Hey ya’ll (would you be more comfortable with “you guys”?), Hammer and Rails is teaming up with DraftKings this year, and I’m lucky enough to have one of the recurring articles. I want to remind everyone that I’m terrible at picking games, mainly because I pick with my heart and not my head. If you’re into gambling, it may be in your best interest to fade (go against) my picks, because as I mentioned, sports gambling isn’t my bag.
Every week I’ll pick 2 Big10 games (Purdue obviously being 1) and a game of my choosing from another conference. I’ll provide the odds from DraftKings (as of Friday) and my picks. What happens after that is totally up to you. Again, I want to stress that I don’t bet on sports because I’m bad at it, but I’m pretty good at providing information. Consider this your final warning.
Since this article will come out on Friday I’ll consider the entire week (Friday-Friday). That means I get to talk about the Purdue game in this article!
Purdue vs Penn State
According to DraftKings SportsBook, Penn State is favored by 3 points on the road.
This is a critical game for both programs. Purdue is trying to build off the momentum of last season’s 9 win campaign. Penn State fancies themselves a contender, but will have to bounce back from a disappointing 7-6 season, including a total collapse down the stretch. I hesitate to put too much importance on the first game of the season, but this could be a tone setter for both programs in 2022.
For Purdue, it’s all about Aidan O’Connell and the offense. They finished the season on fire last year, cracking 30 points in their final 5 games, including the 48-45 bowl shootout win over Tennessee. I’ve got O’Connell as a dark horse Heisman contender, and if that’s going to come to fruition, the campaign has to start in game 1.
Star wide receiver David Bell is playing for the Brown and number 2 wide receiver Milton Wright is...well...I’m not sure what Milton is up to these days, but it’s not playing football for Purdue. Regardless of those 2 losses, I don’t stress much about the skill positions under Brohm. O’Connell will throw the ball 30+ times, and someone will be on the other end. Tight End Payne Durham could make himself some money this season.
The offensive line is the Purdue offensive line. I’ve heard rumors that it is much improved this year, but seeing is believing. Brohm uses the running game to compliment the passing game, and it’s more about efficiency than grinding out yards. It needs to be better in the red zone, where the Boilermakers struggled to score touchdowns last season. Also, keep an eye on the Purdue kick return game. Iowa transfer Charlie Jones is a game breaker and could push Purdue over the top in close games.
The Purdue defense has to replace superstar George Karlaftis, and that’s a big ask. Purdue having freakish defensive ends was the norm in the past, but it’s been a while since a player like George graced the field in West Lafayette. There isn’t a 1 for 1 replacement for him on the roster. That said, the defensive line has good depth, and Kydran Jenkins and Murray State transfer Scotty Humpich should be able to provide a pass rush.
Leading tackler Jaylen Alexander is gone, but the Boilermakers return O.C. Brothers, and two 6th year players in Kieran Douglas and Semisi Fakasiieiki at linebacker. I think they’ll be fine, if not better than last season.
The secondary should be good, but they are banged up at corner. Corey Trice, and Kansas State transfer Tee Denson will both contribute at some point this season, but neither has been healthy in camp, which makes me nervous. Jamari Brown has good length and played well in spots last season and Indiana transfer Reece Taylor has played a bunch of football. They will need to hold it down on the perimeter until healthy reinforcements arrive. Safety Marvin Grant transferred to Kansas...which...whatever I guess, but Cam Allen returns as one of the better safeties in the BIg10. 5th year senior Chris Jefferson is holding down the other safety spot, and is solid.
This Purdue defense doesn’t have to be great, but it needs to prevent teams from grinding on them and keeping the offense off the field. I think they’re good enough to accomplish that task, and they should get better as the season progresses.
Penn State is coming off a train wreck of a season. They started the 2021 season with 5 wins, and then went 2-6 the rest of the way. Sean Clifford is back at quarterback and he’s functional. I’ve never considered him an elite talent, but he throws for a decent percentage and, at worst, won’t cost Penn State wins.
Clifford loses star receiver Jahan Dotson, but they have plenty of talent at wide receiver. Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley are both on the Biletnikoff watch list. Washington is an explosive 5’10, 205 pound slot receiver who can make something out of nothing. Washington is a 5th year senior, and a smooth operator on the outside. They should be fine.
The running game will tell the tale for the Nittany Lions. Leading rusher Keyvone Lee averaged almost 5 years a carry last season in a time share with Noah Cain. Cain transferred to LSU, leaving Lee as the undisputed lead dog (lion) in the rushing attack. Keep an eye out for 5* freshman Nick Singleton as well. I’m not sure how much they’ll use him, but when he’s on the field, expect him to get the ball.
