It’s only one game. Only 225 yards passing. Only two touchdowns. But for the first time in some time, there is hope that the Michigan Wolverines have finally found a quarterback capable of lifting the program back to a place of prominence.
Oh, I get it. We’ve done this before. Heck, we do this every year. You will probably highlight this column the moment Michigan loses a game and the Jim Harbaugh hate cascades across the Internet.
But Joe Milton looks the part. He’s 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds with an enormous arm, and he can really move at his size. And against Minnesota last week, Michigan cruised as only a field goal-favorite on the road against one of the darlings of last season.
Even his seven incompletions were “wow” moments. And Michigan finally showcased some creativity in the play calling that maximized his wealth of abilities.
With a stable of young skill position players -- including a quality core of young running backs -- there is reason to believe that Michigan might finally approach the lofty expectations Harbaugh inherited when he arrived.
This week’s point spread against Michigan State speaks volumes, as the Wolverines are 24.5-point favorites over their rivals. The Spartans’ inept debut last weekend -- a deflating 38-27 loss to Rutgers -- is a big part of that. But Michigan’s offense unquestionably plays a big role as well.
It is likely that the Wolverines will be an underdog only once this season. Wisconsin, now with uncertainty surrounding its season (more on that in a moment), will visit Ann Arbor in the middle of November. Well, hopefully.
Penn State, coming off a deflating and controversial 36-35 loss to Indiana, will also play Michigan on the road. On Dec. 12, Michigan will travel to Ohio State. Barring injury, Milton will do something no quarterback under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan has done -- beat the Buckeyes.
Time will tell how tall of an order this is. But for now, it feels reasonable to finally expect more from Michigan. And the intrigue in the team’s young quarterback -- a player with immense gifts and potential -- will only grow over time.
The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend
1. Ohio State (-12.5, 63) at Penn State: Thanks to Indiana’s walk off two-point conversion against Penn State last weekend, this matchup lost a bit of luster. That’s evident by the point spread, which is not a number you often see hung for a visitor in Happy Valley. Coming off its expected demolition of Nebraska, Ohio State opened as an 8-point favorite. That number has since shot up, and the loss of Penn State running back Noah Cain means Penn State is now down its top two running backs moving forward. That is less than ideal when you’re going up against Justin Fields, who looked fabulous in the opener, and one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. The Penn State defense will have to be exceptional, and the offense is going to have to improve greatly from a week ago for this to be within double digits.
2. Cincinnati (-7, 55.5) vs. Memphis: To the Cincinnati fan that jumped into my DMs to clobber me for suggesting SMU would beat your football team last weekend, I appreciate you. Cincinnati didn’t just beat SMU as a small underdog; the Bearcats manhandled the Mustangs and might have one of the nation’s best defenses. Memphis validated its wild victory over Central Florida with a quality win over Temple, setting up yet another fascinating Group of Five game. Once again, Cincinnati will be asked to slow a potent offense, but this time it will do so as a touchdown favorite. Expect a closer outcome than last week. And as a reminder, the DMs are open.
3. Kansas State at West Virginia (-3.5, 45.5): Had West Virginia not fumbled away last week’s game against Texas Tech, this would have had a different feel. As is, the nation’s No. 16 ranked team is getting points on the road. Kansas State has already won three games this year as an underdog and twice as a double-digit underdog. The Wildcats were a 28.5-point favorite when they conquered Oklahoma early in the year. But the Mountaineers are balanced on offense and present a unique challenge despite having two losses. The total here, one of the lowest on the entire card, also tells a story: This game could be low scoring and perhaps ugly. Both teams are capable of winning with this style of game, so it should be a fun one. Maybe not easy on the eyes, but it will be tight.
4. LSU (-3, 65.5) at Auburn: Each Auburn game seems to come with a dose of controversy. And that controversy, against Arkansas and more recently Ole Miss, has worked in the Tigers’ favor. Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin was fined a cool $25,000 this week for sharing his thoughts on the matter, although he wasn’t wrong. LSU, meanwhile, showcased last week that it didn’t need starting QB Myles Brennan to dominate a football game. True freshman QB TJ Finley was brilliant against South Carolina -- a game where the Tigers easily covered as a five-point favorite. He might need to be brilliant again as Brennan seems unlikely to play. The bigger news for LSU? The defense looked much better. Against an Auburn offense that has been erratic, which might be a bit kind, that’s noteworthy. But the football Gods, and the officials, have been on Auburn’s side. There’s no handicapping that advantage.
