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College football betting: Why underachieving Michigan could be worth a flier this season

·Betting analyst
·4 min read
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Every setback is a setup for a comeback. Wolverine fans head into this year happy that 2020 is in the rearview mirror. A miserable 2-4 season filled with injuries, sloppy defensive play and unfulfilled expectations from the head coach. Most national publications are down on Michigan, slotting them no better than fourth in the Big Ten East.

From a betting perspective, there are some reasons to be excited about the Wolverines' outlook in 2021. Talent has never been the issue with Michigan, which is a positive for a program desperate for results. They return 17 starters with a top-15 recruiting class. The Wolverines were favored in five of six games last season, demonstrating the talent edge Harbaugh holds most Saturdays. They only covered one of those six games, revealing how much the program has underachieved under his direction.

The value in a low market for Michigan

For sports bettors, teams that underachieve can bring opportunity. If there is a year to buy the dip with Michigan, 2021 could be it. The Wolverines check a lot of boxes.

  • Underperformed previous season

  • Cluster injuries to significant position groups (OL)

  • Returning production

  • Head coach's future based on this season's performance

  • Uncontrollable factors (COVID-19)

It helps that Harbaugh is pumping new life into the defense with Mike MacDonald replacing Don Brown. MacDonald takes over a defense that allowed 5.5 yards per play, ranking 62nd in the country. Brown's aggressive defensive scheme was not a match for Michigan's secondary talent as defensive backs were consistently left on an island. Explosive plays neutralizing any defensive momentum were a theme for the Wolverine defense. MacDonald's new scheme should give the secondary support and improve on the 34.5 points per game allowed last season.

QB Cade McNamara won't fill up the highlight reel but he is surrounded by solid offensive weapons. Electrifying freshman running back Donovan Edwards is the perfect complement to Hassan Haskins. The offensive line that played the last four weeks without its starting tackles still finished in the top 20 in sack rate allowed. If the running game can put McNamara in manageable situations, he can be successful.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 22: Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the Michigan Wolverines speaks during the Big Ten Football Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium on July 22, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 22: Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the Michigan Wolverines speaks during the Big Ten Football Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium on July 22, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Key games that will determine whether Michigan will be a moneymaker

The schedule allows Michigan to start the season off strong as it hosts Western Michigan as -17.5 point favorites at BetMGM. Michigan will be big favorites in three of its first four games. The rubber meets the road in October as the Wolverines have back-to-back road games at Wisconsin and Nebraska. Conceding that Ohio State and Penn State are likely losses, there are four swing games that Michigan will need to split to secure an 8-4 season.

The Wolverines' win total is currently 7.5 at BetMGM. Michigan will need to win two of four games below to pave the way to an eight-win season.

  • Sept. 11 vs. Washington

  • Oct. 2 at Wisconsin

  • Oct. 9 at Nebraska

  • Nov. 6 at Indiana

If there is another coach in college football feeling as much heat as Harbaugh it's likely Scott Frost in Nebraska. In such a critical season, I am comfortable Harbaugh can hold off a letdown after a big game versus Wisconsin. Facing Frost on the last leg of two road games isn't ideal, but Michigan has a sizable talent edge to hold off the Huskers.

The most telling game is early in Ann Arbor as Michigan meets Washington. The Huskies' conservative offense isn't built to exploit Michigan's secondary. The market agrees this is Michigan's game to lose as you can bet them today as -1.5 favorites at BetMGM. If Harbaugh can get a home win versus Washington, they are set up for a 4-0 start heading into Wisconsin — a scenario that shapes up well for eclipsing the seven-win mark needed cash our bet.

There are plenty of paths to an 8-4 season. I'm willing to wager that the Wolverines can hit the mark. The odds are currently -120 for over 7.5 wins at BetMGM implying a 54.55% probability Michigan can bring home the money. The market is slightly undervaluing Michigan based on a shortened 2020 season, and I am willing to take advantage. Michigan is far from returning to the top of the Big Ten, but I'm betting they will prove the doubters wrong this season.

*Stats provided by rivals.com, teamrankings.com, and Football outsiders

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