins between them the following season. None of those teams won more than three games the previous season. So if Michigan has similar looking gains as their four profit killing predecessors, given they already were a winning team to begin with, they could end up rolling out a nifty season. Michigan has more returning starters than any of those four teams had, have more material on hand to work with and Denard Robinson. All those teams were big underdogs in most of their league games the following year, by an average of more than 10 points per game. Those teams were catching points in all but four combined league games during the follow-up season. Like those teams, Michigan is an underdog, catching points in all six Big 10 games listed on the various online futures boards. But, the most points they're getting in any of those games is the +5 listed for November's Nebraska game. Given where the lines are right now for Michigan, if they break even ATS in Big 10 play, they're going to seriously flirt with a winning straight up Big 10 mark for the first time since 2007. They also could be doing nothing but losing, albeit covering the spread, in close, fourth quarter games.
Anyway, that’s one Michigan centric storyline the blog's degenerate line junkie is looking at from the dark side of the sports wagering world. Another one is assessing their win total. Oddsmakers have set the bar at 7 wins. I have a hard time endorsing a call either way. From a betting perspective, I'm not comfortable projecting more than 7 wins, at least not comfy enough to suggest, you know, actually putting your hard earned money on it. Can they really beat ND three times in a row? Northwestern, as the first road game of the season, nestled in between rivalry games against Minnesota and Michigan State, is the definition of a trap game. I don’t see the Wolverines breaking their MSU or OSU losing streaks. If I maintain a realistic approach, I cant see better than 4-4 in league play, with a loss to ND in non-conference likely. That's seven wins. Now, if I put my optimistic, partisan fan hat on, I come back to the Notre Dame game as the first big swing game of the season. If Michigan can tuck that game away, I feel that will prove they are good enough to be one game better through 10 games than they were a year ago. That would be 8-2 heading into the massive 1-2 punch of Nebraska and Ohio State. At least those games are at home, and we'll see if Michigan is any closer in those showdowns than they were against the Wisco/OSU closing duo during each of the last two years. So, I suggest staying away from Michigan on a win total standpoint, although I can see an optimistically visualize a road map to eight or nine wins.
PICK-4 Stylish Previewy Type Substance Of The Opener
But, I do not suggest staying away from playing our Pick-4 over at the JCB. It's fun, its free and its a great way to stay interested in some of the other games spread across the country. Check it out and play. Here are my formal Pick-4 picks for Week One. As far as Michigan's opener tomorrow against Western Michigan, how about I give my own preview, Pick-4 style. We'll keep track of these in the comments section.
Longest Touchdown Of The Game, O/U 57.5 Yards
This is not only a Pick-4 play, but an actual prop bet offered by an assortment of online books. As bad a play against the spread Michigan was a year ago, taking the Over for longest touchdown in its game was as great. At this number, you would have cashed a winner in 10 of 13 Michigan games in 2010. All tickets still would have been winners at 60.5 yards, which is where these props were listed by the end of the year in Michigan contests. This was a regular prop offered on the Wolverines a year ago, and I enjoyed the windfall most of the time. There was the Koger touchdown against Penn State, a silver lining in an otherwise painful night. There was the bizarre sight of the Michigan defense cashing this ticket against Purdue. There was the James White home run bomb right before half for the Badgers and the kick off return touchdown for the Bucks, both the equivalent of taking daggers to the heart for profit. Winning this prop before I was even in my seats for the Illinois was spectacular. And, then, of course there is the famous Denard run in South Bend. I swear by the time I tell this story to my grandkids, I will have won like five grand or something on the breeze of this play. How do I know? Because I didnt have this prop that day, but I am still listing it among the roster of actual winners. I just love that play so much. But, there was also the Gator Bowl, when James Rodgers torpedoed the bet with a shoestring tackle at the 7-yard line keeping LaDarius Perkins out of the end zone after an 81-yard catch and run. The game was already way out of reach. Damn you and your Charlie Hustle, Mr Pride Of MadBama!! Anyway, we're back and in line for more this year. As long as Denard Robinson and the Michigan defense are involved, I'm buying this. As mentioned, its an actual prop in the real world, so we're not only taking the over in the Pick-4, but the only piece of actual wagering on my card for Michigan's opening game is this over 57.5 yards action.
