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Vegas Sets Over/Under on Nebraska Football Wins at 6

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Maryland v Nebraska
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CG Technology, a Las Vegas sports book operator, has released their opening over/unders on 2017 wins in college football. At the top, Alabama’s line is set at 10.5 while Ohio State is at 10. Bet the “over” on those two schools, and you win if the Tide or Buckeyes win 11 or 12 regular season games. Bet the under, and you win if they go 9-3.

You’ll find Nebraska near the bottom of the list, with the line set to 6 wins. In the Big Ten, that’s behind Ohio State, Penn State (9.5), Wisconsin (9.5), Michigan (9), Iowa (6.5) and Michigan State (6.5). Nebraska is also behind Oregon (8), Colorado (7.5) and Missouri (6.5), for what it’s worth.

Vegas isn’t the first to talk about a 6-6 season for Nebraska football in 2017; ESPN’s FPI came in with a similar prognostication in April. Dare I say, those numbers seem awfully low to the journalists who follow Nebraska.

I get that a lot of Husker fans are thinking more towards 9 or 10 wins than 6 or fewer. (And when the over/under is set at 6, there is the expectation that quite a few people are thinking 4 or 5 wins for Nebraska.) Where is this discrepency coming from?

I think it starts at quarterback. The expectation from many is that with improved quarterback play, with talent that matches the scheme that Nebraska’s coaching staff prefers, Nebraska should be better at that position. And if you are buying into the idea that Tanner Lee is an upgrade over Tommy Armstrong, then clearly, Nebraska should be in a position to significantly exceed these six win projections.

But here’s the rub: computers and stat gurus don’t watch practice. They don’t do qualitative analysis. They use quantitative analysis, and base these projections on past results. For Mike Riley, it’s factoring in a coach that’s only topped six wins three times in the last seven years. For Tanner Lee, it’s factoring a 53.6% career completion percentage with 23 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. It’s factoring in passing efficiency stats (109.8 and 107.6) that’s lower than Tommy Armstrong’s worst season (123.9 as a freshman).

Put those numbers into any sort of model, combining it with Nebraska’s green receiver corps and uncertainty at running back, there’s no doubt why analytics seem pessimistic about Nebraska in 2017. SB Nation’s Bill Connelly hasn’t chimed in yet with his Nebraska preview, but I suspect he’ll also come in around 5-7 wins for Nebraska.

Jon Johnston always reminds me that “past history is no guarantee of future results.” He’s absolutely right on that point. There are lots of factors in those prior results that have absolutely nothing in common with Nebraska football in 2017. But by that same matter, predictions like this should be a reminder that optimism about 2017 might need to be tempered.