Time: 2 PM EDT
Spread: WAS -14.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights finished 4-8 last season, but it will have to transform its offense in a major way in 2016. Last season, Rutgers averaged just 27.1 points and 377.0 total yards per game, ranking No. 78 and No. 84 in the nation.
New head coach Chris Ash will turn to first-year OC Drew Mehringer for the task. Chris Laviano is the favorite to start at QB after taking the lead with the first-team offense in Friday’s practice, but Zach Allen is still not fully out of the picture.
Laviano completed 187 of 307 passes last season (60.9 percent) for 2,247 yards but he threw 12 INTs with just 16 TDs. At WR, he will turn to Andre Patton who had 34 catches for 432 yards last season, while Jamarion Grant (352 yards) will also be a top target.
RBs Robert Martin and Josh Hicks will also run their fair share of pass routes. They combined for 1,437 rushing yards and 10 TDs last season. Chris Muller will start at G, but he missed spring with an injury. The OL is a work-in-progress around Muller with he and two others returning but plenty of questions on the depth chart.
For as mediocre as the Knights were on offense last year, their defense held them back further still, allowing 34.9 points and 462.0 yards per game, ranking No. 104 and No. 111 in the NCAA and comprising one of the worst units in the Big Ten. Ash should be able to remake this defense with Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann, but it lost its top three tacklers from last season, all of whom were linebackers. Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton will be counted upon heavily and is in his final NCAA season.
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Defensive end Kemoko Turay is a phenomenal athlete, but he missed spring with a shoulder injury. Julian Pinnix-Odrick and Quanzell Lambert will be back to keep the line of scrimmage defense up to par. The LB depth will be a problem for Rutgers this season. Najee Clayton moves from Safety to Linebacker, and TJ Taylor will also be on the line.
There is solid depth behind them, and sophomores Eric Margolis and Trevor Morris will be used as the season wears on. Ash wants to do more press coverage, but it is unclear whether the CBs are up to this task. Jarius Adams will start at one corner, and Michigan graduate transfer Ross Taylor-Douglas will be at the other. Anthony Cioffi and Isaiah Wharton both will be in the secondary, though it is unclear whether they will lineup at CB or S.
The Washington Huskies finished 7-6 last season and defeated Southern Miss 44-31 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. This year, expectations run higher still, the highest of the Rick Nueheisel epoch. Washington ended last season with three-straight ‘Ws,’ and outscored those teams 141-48. The backfield is strong with QB Jake Browning and TB Myles Gaskin. Browning threw for 2,955 passing yards last season which was the fifth-highest in team history.
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The OL held Washington back at times last year, as did a lack of deep threat options at WR. Browning will look at speedy wideout John Ross this season, who suffered a knee injury last season but can open the field up to make plays. Slot receiver Chico McClatcher also had a nice spring and will be a top target for Browning.
Washington’s defense was one of the best in the Pac-12 in 2015, allowing the feast points and yards in the conference despite having lost four key players who were all top-50 NFL draft picks. Last year the Huskies held opponents to just 18.8 points and 351 yards per game, ranking No. 13 and No. 31 in the nation.
The defense returns eight starters and the DL is strong. Tackles Greg Gaines and Elijah Qualls helped Washington limit opponents to just 3.3 yards per carry last season, as the Huskies allowed just 125.3 yards rushing per game, ranking No. 19 in the nation.
The defense is good enough to keep Washington in games, and Browning and Gaskin can carry an offense. The Huskies may surprise some teams this year, and certainly being two-plus TD favorites against Rutgers is just the start of what could be a big season in Seattle.
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