Northwestern and Purdue square off in a rare season-opening conference clash Thursday night, the Boilermakers laying close to a field goal depending on the sportsbook. Preview, pick, and prediction here.
Northwestern at Purdue (-2.5)
Opening Line: -3.5, Boilermakers
Opening Total: 51.5
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Site: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, IN
Purdue is receiving roughly 55 percent of bets as of publication (Aug. 26), but the initial offer(-3.5) is moving in Northwestern’s direction, down to -2.5 points across most online outlets. The total dropped from a 51.5 initial offer to 48.5 in a matter of three days trading.
2017 SU Record: 10-3
2017 ATS Record: 9-4
2017 Avg. Line: -4.7
Northwestern dominated possession in last year’s 23-13 win at Ryan Field, controlling play for 32:47 minutes to 27:13 for the Boilermakers. The visitors mustered just 1.8 yards per carry, resorting to 398 passing yards on 38-of-61 tosses. The UNDER hits 72.5 percent of the time (58-22-3) when the Wildcats hold foes to less than 7.0 yards per passing attempt under head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald is 15-21 SU and 22-14 ATS (61.1 percent) as a road underdog against Big Ten rivals all-time. The Cats are covering an 11.6 average line by 3.7 points per game.
It’s GAME WEEK.
— Northwestern Football (@NUFBFamily) August 26, 2018
Shocking the market with outright wins is what Fitzgerald is best at in his career. Since taking over the program in 2006, no team in the nation has as many SU wins catching points (29) as Northwestern.
Prior to Fitzgerald’s hiring, Purdue owned the modern-day series. From 1980-2005, Northwestern went 6-18 SU and 9-14-1 ATS. Since, the Wildcats own a 6-3 SU and 5-4 ATS edge. The average final score is 27.3 to 21.2. At Ross-Ade Stadium, Fitz is 3-1 SU and ATS, kicking off 1.2 pups on average.
2017 SU Record: 7-6
2017 ATS Record: 9-4 ATS
2017 Avg. Line: +2.9
Jeff Brohm worked miracles in his first year in charge, transforming a program that won three games or fewer in each of the previous four seasons into a bowl game winner. The Boilermakers nipped Arizona 38-35 in the Foster Farms Bowl last time out.
Fixing the defense was the difference-maker. Purdue allowed 31 points or more in each of the five prior seasons before Brohm’s arrival. In 2017, it surrendered 20.5 per tilt, the fewest since 2004. Their 0.28 points per play ranked 17th fewest nationally. The bad news for Boilermaker backers is that Brohm returns just four starters to the unit in 2018.
Pick: OVER 48.5
Our models pit this early-season conference clash a near coin-flip. Purdue, which returns nine starters on offense, averaged 27.2 points in four home games against opponents allowing fewer than 27 the previous year. The Wildcats yielded 20.1 overall and 25.2 on the road. Reaching close to four touchdowns appears to be a sure bet for the Boilermakers.
One has to believe the inexperienced defense will regress from a season ago. Brohm is not nearly as optimistic as last year, saying “I think the pieces are there…but you have to go out there and play and hopefully we can gain experience through scrimmages and practices.” This is not necessarily a ringing endorsement.
Northwestern is a tough first test. The Wildcats make a dash for the win and matches Purdue on the scoreboard. Go against the line movement here and play the OVER.