I would argue this Sunday is the worst Sunday for a sports betting fan until Feb. 7. Why? We are on the eve of the NFL football season -- so close yet so far! -- but there's no action among the professionals this Sunday. There will be every Sunday afterward until Feb. 7, which is the Sunday after Super Bowl 50. OK, technically we only get the stupid Pro Bowl in the Sunday in between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, but you have all those Super Bowl props to analyze and tide you over.
But don't fret, there is football action this Sunday: Purdue travels to Marshall in the only college action of the day. And I can guarantee you the betting action on this one will dwarf any game involving the Thundering Herd the rest of the season. Maybe Purdue, too, although of course the Boilers will take heavy action against when they are in Big Ten play. Incidentally, this is the first time ever a Big Ten team has visited Marshall.
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Purdue Boilermakers at Marshall Thundering Herd Betting Story Lines
Now that Illinois already has fired Tim Beckman (a week before the season!?!?!), the hottest coaching seat in the Big Ten belongs to Purdue's Darrell Hazell. His first two seasons have resulted in a 4-20 record. Only one of those wins was against a Power 5 program, and the Boilermakers haven't won a conference home game since 2012. The Boilers are again projected in preseason Big Ten polls to finish last in the Big Ten West.
An upset here, considering Purdue hasn't won a nonconference road game since 2007 at Toledo, could serve as a springboard after the last two seasons. But a loss to a Conference USA team, albeit a very good one, and Hazell already starts walking the plank. Purdue's final three nonconference games are at home, but it will be an underdog on Sept. 19 vs. Virginia Tech. And Purdue at most will be favored in only two Big Ten games.
Junior Austin Appleby, to no surprise, won the QB competition in camp. He started the final seven games last year, with the first a win over Illinois for Hazell's only Big Ten victory. Appleby was very up-and-down, completing 52.9 percent for 1,449 yards, 10 TDs and 11 picks. The Boilermakers' top two rushers from last year, Akeem Hunt (the team's best player, also led in receptions) and Raheem Mostert, are gone. But No. 1 receiver Danny Anthrop (38 catches, 616 yards, four TDs) and the entire O-Line are back. Seven starters return on defense.
Marshall was so close to earning the Group of 5's automatic bid to a New Year's Six bowl game last year. The Herd were unbeaten and No. 24 in the nation when they hosted Western Kentucky in the regular-season finale, and Marshall was stunned 67-66 in overtime in a thrilling game. WKU opted to go for 2 points after scoring in overtime and converted. The 15 combined TD passes were the most in a game involving FBS teams. Marshall allowed a school-record 738 yards. The Herd were still able to beat Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA Championship Game and then Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl.
I suppose you could say the two major schools with the biggest QB shoes to fill this season are Oregon (Marcus Mariota) and Florida State (Jameis Winston). Statistically, those guys had nothing on departed Marshall QB Rakeem Cato. He was a four-year-starter who passed for 3,903 yards and 40 touchdowns last season. Overall in his career he threw for 14,079 yards and broke Russell Wilson's NCAA record for consecutive games with a TD pass; Cato set the mark at 46. His replacement is Michael Birdsong, who sat out last season after transferring from FCS school James Madison. It will be the first time since 2005 that the Thundering Herd have had a fourth-year junior making his first Marshall start at quarterback.
The Herd were the only FBS team ranked in the Top 20 nationally in rushing offense (No. 8, 271.9 yards per game) and passing offense (No. 17, 287.3 yards per game) last year, but they may lean more toward the run in 2015 with tailback Devon Johnson returning. He rushed for at least 100 yards 10 times last season. The former tight end led C-USA with 1,767 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Overall, five starters are back on offense and seven on defense.
Purdue at Marshall Betting Odds and Trends
At BetOnline , Marshall is a 7.5-point favorite -- tells you all you need to know about the state of the football program at Purdue these days that it's more than a touchdown dog at a C-USA team -- with a total of 61. The Herd are -300 on the moneyline. Purdue is 3-1-2 against the spread in its past six road games. Marshall is 4-0 ATS in its past four nonconference games. The "over/under" is 4-1 in the Herd's past five out of conference. The Boilers are 1-9 SU in their past 10 as a road dog of at least 7.5 but have covered five of them. Marshall is 0-5 vs. the Big Ten this century but has covered twice.
Free College Football Picks: Purdue at Marshall Betting Predictions
The last time Purdue came off a three-win season, the Boilermakers went 9-3. That's not happening. I don't see more than four wins. No Marshall quarterback in his first start has ever beaten a major college opponent in the opening game of a season. I say that changes, but I'll take the points here. Cato was everything to Marshall, and it will take some time to adjust to life without him. Herd win a close, high-scoring game, so go over.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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