Minnesota defeated a rebuilding Syracuse last week with an overtime field goal, and Air Force destroyed Nicholls State by a score of 72-0. The first reaction would be to assume that this disparity in week 1 results could spell trouble for Minnesota. However, Greg Paulus was outstanding as Syracuse's new quarterback and exhibited flashes of Doug Flutie. Meanwhile, Air Force played a Nicholls State team that is lacking in talent and committed several fatal mistakes. Here's a video recap of Air Force's victory:
So, what factors will come into play for Saturday's matchup? Taking a look at the information that is available for both teams, the weather may be the determining factor for this game.
Let's begin by taking a look at the betting lines as of Wednesday evening. Analysts try to set the point spread in order to encourage an even split for betting on each team:
Currently, the Gophers are favored to win by between 3 and 4 points by a score of about 25-22 (the over/under of 47 represents total points for the game). Basically, Minnesota is slightly favored to win the game. This tells us that it can be fairly assumed Syracuse was better than advertised, and that Air Force's domination of Nicholls State was not significant enough to warrant favoring them on Saturday.
In an early season game that lacks performance data versus multiple opponents, intangible factors may help the evaluation process:
Momentum: Momentum is a subjective term that cannot be directly measured, but with a convincing win in week 1 Air Force will likely enter the game confident and polished. Minnesota players may be lacking confidence after barely winning a game that they expected to run away with.
Home Field Advantage: Clearly, opening a new stadium and playing on campus will give an emotional advantage to the Gophers.
Age and Experience: Air Force is a team comprised of players who have been in their program for their entire college careers, and will field mostly juniors and seniors with extensive experience working together. Minnesota has many junior college transfers and underclassmen starting. Advantage Air Force.
Talent Level: Tim Brewster has brought in some talented players in the last two recruiting classes, and Minnesota players will likely have greater overall raw talent.
Weather: Weather.com is currently predicting a 30% chance of isolated thunderstorms for Saturday's game. As noted in recent posts, Air Force runs an option offense with an effective running game. Minnesota runs an NFL style offense that relies heavily on an effective passing game. The bottom line: rain is bad for the passing game. If most of the game is rainy, Air Force has a decided advantage.
Here's a summary of the intangibles:
Taking limited information into account, what is a reasonable expectation for Saturday's game? My own prediction is that the outcome of the game will be decided by the weather. If the majority of the game has fair weather, Minnesota should establish the passing game and win a close battle. If the weather turns for the worse and rain dominates the day, Minnesota's passing game will be rendered ineffective and Air Force will dominate the ground game for a convincing win. If it is nice out, I'll predict a score of 28-24 in favor of Minnesota. If it rains for more than two quarters, I'll predict a score of 34-14 in favor of Air Force.
JG: JG predicts a 36-31 Minnesota win if it doesn't rain, and a 23-21 Gopher win if it does.
GN: Gopher Nation predicts that without rain the Gophers will win, but that if it rains the Gophers will lose.