It has the sound of a broken record at this point, but this is being called a make-or-break year for Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. In his first five years in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh has made habits of talking too big and losing big games.
Joe Milton might be able to make many of Harbaugh’s problems go away. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior quarterback is an elite athlete capable of making 80-yard throws. He’s projected to be a future NFL first-round pick, even drawing comparisons to Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes. The Wolverines create no shortage of over-the-top hype.
Big Ten football is finally back, and Michigan is among the conference’s mystery teams. The Wolverines lost nine players to the NFL Draft -- only LSU lost more -- and will be breaking in a new quarterback, yet they are road favorites against Minnesota.
Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck brings back most of the key parts from an 11-win team. Star wideout Rashod Bateman reconsidered his opt-out decision and will play. Bateman will be the top target for quarterback Tanner Morgan, who returns after passing for 30 touchdowns. Minnesota, which scored 31 points or more in 10 of 13 games last season, boasts one of the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive lines.
Maybe Milton is the real deal, and maybe it means something that the Wolverines have won 16 consecutive times in Minneapolis. Or, maybe Minnesota deserves more respect.
Since 2006, Michigan is 1-20 straight up on the road versus ranked opponents. Harbaugh is not to blame for all of those failures, but this is the type of game he typically loses, so let’s see it before believing the hype.
The pick: Minnesota + 3.5
PITTSBURGH (+ 10) over Notre Dame: For the first time this season, Notre Dame is showing signs of being a national championship pretender. The Fighting Irish are ranked in the Top 5, but who really believes they belong in the same class with Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State? Senior quarterback Ian Book is having problems igniting the passing attack. Against a Louisville defense that was shredded by Georgia Tech and Miami, Book threw for a season-low 106 yards last week.
The Irish are hitting the road for the first time. Pittsburgh, 3-3 with two one-point losses, took a 31-19 loss at Miami that could be considered a positive. The Panthers stayed competitive despite starting quarterback Kenny Pickett sitting out with an ankle injury. Pickett’s replacement Joey Yellen went 22-for-46 for 277 yards and one touchdown. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said Pickett is questionable to play this week. Even without Pickett, the Panthers should continue their trend of sticking in close games.
MISSISSIPPI (+ 3.5) over Auburn: The Tigers appear to be in disarray, with quarterback Bo Nix regressing and resembling the Mitch Trubisky of the SEC. It’s important to remember how well the Rebels played offensively against Alabama and Kentucky and try to forget Matt Corral’s six-interception game last week against Arkansas. Jump back on the Lane Kiffin train.
NEVADA (+ 3.5) over Wyoming: The Mountain West is back in action, too, and these teams rank right behind Boise State atop the conference. Seventeen starters, led by quarterback Carson Strong, come back for the Wolf Pack. I made this line pick ’em, and late money is showing on the home ‘dog.
Last week: 2-2