Every week the Blue Zone gives you our can't-lose prop bets for the upcoming football game:
Northwestern (-2.5) at Duke
It is so tempting to want to pick against the Wildcats in this spot. Northwestern clearly punched above its weight in 2020, coming as close as can be to an unlikely Big Ten championship before falling to eventual national championship runner-up Ohio State on the conference’s biggest stage. Expectations were understandably high for head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s squad entering this season, but things haven’t gone quite according to plan: the Wildcats took a 38-21 shellacking at the hands of Michigan State in the opener before bouncing back in less-than-spectacular fashion against Indiana State last week, 24-6.
So while I would love to pick against a team I figure will be overvalued all season long, it seems like the opportunity to fade Northwestern (0-2 against the spread thus far) has passed—for the time being. This short line, which I expect would have been far steeper if this were a Week One matchup, reflects the Wildcats’ play.
In their last 13 games dating back to last season, the Blue Devils are just 3-10 with a single win against a Power Five opponent. Northwestern, on the other hand, is the reigning Big Ten runner-up. It hasn’t been pretty for Northwestern through two weeks, but it owns the better team, and a field goal spread reflects true value against these Blue Devils.
Pick: Northwestern -2.5
Over/Under 49 points
Duke’s defense performed far better in its second outing, but the skeptic in me believes that there is still something intangibly terrifying about the early prospects of this unit—which was torn apart by Charlotte in the opener—against its first Power Five offense.
The Northwestern offense, however, has not inspired a great deal of confidence thus far. Starting quarterback Hunter Johnson was underwhelming against the Sycamores in last week’s win, and most of the team’s production against Michigan State came once the game was already out of hand. It’s worth remembering that even when they were at the top of their game last fall, the Wildcats weren’t putting up a ton of points: they made their mark by allowing a conference-best 15.9 points per game and put up just the tenth-most points in the conference.
That stingy defense will be a test for Duke, no matter what their offense looks like. The Blue Devils are already making a habit out of slow starts and early punts, and Northwestern has the tools to make that trend continue. The Blue Devils start slow, the Northwestern offense is just fine, and the Wildcats win a relatively low-scoring game. The under hits by a hair.
Pick: Under 49
Over/Under 1.5 team sacks (Duke)
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The Blue Devils are starting to get pressure on the quarterback, but redshirt sophomore defensive end R.J. Oben’s fourth-quarter takedown at Charlotte stands as the team’s only sack of the year. Northwestern’s front five have not done such a good job of keeping Johnson upright, however, as they have given up six sacks in two games. Duke’s defensive line still has a long way to go, but it will bring some much-needed pressure come Saturday, and I reckon the unit just might rack up a few sacks in the process. Take the over.
Pick: Over 1.5