At this point in the college football season people are already locked in on the Top 25 teams and those on the fringes. That only makes sense. It can make it easy for people to overlook teams that are solid if not elite - especially if those teams had a rough opening weekend or two to dim expectations of the squad. Once a team is off the radar, the public often doesn't give them enough credit, and that can lead to pleasant betting opportunities - even on high-profile teams that typically get a lot of public love. To understand this phenomenon, and what it can mean for bettors, there is no better case study right now than the Michigan Wolverines.
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Harbaugh fever was raging heading into the season, but the team lost some momentum with their opening loss at Utah. Michigan State and Ohio State have both started out so well that the Big Ten is again all about just two teams, and Michigan seems to be back under the radar - or at least as under the radar as a team like Michigan can be. This is a team that should continue to improve as the season goes along, though.
Scheduling was a big factor for this team. Opening on the road at Utah was a long way from ideal. After bringing in almost an entirely new coaching staff, and starting a quarterback new to the program, what they really needed was a game to ease into the season, get comfortable with each other, and work out the inevitable kinks before things get real. Really, their first three games were in the wrong order. They played a very tough game at Utah, then a much easier on at home against Oregon State, followed by what should be a total gimme against the football afterthought that is UNLV. If they had reversed those games then they could have built up to the big challenge and would almost surely have fared better. Playing the schedule as it stands, though, served to useful dim expectations for casual observers.
A couple of things stand out when you look at the team. First, despite making a whole lot of mistakes in their opener, they weren't blown out. They were in it until late and were just a break or two away from success. Second, and most significantly, they were a dramatically improved team in the second game and better in the second half of that game than the first. Players were sharper and were much better at understanding and achieving their assignments. It shows that the team is coachable and that the coaching staff is very active. It also shows that the players have really bought into the message, It only makes sense that the players had some concerns and trepidation after the mess of the Brady Hoke era that they had just endured. With each sign of success and improvement buying in will only be more significant, and the team should only be better.
Jake Rudock transferred to Michigan after a career at Iowa, and he has been the starting QB all year - and has played through all but garbage time despite some rough patches. He was better in the second game, and he has developed some real chemistry with a couple of receivers. It takes most quarterbacks a while to get comfortable with a new program, so he will improve. The coaching staff clearly has full confidence in him - they are even flirting with the option of redshirting junior Shane Morris, who is the most viable backup option. He has thrown too many interceptions so far, but if he can get that in check he certainly has upside.
The schedule wasn't ideal early, but it works to their favor going forward. They have four very winnable games in a row starting with UNLV this week. That will build their confidence and get them ready to host the Spartans on Oct. 17. They are in tough in that spot, but they will be more prepared by then than most people will expect them to be at this point. Then they have a potentially challenging game at Minnesota before three very easy games - Rutgers, Indiana and Penn State. Then they host Ohio State. That won't go well, but it's good experience, and they will have nothing to lose - they should be very comfortably bowl eligible by then, so any good performance is a bonus.
After the Utah game many media figures were downgrading their expectations and saying that seven or eight wins was a ceiling here. Given the progress they have made to date, that could potentially be more of a floor than a ceiling. If that's the case then this team will offer some real value. That's why Michigan is such a good case study for teams that could easily be expected to exceed current expectations and provide value for bettors.
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