Ramdom thoughts to get off my chest before unveiling this week's Big 10 Picks:
My favorite storyline not being talked about this year is the fact that the Oregon St Beavers control their own fate for a Rose Bowl bid. Win out, and Pasadena is their bowl destination. Thanks to their stunning win over USC back in September, the Beavers are only one of two teams in the Pac 10 that control their own destiny in the conference race heading into the final month of the season. The other team is Cal, but since they're a 3-td underdog later tonight at USC, that probably wont last much longer, leaving OSU as the last team standing with their fate in their hands. Starting today, here's how the Beavers close their final four Saturdays: at UCLA, home vs Cal, at Arizona and home vs Oregon. It is neither a murderer's row, nor a line of cream puffs. But, as long as they keep winning, the Beavers are a great story behind the running of Jacquiz Rodgers. You know who else is happy with the Beavers run? Penn State fans. That destruction of Oregon State back in September looks better and better. The Beavers have a lot of Ute fans as well in their own BCS quest.
Speaking of Penn St, I have been told by a friend of mine who lives out in Vegas, that the Nittany Lions would be favored in a hypothetical matchup with the other two unbeaten teams from the BCS leagues. The Nittany Lions would be a slight -3 favorite over Alabama, but they would be a full TD favorite over Texas Tech. I am not sure who I would take in the Bama-PSU game, but I would take a full TD head start with the Red Raiders against just about anybody on a neutral field.
Alabama, Texas Tech and Penn State are 1-2-3 in the polls right now. Despite that, let me ask you this: Would you take any of them to win in hypothetical matches on nuetral fields against the group of 1-loss teams behind them? That group includes, Florida, USC, OU and Texas. Discuss.
On December 6, there will be five conference title games. Here's who I think will make it to those games and the outcomes: SEC, Florida and Alabama; Big 12, Oklahoma over Missouri; ACC, Virginia Tech over Wake Forest; MAC, Central Michigan over Buffalo; and Conference USC, Tulsa over East Carolina.
If two of the remaining three BCS Busters--Boise, Utah and Ball St--make it into the big money bowls, I hope the powers that be make them play each other. Yes, it would be interesting to see how they would match up with the big boys. However, doing so would prevent two games between perennial national powers from happening. I'm tired of the who is the best league arguments. I'm tired of the USC vs SEC arguments. I want some evidence to go on. Match the powers against the powers and the BCS Busters vs the BCS Busters. Remember the 2004 Liberty Bowl? An unbeaten Boise team played a 1-loss Louisville team (then of Conference USA). They were the best non BSC league teams out there and they delivered a classic 44-40 contest that remains, in my mind, one the ten best games I have seen this decade. Who wouldn't be excited to see Boise and Utah play each other? Who would be excited to see Utah play Texas? See what I mean?
Syracuse still is in the bowl hunt. Michigan is not. Yikes!
Earlier in the week, there was a mgoblog Diary detailing Paul Johnson's first season at Georgia Tech and the similarities and differences between Rodriguez and Michigan. I tried to post my thoughts, but did it in the wrong thread. Knowing that I'm not that bright, here's my take on that issue. The circumstances are so different from school to school that a comparison like that is just too hard to make. Considering that QB Nesbitt and RB Dwyer have been turning in big plays in the the running game since the opener, its fair to say Rodriguez would have Tech looking a lot more like his West Virginia teams right now. And, if Johnson was up here, its hard to imagine the offense being any better, even if I feel that Johnson is the better coach. Trust me, this guy is legit and is arguably more accomplished than Rodriguez as a head coach when you consider what he did at Georgie Southern. I do think Johnson would have our defense playing better for a couple of different reasons. One, I dont think we'd be trying to learn a fancy defense that does not match our personnel the way we are now. Also, Johnson's teams have always had great secondaries even in years where he had to replace all four starters at Navy. I just think we'd be getting better play out of that unit. But, here's the rub: Does it really matter? No. Each coach would be climbing uphill here in Ann Arbor trying to implement their offense. Think about it this way. Maybe Paul Johnson, because he runs the triple option, goes with Sheridan all year long. That should throw a bucket of cold water on anyone who thinks our record would be as good as Georgia Tech under PJ. That said, with either man, we would have made a great long term hire with a guy who has the potential to be the best coach in the Big 10. I was doing back flips when we signed Rodriqguez. But, I would have done the same had we tabbed Johnson. Or Jim Grobe.
Alright, before this gets to be tl;dr, lets get into this week's Big 10 picks:
Purdue at Michigan St. Lines, MSU -9, O/U 53.5. Two of my favorite angles come together in this game: Purdue's inability to compete against good teams and the Spartan's historic dominance in their home finale. I've mentioned the Boilers punching bag status against quality teams, going 4-23 SU, 9-18 ATS, against eventual bowl teams since the start of 2005. Thats in play today against Michigan State, a team still harboring strong hopes of a Rose Bowl appearance. What's also in play is a situation that has been a mandatory bet of mine for years: The Spartans in the final home game of the year. MSU is 18-3 ATS in their home finale. Armed with the extra emotion on Senior Day, the Spartans will blow out Purdue. Purdue has had trouble scoring in conference play against the upper echelon of the league. They'll struggle to exceed 14 points in this one. I think MSU's big play, physical secondary will thwart Siller in a way UM could not last week. And, if Minor Rage could go off on the Boilers, what will Ringer do in his last appearance at Spartan Stadium? He might come close to 200 yards. In their three road games this year, Purdue has lost by 17, 13 and 22 points to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Northwestern. Against Sparty, they wont fare any better.
