Northwestern's offseason was mired with controversy, but it's now time to play the games, and we'll stick to handicapping the on-field matchup.
Northwestern won its opener in 2022, but then lost every other game on the schedule. Can the team get off to a similar start in 2023 in hopes of turning its program around under interim head coach David Braun. The Wildcats start its season in Piscataway against Rutgers in a Week 1 Big Ten matchup.
Here's our take on the spread in this conference meeting on opening weekend:
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Northwestern vs. Rutgers Odds, Spread and Total
Rutgers vs. Northwestern Betting Trends
- Northwestern went 5-7 against the spread (ATS) last season
- Rutgers went 5-6-1 ATS last season
- Rutgers went 1-1 ATS as a favorite against FBS opponents last season
Northwestern vs. Rutgers How to Watch
- Date: Sunday, September 3rd
- Game Time: 12:00 PM EST
- Venue: SHI Stadium
- How to Watch (TV): CBS
- Northwestern Record: 0-0
- Rutgers Record: 0-0
Northwestern vs. Rutgers Key Players to Watch
Ben Bryant: Braun hasn't named a starting quarterback just yet, but the hope is that Ben Bryant will be under center for NW. He put up strong numbers at Cincinnati, completing 61% of his passes for 2,744 yards while his average depth of target exceeded 10 yards. He will have a patchwork offensive line blocking for him, but he's the best QB between the two teams.
Gavin Wimsatt: The highest rated Rutgers quarterback recruit struggled after taking over under center midway through the year. Wimsatt completed completed 44% of 145 passes in eight appearances and threw seven interceptions against five touchdowns. He will hope that more than half of his offensive line returning can ignite this offense.
Northwestern vs. Rutgers Prediction and Pick
While it was a tumultuous offseason in Evanston for Northwestern that ended with the team firing long time head coach Pat Fitzgerald, I believe the team is being severely underrated against a lowly Rutgers team.
With a total this low, getting an underdog above a field goal is always intriguing, and I believe this spot can set up for a Northwestern upset.
Both offense were a disaster last season, Northwestern was 127th in EPA/Play and Rutgers was 126th which offset what was fairly average defenses for national standards. Northwestern was 64th in EPA/Play and Rutgers was nearby, 69th in the nation.
This spread opened with Rutgers -4.5, and has since climbed in the offseason, likely around the news of Fitzgerald being fired and projected turmoil in the Wildcats locker room. While head coach David Braun will be in the role for the first time after being hired this offseason as defensive coordinator, I still don't see the gap between these two teams this wide.
As I mentioned above, Bryant gives Northwestern the best chance to win and a noted advantage over Wimsatt, who struggled in his first season with Rutgers. In a game that will likely come down to who makes an untimely turnover, or a special teams mistake, give me the team with the more reliable quarterback. Wimsatt posted a turnover worthy play rate of 4.6% against a big time throw percentage of 2%, per Pro Football Focus. That means that he struggled to push the ball downfield and fit the ball into tight windows, rather those passes led to turnovers. Meanwhile, Bryant had a BTT% of 6.3% and a TWP% of only 2.8.
I'll fade the noise around the narrative of the team's locker room and take a shot on Northwestern going on the road and upsetting a team they are arguably better than.
Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.
Track Reed's bets here!