The Michigan Wolverines will begin their quest to return to the College Football Playoff on Saturday when they host the East Carolina Pirates in Ann Arbor.
Michigan is coming off a 13-1 season, which ended in a 51-45 semifinal loss to the TCU Horned Frogs, while East Carolina finished 8-5 last year, culminating in a 53-29 victory over the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers in the Birmingham Bowl. Safe to say college football odds aren't too keen on EC's hopes on Saturday.
The Wolverines return stacked with talent, especially on the defensive side of the field. I’ll discuss what that means for the Pirates’ offensive hopes in my free college football picks and predictions for Michigan vs. East Carolina on September 2.
East Carolina vs Michigan best odds
East Carolina vs Michigan picks and predictions
East Carolina put together an outstanding offensive season in 2022, scoring 45 or more points on five separate occasions. In total, the Pirates averaged 31.2 points per game against BCS opponents, ranking among the Top 40 offensive units in the country.
There were signs that this number would have gone down significantly had East Carolina faced more top-level opponents. The Pirates played two outstanding teams — the Tulane Green Wave and the Houston Cougars — and combined to score just 12 points in those two contests.
That doesn’t mean East Carolina couldn’t score points, but it does make me wonder how it would've fared against a truly elite defensive unit like the one Michigan possessed last year. The Wolverines ranked sixth in scoring defense, allowing just 16.1 points per game — a number that would have been lower if not for the shootout against TCU in their national semifinal.
Michigan is returning a wealth of defensive talent, ringing back each of its Top 5 tacklers from last season, including star linebackers Junior Colson and Mike Barrett. The secondary has plenty of experience too, led by free safety Rod Moore, who had four interceptions last year.
Last season, the Pirates would have at least posed some challenges for the Wolverines' defense, giving them a nice warmup for the Big Ten schedule. But East Carolina has lost much of the talent that made them a formidable offensive force a year ago.
The Pirates are now without starting quarterback Holton Ahlers, who is now on the practice squad for the Seattle Seahawks and could have a professional future in the long run. Ahlers threw for 3,708 yards and 28 touchdowns last year and spent more than four seasons as the East Carolina starter. The Pirates will now rely on former backup Mason Garcia, who has only thrown 38 passes in his college career.
East Carolina has also lost its top three receivers and its leading rusher from the 2022 season. The exodus of seniors has left the Pirates with a green squad that will now have to face off against one of the most dangerous and experienced defensive units in the country.
This lines up as an awful matchup for the Pirates. It’s unlikely they’re able to punch through against the Michigan starters, and they might struggle even in garbage time as the Wolverines show off more of their depth. I’m taking the Under on East Carolina’s team total, as I’m betting both on the Michigan defense and against the Pirates offense.
My best bet: East Carolina team total Under 7.5 (-115 at bet365)
East Carolina vs Michigan same-game parlay
I’ll start this same-game parlay by taking my best bet, and predicting that the Pirates will be held to a touchdown or less. Expanding on that idea, the overall talent level of Michigan should be enough to allow the Wolverines to name their score. At home, in the opener, and wanting to set the tone for a potential championship season, I think they’ll aim high and cover.
Finally, let’s try to cash in on a first-touchdown scorer prop to get some value out of this SGP. Michigan should rely heavily on its running game this year, and of the two main backs, I like Blake Corum to get the opening score of the year. Corum scored 19 touchdowns last season and should be in line for at least one early on against the Pirates on Saturday.
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East Carolina vs Michigan spread and Over/Under analysis
Michigan opened this game as a 35-point favorite, but that hasn’t stopped the public from putting money on the Wolverines, with the consensus spread now Michigan -36. While you can find -35.5 or -36.5 as well, you’ll be giving (or getting) more than five touchdowns at any site you bet on.
The Pirates went 8-5 against the spread last year, while Michigan also played well for bettors last season — putting up an 8-4-1 ATS record.
I think the lack of continuity for East Carolina will really hurt it in this matchup. While the Pirates would have been overmatched last year as well, their experience — especially on the offensive end — might very well have kept the score respectable. That won’t be the case this year.
The total for this game opened at 52.5 points, and the consensus O/U has since come down to 51.5, with approximately equal action available on both sides at most sites. However, a few books are offering -105 on the Under, with -110 the best number I’ve seen on the Over.
We know the Pirates won’t be adding a lot to the scoreboard, and that the Wolverines will likely have their way on offense as well. However, since Michigan runs the ball a lot — and will especially do so in the second half — that could keep the clock moving. Still, my lean is to the Over, as Michigan will likely want to put up a big number to impress fans, pundits, and the playoff committee right out of the gate.
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East Carolina vs Michigan betting trend to know
Michigan has held non-Power 5 opponents to seven points or less in two of its last three matchups. Find more college football betting trends for East Carolina vs Michigan.
East Carolina vs Michigan game info
|Location:||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|Date:||Saturday, September 2, 2023|
|Kickoff:||12:00 p.m. ET|
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