An ill-timed thunderstorm that swept through Lincoln on Sept. 1 delayed Scott Frost’s debut as Nebraska football coach. Four weeks later, he’s still searching for his first win.
The Cornhuskers, who were forced to cancel their opener against Akron, are 0-3 as they prepare to host Purdue on Saturday. Frost has gone from the top — an undefeated season and a national championship (with an asterisk) at Central Florida — to rock bottom in a lightning strike.
After a humiliating 56-10 loss at Michigan, Frost said, “It's not going to get worse than this. It's only up from here. We get a game that we can win next week.”
The Boilermakers dropped their first three games by a total of eight points before rocking Boston College 30-13 as 7-point underdogs last week.
This is a good spot for Nebraska for a few reasons. Frost’s team is angry, hungry and not as bad as it appears. The 39-0 halftime score in Ann Arbor was an aberration. An injury to freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez set the Cornhuskers back, but Martinez is healthy again and ready to roll.
This is a role-reversal spot for Purdue, which covered as a home ‘dog the past two weeks. A week ago, the Boilermakers were the angry, hungry and winless team, and they put a beating on a BC team that was ranked for the first time in a decade and playing on the road for the second straight week.
Frost and Jeff Brohm are similar coaches, and both teams will be trending up in the Big Ten. Two years ago, before Brohm’s arrival, Purdue was a 24-point underdog in Lincoln.
The first bet I made this week was Nebraska plus-4, and 3½ is still available. Buy low on the Cornhuskers in a game they can win.
Six more plays for Saturday:
* PENN STATE (plus-3½) over Ohio State:
The home-field advantage in Happy Valley at night is one of the strongest in college football. The Nittany Lions will need all the emotional support they can get against the Buckeyes, who figure to attract a lot of public and sharp action. This line could go back to 4 before kickoff. Is Ohio State vulnerable? We are about to find out. Games against Oregon State, Rutgers and Tulane proved little. Urban Meyer’s return to the sideline has been a soap opera full of distractions. Now, defensive end Nick Bosa, a top NFL prospect, is sidelined and might not return this season after core muscle surgery. Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins (75.7 percent completions, 16 touchdowns, one interception) is a Heisman threat, but so is the QB on the other side, Trace McSorley. Lions coach James Franklin often chokes away his biggest games, but Franklin is riding a 21-5 ATS run.
* Stanford (plus-5½) over NOTRE DAME:
Sharp money showed all week on the Irish and it’s understandable. This is not a good spot for Stanford, and Notre Dame is more dangerous with a new quarterback. The Cardinal improved to 4-0 with a miraculous 38-31 win at Oregon and hit the road again for an even tougher matchup. Stanford’s supremely talented offense has had a problem with slow starts, mostly because coach David Shaw is extremely conservative. Shaw needs to go deeper in the playbook earlier in the game against a tough ND defense. K.J. Costello has an array of big-time weapons, including wideout JJ Arcega-Whiteside and running back Bryce Love. Costello’s four touchdown passes helped the Cardinal top the Irish 38-20 last November. Shaw has won four of the past five in this series, but there’s an argument for Brian Kelly as the better coach. Kelly made a shrewd move last week by benching Brandon Wimbush in favor of Ian Book, who was 25-for-34 for 325 yards and two touchdowns while adding three rushing TDs. The Irish piled up 56 points and 566 total yards. Still, Book has only two career starts, against Wake Forest and North Carolina, and this Stanford game is his biggest stage by far. While it’s sometimes tough to bank on Shaw, take the points.
* Other plays: South Carolina (-1) over KENTUCKY; LOUISVILLE (plus-6½) over Florida State; Southern California (-3) over ARIZONA; CALIFORNIA (plus-2½) over Oregon.
Last week: 4-2 against the spread