Michigan vs. Northwestern Prediction, Betting Pick, and Latest Odds

Michigan vs. Northwestern prediction and pick for Saturday's game in Ann Arbor. College football handicapper Ian Cameron tells us who he's backing.
Ian Cameron
Wed, October 20, 7:16 AM EDT

Michigan vs. Northwestern Prediction, Betting Pick, and Latest Odds

Spread: Michigan -23.5

Total: 51

Game Time: Saturday, October 23, 12 p.m ET

Where to Watch: FOX

Michigan vs. Northwestern odds

Michigan vs. Northwestern Prediction

The Northwestern Wildcats put their bye week to good use on Saturday as they returned to the football field and played their best game of the season to date, defeating the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 21-7.

 Northwestern’s defense completely shut down Rutgers' ground game and passing attack, holding them to just 222 total yards on the day. That included 63 rushing yards on 34 attempts. Prior to the bye, Northwestern had been annihilated by Nebraska on the road, 56-7, while giving up 427 rushing yards and 230 through the air. Clearly, this team on that side of the football probably isn’t as good as what they showed against Rutgers but not nearly as bad as they were against Nebraska. The answer lies somewhere in between.

That may not be good enough against Michigan, who has done their most damage this season with an effective ground game. The overall numbers on the season for Northwestern’s defense in terms of stopping the run have not been good. The Wildcats enter this Big Ten clash surrendering 208 yards per game on the ground at 5.5 yards per rush. That’s likely bad news against the Michigan RB tandem of Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins. The Michigan offense is gaining 246 rushing yards per game and averaging 5.5 yards per carry to lend great support to QB Cade McNamara.

We have the 14th-ranked Michigan run game in terms of yards per rush going up against the 123rd ranked Northwestern run defense in terms of yards per rush allowed. I don’t like the matchup here for Northwestern’s defensive line who has shown the propensity to get manhandled in the trenches against quality power rushing attacks like Michigan.

The Northwestern offense faces similar challenges in this game as the Wildcats have struggled to put points on the board throughout the season. They are 85th in total yards per game and 110th in points per game, averaging just 21 points per contest.

Even in last week’s victory against Rutgers, they were stuck on 14 points until a late 4th Quarter touchdown extended the lead. The one bit of good news for the offense is that QB Ryan Hilinski has provided a bit more stability at the position since taking over the starting job from the struggling Hunter Johnson.

Hilinski has 3 TDs with no INTs in a pair of starts so he has negated the mistakes but has still only completed 57.6% of his passes, and there is still a major lack of a downfield and vertical passing attack for Northwestern. The Wildcats simply have to be able to run the ball to maintain balance and effectiveness offensively, and they might have trouble doing so here against the Wolverines who are yielding just 118.3 yards per game on the ground at 3.4 yards per carry.

This is a classic ‘fundamental vs. situational’ handicap. The fundamentals point to Michigan possibly running away and hiding in this game. They have a strong ground game against a team that has struggled to stop the run much of the season, aside from last week. Michigan’s defense is good against the run and faces a limited Northwestern passing attack on an offense.

The matchups certainly line up here for Michigan. However, we are talking about -23.5 here with Michigan, which is a lot of points to be laying in a game that should feature plenty of running the football, leading to fewer possessions and more time off the clock. It’s also worth noting the Wolverines have a massive in-state rivalry showdown next up on their schedule, as they travel to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans next week in what could be a battle between Big Ten unbeaten teams.

Michigan is off a bye entering this game but that big game next week against Michigan State could provide enough of a distraction for them. There are some situational elements favoring Northwestern, but I always weigh the matchups on the field and the fundamentals more than the spot. So, for that reason, I’ll lean to Michigan even with them laying a big number. I just haven’t seen anything good from Northwestern on the road (0-2 SU and ATS on the road this season vs. Nebraska and Duke with a -47.5 ATS margin) to want to back them here in this game.

Michigan vs. Northwestern Betting Pick

Michigan -23.5 @ -108

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