5. Oklahoma State (-3.5, 58.5) vs. Texas: One would expect the nation’s No. 6-ranked team to be a larger favorite at home against a conference foe with two losses before Halloween. That says something about both Oklahoma State and Texas and this point of the year. The Longhorns can put a sizable dent in the Big 12’s College Football Playoff hopes with a win. Oklahoma State, entering its most important stretch of its season, can validate its ranking by staying unbeaten. The Longhorns’ lone cover this year came in their first game against UTEP. The Pokes’ only loss ATS came during its first game against Tulsa. We’re not done there. Four of Texas’ five games have gone over; three of Oklahoma State’s four games have gone under. This entire game is a gambling clash. It’s also a hugely important game for Texas head coach Tom Herman as he tries to avoid the dreaded hot seat.
Wisconsin-Nebraska is No More… Now What?
The Big Ten had a plan, and that plan was to not play football this fall. Then, after other conferences decided to continue on with its season, the Big Ten reverted course, developed a fall schedule with almost no room for error, mandated daily testing and hoped for the best.
That was the new plan. It took one week for that plan to fall apart.
Wisconsin-Nebraska, a game ripe with intrigue, will not take place on Saturday. The Badgers opened as 9-point favorites over Nebraska. The line then drastically fell early in the week when Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz, the conference’s hottest quarterback coming off a huge opener, tested positive and was ruled out. The Badgers, down to their fourth-string quarterback, were set to trot out Danny Vanden Boom. (Not an ideal situation, but a great name nonetheless.)
But then the game was called off as more positive tests for Wisconsin, including head coach Paul Chryst, emerged. And now the immediate and longer-term future of the Badgers in 2020 is in flux.
Wisconsin has halted all football activities. Players who test positive, at least right now, must sit out 21 days per Big Ten guidelines -- the strictest COVID guidelines in all of college football.
Wisconsin is scheduled to play Purdue at home the following week, although that game is certainly in jeopardy. The Badgers will then head to Michigan the following week -- their toughest game on the regular-season schedule.
Unless the Big Ten alters its guidelines, Mertz will miss the next three games. He will not be alone, and a major outbreak and further positive tests over the coming days could greatly impact Wisconsin’s return.
The impact on one of the best teams in the conference is enormous. But the impact on the conference and crater it could create could be even larger.
Will the conference adjust its guidelines? Is Wisconsin an outlier or a sign of more things to come? How will the conference treat Wisconsin if it has to miss multiple games when it comes to the Big Ten title game?
Here’s the only thing we know: The Big Ten flubbed these past few months.
The Break the Scoreboard Game of the Week: Central Florida (-2.5, 82.5) vs. Houston
Before we dissect this total and what could be an outrageous, marathon football game, here is Central Florida quarterback Dillon Gabriel’s game-by-game passing yard totals thus far: 417, 408, 330, 601, 422.
He’s also accounted for 20 touchdowns in those five games, becoming one of the sport’s must-see attractions.
Despite being regularly dealt some of the largest totals on the board, UCF has still hit the over in four out of five games. Houston, which is no slouch in this department, has hit the over in all three games.
What you’re left with is a total that will be one of the largest we’re dealt all year. It opened at 76.5 and has since ballooned above 80.
It’s also a delightful football game -- one that Houston should be up for. A mild upset wouldn’t surprise.
Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note
Alabama (-31.5, 63.5) vs. Mississippi State: This looked like a nightmare matchup for Alabama when Mike Leach’s team torched LSU in Week 1. Now? Well, not so much. I’m curious to see how much Alabama’s still-improving secondary tackles this pass-heavy offense. Also, what is the lasting impact of losing WR Jaylen Waddle, the most explosive player in college football, on that Alabama offense? Stay tuned, because you probably won’t truly find out here.
Texas A&M (-12.5, 55.5) vs. Arkansas: Although the spread is still double digits, Arkansas, maybe the most improved team in college football, is getting plenty of respect from the oddsmakers. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Hogs, no matter how improved they are, still have to play Florida, LSU and Alabama. Good team. Great story. Tough matchup, and more to come.
Indiana (-10.5, 52.5) vs. Rutgers: The two best stories out of the Big Ten’s first weekend meet in a game that suddenly carries some weight. Rutgers just won a conference game for the first time in a long time, and Indiana has momentum after upending Penn State. Maybe the Scarlet Knights will have an Arkansas-type start and show that their Week 1 win was a sign of more to come. But Indiana has the talent advantage, and, barring a hangover, should showcase it.