Northwestern vs Utah -7 (o/u 46)
While Northwestern (8-5) struggled with its non-conference schedule (0-4), they really flourished against Big Ten opponents with a fine division record of 8-1 to win the West Division. The team’s only two Big Ten losses came to #7 Michigan and #6 Ohio State in the conference championship. With a rather pedestrian offense (201st in NCAA, 356.8 PPG), the Wildcats had to depend on a solid defense to provide good field position and keep opponents out of the endzone. They were pretty successful with both objectives with the defense finishing 40th in scoring, giving up under 24 PPG. The Wildcats showed the football world that games can be won without stars as long as everyone plays as a team.
Opponents made a habit of underestimating the Utah Utes (9-4). They didn’t have superstars, a flashy offense or a big stop defense. What they had was a consistent game plan that worked well against all but the best teams. Three of the team’s four losses were to either #9 Washington State or #13 Washington, the two best teams in the conference. The 15th best defense (18.5 PPG) in the country did a great job of keeping opponents at bay, which allowed the offense to score just enough to win games. The offense was able to efficiently score just under 31 PPG despite racking up less that 396 YPG of offense per game. The secret to the team’s success was not making mistakes and making every opportunity in the red zone count.
Prediction: These two teams are very similar, which makes handicapping this game very difficult. The only statistical edge goes to Utah with a slightly better offense. A smart bettor would pass this game or flip a coin. Since forced to make a selection, the under might be the most feasible option. Play under 46.