Will Fitzgerald Toussaint Surpass His Career Rushing Totals In This Single Game? O/U 87.5 Yards
First, the basic numbers. Toussaint has to net 88 yards on the ground against Western for this prop to go Over the total. Toussaint hasn't had much of an impact yet on the field, but he appears to be in line for a lot of carries in 2011. He might not be the 1A back right now, but from everything we've been hearing so far, he's no worse than 1B heading into the opener. And its expected to be the type of game where being 1B still puts you in line for a big time game. Brian labeled Toussaint a wildcard and I agree. His chance for a lot of carries and how he performs with those touches intrigues me. I had one longtime Ohio scout tell me point blank during an interview for a HTTV piece that Toussaint was not a Big 10 tailback. And, his tenor gave off a sense of offense that Michigan thought it could find its future tailback within his game, nor did he represent the quality of talent Michigan needed to be mining out of Ohio. On the other hand, Rivals lauded him as a 4-star, the #8 all-purpose back in the country and as a member of their top-250 overall, just getting in at #239. But, on the other, other hand, perhaps feeling the same thing said scout was thinking, Big 1o schools weren't clamoring for the Youngstown native as only Illinois and assortment of Big East contenders offered him a scholarship along with Michigan. Injuries have held him back so far and his biggest impact might be for being the inspiration behind the leader in the clubhouse for funniest line of September when Brian noted he was china in a bull shop in the afore linked position preview he posted yesterday. He has three seasons left to add to his resume. And, its not like he's behind his classmates. Only Theo Riddick, who ranked 10th in that Rivals top-10 all purpose backs list from 2009, has made in roads on the field. He's doing it at wideout and had a solid 39-catch season last year. Michigan will see him next when the Irish come to town. This contest with Western wont prove that Doubting Thomas scout right or wrong. But for Toussaint, its pretty important to prove, regardless of foe, that he can not only handle a decent share of touches, but also survive to handle the same workload seven days later.
Will Junior Hemingway Score A Touchdown? Yes/No
Junior Hemingway is on his third head coach at Michigan. That just sounds wrong. He verbally committed to the program more than five years ago. Rivals only tagged him as a 3-star coming out of high school, but the South Carolina native was pursued by some heavy hitters with offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida State and Miami also in hand. He finally began showing us last year why he was such a coveted commodity. He came dangerously close to putting up the most underrated season for a Michigan flanker this side of Marcus Knight's 1999 efforts. He was still averaging over 20 yards per catch well into November, a stat that would have put in in the top-8 for a single season all time in program history. How does Michigan win games over Indiana and Illinois without his heroics? Of course, his production waned down the stretch as the whole team crumbled against a tough as nails closing stretch. And, he missed three games on account of injury, a bug that's dogged him his whole college career. Regardless, if his career ended today, he would rank in the top-10 for career per catch average of all program players with at least 50 catches. I think he's primed for a nice year and at least 50 catches. But we all know he loves opening day. He's got a little Tufty Rhoades in him. The one and only Threet to Hemingway TD was scored in the second half of the Utah opener in 2008. And he and Tate Forcier looked like a dominant tandem two years against this same Bronco program as Hemingway went off for 103 yards and two scores. If he can catch a scoring pass from Denard (or Devin Gardner), he will have caught scores in season openers from three different quarterbacks. That sounds as weird as having played for three different head coaches at Michigan. But it also sounds a whole lot cooler.
Jake Ryan/Nathan Brink Combined Tackles, O/U 5.5
I figured we needed at least one defensive prop. So, how about we combine the basic tackling stats for the two leading Practice Camp Legends who emerged from that side of the ball this spring and summer. Ryan and Brink fit that bill, especially Brink, a player many of us hadn't even heard of before, but by mid-August was being projected as a starter on account of his play in practice. It was exciting to hear about an unknown player emerging until the reality set in that it probably wasn't the greatest thing for the program if somebody that this obsessed fan had never heard of before was going to suddenly play a major role in the defense. Eventually, the positive side won out because this unit was so bad last year, new faces are a good thing in spots. We'll see about both of these players. Both have multiple years of eligibility remaining and had enough preseason ink devoted to their practice play that if reality and legend matchup, then Michigan gets surprisingly stronger along two units on the team lacking in depth. We're all watching the defense, looking to see the Mattison Difference. But for me a secondary storyline tomorrow is just exactly how much run Ryan and Brink get and what they do with their time on the field.
As far as the game side and total, I am sticking with one mantra I had a year ago. Until further notice and proof of an improved stop unit, Michigan doesn’t have the defense to hold up as chalk. Its not worth playing them, even if I feel like they could cover this once the offense gets this rolling tomorrow. As for the total, two out of every three games in the Rodriguez Era went over the total. Will that continue? We’ll begin finding out some answers tomorrow. My prediction? A lot of fun, two Michigan players gaining 100 yards on the ground, Denard accounting for his first touchdown within the first 5:30 minutes of the game, at least one TD of more than 57.5 yards and a comfy 38-21 Michigan win.