The defense is littered with talent, and wasn’t the reason they lost last season. Their strength is in a secondary that features corner Joey Porter Jr. (which makes me feel old) and Ji’Ayir Brown is a tackling machine at safety. They have other nice pieces as well.
The linebackers are getting an overhaul after losing two starters, but Curtis Jacobs was solid last year and again, it’s Penn State, they’ll find linebackers.
The defensive line may be the most interesting position group because the talent looks to rest with their youngsters, including 5* freshman defensive end Dani Dennis-Sutton. I think this is a unit that gets better as the season progresses, which is good for Purdue, because they get them in the first game. If they figure out the pass rush, this defense could take off. Hopefully they don’t figure it out in the first game.
I’m taking Purdue +3 to start the year.
This is a home game for the Boilermakers, and it’s going to be a sold out Ross-Ade under the lights on national television. I think this will be Purdue’s best offense under Brohm, and they’ll make a statement on Thursday night. The defense won’t stop the Penn State run game, but it will slow it down enough to keep it from dominating the game. It’ll be close, but I’ve got the Boilermakers winning (and DraftKings is giving them a 3 point head start).
Purdue needs to get this game into the 30’s, and I think they accomplish it.
Nebraska vs Northwestern (in Ireland) -Saturday - 12:30 PM
According to DraftKings SportsBook, Nebraska is favored by 11 points, despite being Nebraska.
This one is tough. Nebraska is the more talented team on paper, but I trust them as much as a fart the morning after light beer and chili bender. Adrian Martinez has escaped to Manhattan, Kansas and will be playing behind an offensive line for the first time in his career. In his stead, Casey Thompson, last season's starter at quarterback for Texas, will be pulling the trigger for the Huskers. Thompson played well at Texas last year, throwing for 2113 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He’s got the potential to be an excellent quarterback.
The running backs should be fine, and the receivers are decent, but it all comes down to the offensive line. They haven’t been good and Thompson isn’t as good at running for his life as Martinez. If the line comes together (which it has to at some point in the Frost era) this Nebraska offense could exceed expectations.
The Nebraska defense has been a strength for the Huskers over the last couple of seasons, but they lost a significant amount of talent off the defensive line and in the secondary. They brought in several high major transfers to try and make it work on the defensive line. The secondary lost 3 starters, and that could be a problem against a team capable of throwing the ball, but that’s not Northwestern.
This Northwestern squad has the potential to be terrible on offense. They have an elite left tackle in Peter Skoronski, and the running backs are serviceable. That’s the only nice things I have to say about the Northwestern offense. I don’t trust Ryan Hilinski at quarterback, but he’s probably better than anyone else they have (probably?). The receivers are pedestrian at best, but maybe this is the year Brownsburg receiver Bryce Kirtz makes his mark. Either way, I don’t see this offense winning many games where they have to score more than 21 points.
The defense took a major step back last season, but Pat Fitzgerald should be able to get that somewhat fixed this year, because he always manages somehow. If the Wildcats do better than their 3-9 record last season, it will be because the defense has improved from bad to marginal.
I’m not optimistic.
I’m taking Nebraska - 12 in this one.
The offense has enough talent to put points up, and Northwestern can’t score. It might be close at half, but the Huskers pull away in the 2nd half, and the “is Nebraska back” hype train will slowly chug out of the station.
Vandy at Hawaii - Saturday - 10:30 PM (EST)
According to DraftKings SportsBook, Vanderbilt is favored by 9 points, despite being on the road (and in the middle of the ocean) and being Vanderbilt.
Record setting Rainbow Warrior quarterback Timmy Chang returns to the big island to restore the honor of Hawaii football. He slung it all over the island as a quarterback under June Jones, and I assume he’s going to sling it all over the island as a head coach. I have no idea what that’s going to look like, but it should be fun to watch, even if it’s fun in the “oh man, this is bad” sort of way.
Vanderbilt is Vanderbilt. They have an excellent medical school and baseball program. Pulling a Hawaii and bringing back Vandy legend Jay Cutler to run the program probably isn’t in anyone’s best interest (bu it would be incredible entertainment). As it stands, Vandy Coach Clark Lea returns for his second season after a dreadful 2-10 campaign. The Dores open the season with a lopsided loss to ETSU and narrow escape against UConn.
Their offense is terrible overall, but their running backs stable is above average (in theory). Their defense is decent but spends the majority of the game on the field and dies down the stretch, much like a vintage Hazell squad. They had a decent recruiting class and will be counting on several true freshmen at key spots.
I’m taking Hawaii +9 in this game.
Chang will spread the field out and put up a few points. Vandy will struggle on offense and this trip will be tough on their freshmen.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.