The college football season has finally arrived, and the Week 1 slate offers plenty of exciting matchups for viewers. Michigan, the defending Big Ten champions, kick off their season with a non-conference home opener against East Carolina. Check out the Lineups YouTube channel for further coverage on this game and many more. Read on for predictions and best bets specific to the Michigan vs East Carolina.
East Carolina Pirates Vs. Michigan Wolverines Prediction & Pick
Beyond the absolute absurdity of the Harbaugh and Moore suspensions, I’m excited as a Michigan fan to see Jesse Minter take a crack at head coaching here. Rumors of Jim Harbaugh leaving for the NFL run wild every offseason, and it wouldn’t be shocking if it happens. Perhaps Minter will succeed Harbaugh if he bolts.
In this game, Minter is coaching against an East Carolina team that lost a ton of production over the offseason. The Pirates are effectively entering a rebuild year as they lost quarterback Holton Ahlers (3,700 passing yards), running back Keaton Mitchell (1,400 rushing yards), and two 1,000-yard receivers.
The defense didn’t fare much better as 11 of the 18 defenders who saw 200+ snaps for East Carolina are no longer on the team. That includes All-AAC cornerback Malik Fleming, who was the team’s highest graded defender per PFF. He held opposing passers to just a 59.6 passer rating in coverage last season.
Michigan has fared very well as a big favorite in the last two years, going 6-2 ATS as a favorite of 20+ points. In their last six opening non-conference games, Michigan is 5-1 ATS with an average cover margin of 16.5 points. It’s a very small sample size, but the books haven’t been terribly efficient at pricing these incredibly lopsided early matchups for the Wolverines.
Even without the backing of that very recent trend, I still like Michigan to cover the spread here. East Carolina is coming off a solid 8-5 season, but their massive production losses across the board will put them in a massive disadvantage in this game. Expect Michigan to roll here and get their season started with a 40+ point win like they did three times last year.
East Carolina Pirates Vs. Michigan Wolverines Odds
Michigan has scheduled another three softball home games to open their season as they host East Carolina, UNLV, and Bowling Green before getting into conference play. Against East Carolina, the Wolverines will be lined as 36-point favorites. The spread opened at -36.5 and briefly dipped down to 34 before being bought back up.
The odds for the game initially dropped due to the announcement that Jim Harbaugh will be serving a three-game suspension to start the season for unsubstantiated NCAA claims of recruiting violations. Offensive coordinator Sheronne Moore will also be suspended for this game with defensive coordinator Jesse Minter serving as the interim head coach.
You can argue about motivational fallout from those suspensions, but I don’t believe it should factor into your handicap. Against a much better team, the absences of Harbaugh and Moore would be much more significant. The over/under for this game sits at 51.5 and has come down somewhat after opening at 52.5 or 53.
East Carolina Pirates Vs. Michigan Wolverines Key Matchups
Mason Garcia vs. Michigan’s defense
Holton Ahlers was a five-year starting quarterback for East Carolina, and he’s coming off a 3,700-yard, 28-touchdown season for the Pirates. Mason Garcia, who has just 38 career pass attempts to his name, will be thrust into the starting role in front of a capacity of 107,601 at the Big House.
To be fair to Garcia, he’s a former four-star recruit who has likely benefited from learning behind Ahlers. However, nothing will be able to prepare him for the crazed fans in Ann Arbor, and the atmosphere will make life miserable for the inexperienced passer.
It doesn’t help that Garcia will be playing behind an offensive line that returns just one starter from last season and has Jacob Sacra, a true freshman, lining up at left guard. He’ll line up across from Mason Graham, Michigan’s four-star sophomore defensive lineman who had 13 pressures and 17 run stops as a true freshman per PFF.
Garcia also won’t have much help in terms of proven receiving talent. The Pirates lost Isaiah Winstead and C.J. Johnson, who both had over 1,000 yards last season. Only two receivers remain on the roster who had more than six catches last season. Don’t expect many open receivers against a secondary led by sophomore cornerback Will Johnson.
Donovan Edwards vs. East Carolina’s run defense
The Wolverines boast two of the best running backs in the country on the same team with Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. Corum was on his way to a possible Heisman season before tearing his ACL, and while he’s ready to start the season, he was only medically cleared just over a month ago.
Michigan’s coaches will take it easy on Corum in his first game back, and we could see a heavy dose of Edwards, a former five-star recruit. Edwards put that full five-star pedigree on display towards the end of last year, rushing for 520 yards in Michigan’s three most important games of the season.
East Carolina runs a 4-2-5 defense that struggles against powerful offensive lines and running backs that can hit the hole. That puts them in a bad position against Michigan’s elite offensive that might be even better. The Wolverines lost two starters from last year, but transfer additions Myles Hinton, Drake Nugent, and LaDarius Smith are seamless fits.
Behind that loaded offensive line, Edwards should have plenty of opportunities for breakaway runs after finishing with 12 runs of 15+ yards on just 140 total carries. Look for Edwards to continually hit the second level for big gains, leading to a comfortable Michigan win.