The Northwestern Wildcats travel to California in Week 1 to meet the Stanford Cardinal in a late-afternoon battle on the west coast. Kickoff is set for 4:00 PM EST on Saturday, August 31st at Stanford Stadium and the game will be televised nationally on FOX.

Taking a look at the Week 1 college football odds, Northwestern opened as a 6-point road underdog earlier this week. That line has shifted just slightly after early betting, as the Wildcats are currently listed at +6.5. The total for the game is sitting at 47.5 points.

Vegas Betting Preview & Game Odds: Stanford vs Northwestern

Northwestern has high hopes for 2019 after a very solid 9-5 season last year where they went 8-1 in Big Ten conference play and won the West division. It could have been an even better year for the Wildcats if they had found a way to get past Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, as their impressive run finally came to an end after suffering a tough 45-24 defeat. However, the season did end on a high note after they beat Utah 31-20 in the Holiday Bowl. It will be interesting to see how Northwestern fares on offense during the first few weeks of the season after former starting QB Clayton Thorson decided to turn pro. He will be replaced by Hunter Johnson, a Clemson transfer who many scouts predict may be a better passer than Thorson was for the Wildcats. Johnson should have plenty of help making the adjustment to being a starter from speedy WR Bennett Skowronek, who racked up 45 receptions for 562 yard and 3 touchdowns.  On the ground, Isaiah Bowser will be the feature back after churning out over 850 yards and adding 6 touchdowns in 2018.  As a whole, the offense averaged 24.2 points per game on 354.5 total yards of offense last season.

The Wildcats were extremely solid on defense in 2018, limiting opponents to an average of just 23.2 points per game (41st overall). While they did a great job against both the pass and run, Northwestern was especially good up front as they held teams to an average of less than 130 yards per game on the ground (26th overall).

Stanford also had an impressive regular season in 2018, going 9-4 overall after a 6-3 record in PAC-12 play. The Cardinal finished third in the division and closed their year out by defeating Pitt in the Sun Bowl by a score of 14-13. QB KJ Costello is returning as the starting quarterback after passing for more than 3,500 yards while also adding 29 touchdowns. The biggest loss on offense for Stanford was the departure of star running back Bryce Love, who turned pro after several fantastic seasons with the red and white. If losing Love wasn’t enough, the Cardinal will also need to replace their top three receiving options as well. Overall, the offense averaged 28.4 points per game on 381.0 yards of total offense in 2018.

The Cardinal also suffered personnel losses on the defensive side of the ball over the off-season, as only eight starters are returning to the program. Stanford was slightly above average defensively last year, giving up an average of 22.9 points per game.

NCAA Football Betting Predictions & Free Pick: Northwestern +6.5

This is definitely one of the most intriguing games on the schedule here in Week 1, as both teams have some major question marks heading into the season. While Northwestern has a new quarterback, the Cardinal have had to replace their top three receivers and about half of the defensive starters. Overall, I think the Wildcats may offer the best value in this particular spot, especial since they are getting almost a full touchdown against the spread. Even if they do eventually drop to 0-1 right out of the gate, their strong play on the defensive side of the ball should keep this game close.

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There is also no doubt that Stanford will really feel the loss of Bryce Love on offense. The Wildcats entire defense is basically still in tact from last season, and they certainly did a very impressive job limiting total rushing yardage per game. When you combine the lack of proven receiver depth and a totally revamped ground attack, I’m just not 100% sold on the Cardinal winning this one by a touchdown or more. It might be a bit premature to predict that Northwestern will win outright without first seeing Johnson in action, but I think he can do enough on offense to keep the Wildcats within striking distance throughout. I’ll take the road underdog to cover in this one.