The Pick, MSU -9...........the Spartans will win this one by three touchdowns in an emotional send off for a senior class that is a few outcomes away from completing an amazing chapter in program history.
Western Michigan at Illinois, Lines Illini -7, O/U 59. Perhaps a Motor City Bowl preview, so much so that they're playing the game in Detroit at the site of the famed December Bowl. In this game, we have perhaps the best passing offenses in their respective leagues squaring off on the fast track of Ford Field. Defense optional in this game and expect big games from QBs Tim Hiller and Juice Williams. The Broncos are a solid team and wont shrink from this moment, while the Illini have struggled in the role of favorite all season long, going 1-3-1 this year when laying points. The Broncos will move all day on the Illini and be a thorn in their side the whole way through.
The Pick, WMU +7, Over 59........both teams will sneak into the 30s. You have to like the Broncos who look at this game like a major bowl game as compared to the Illini who might be a disinterested favorite playing a MAC foe with Ohio State on deck.
Wisconsin at Indiana, Lines Wisconsin -10, O/U 51. Both teams are off disappointing, last minute losses. Both teams need this win or a bowl bid becomes a pipe dream. Both teams are below Michigan in the league standings. Yuck. There's nothing to really like about either teams in this one. IU can always be counted on to score a lot of points at home and they're averaging a little more than 27 ppg in Bloomington this year. I think they can hit that mark in this contest. Much like the Illini game above, both teams could very well hit the 30s in this game as I dont expect IU to be able to shut down the running attack of Wisconsin. Here's a stat, the winner in IU games this year has scored 37 ppg, exceeding 40 points five times. Its safe to say there will plenty of points in this contest.
The Pick, Over 51......38-24, 38-31, 38-28, those all sound like logical scores. Neither team has been reliable enough where I think they can cover, but i feel good about it being a shoot out. I think the total will exceed 60 points.
Ohio State at Northwestern, Lines, OSU -11, O/U. The Bucks have destroyed Northestern in recent years. This year, its hard to see the Wildcats, as banged up as they are, having much success against a Buckeye D that after some initial wobbliness is hitting its stride. They're allowing just 13.33 ppg this season and if you take out the USC debacle, that number goes down almost to single digits. Despite the success of the Wildcat season, its safe to say that they're no USC. Its a lot of points to be laying on the road, but other than the 2004 upset, there is no history in this series for Northwestern to hang its hat on. It might be ugly, but the Bucks will strangle NW's offense, create a couple turnovers and blow this game wide open in the second half. I dont think the Wildcats will reach double digits.
The Pick, OSU -11.......here are some interesting technical trends I dug up while looking into this game: OSU is 11-1 ATS on the road after a loss, 9-0 on the road against .667 or better teams and are 14-6 ATS in their last 20 road games, including 13-4 when favored. This has 27-7 written all over it.
Michigan at Minnesota, Lines Minny -7.5, O/U 47. I dont know whats worse. The fact Michigan is catching more than a TD against a program they've beaten all but twice in the last 30 years. Or that I have no real confidence that they can stay within the number. Who here does not think that Erik Decker will catch more than 10 passes or that QB Adam Weber will have his best game of the season? Who here cant see UM being -3 in the turnover category? Seriously, can someone point me in the direction of a Book where I can take the Over on Decker receptions and put a small amount on the odds of the Gophers scoring a defensive touchdown. Those both sound like easy money. Still, I feel like I have to take Michigan since I always do when they are true underdogs like this. They are 13-4 ATS as dogs of more than 4 points. Sure, they've lost five in a row, but they were in position to win three of those games late into the fourth and were tied were #3 PSU 17-17 with 4 to go in the third. I think they'll be in this game all the way through.
The Pick, UM +7.5, Over 47........they have to cover sometime, right? And, why get off the Over train that Michigan has been on? Consider their Big 10 games. An average of 65.2 ppg have been scored with the winner averaging more than 40 points. I expect those numbers to be the same, although in Michigan's favor by this time in 2010. Anyway, the Gophers win 34-28 turning away a late Michigan drive with a pick in the end zone. Look at it this way, thats one way UM has not lost yet this year.
Penn St at Iowa, Lines PSU +7.5, O/U 46. This will be a war. Not many teams bring a physical game to the table the way the Hawkeyes do. King and Kroul on their defensive line will be the biggest interior test the Lions OL has faced all season long. And, while the OL might not be vintage for a Ferentz team, it fires off the ball hard and has opened up holes for Shon Green against every single team they've played this year. Green has been the best player in the Big 10 this season and he may be enough to drive the upset tomorrow. Iowa has perennially been one of the best ATS teams at home and are 36-16 ATS in their last 52 games in Iowa City. While they're just 6-10 in their last 16 games at home, Iowa is also playing their best ball over the last month than at any time since the 2004 season. I still question whether or not PSU QB Daryl Clark can deliver a clutch throw in a tight game in the fourth quarter. He has not had to do that all season long. Iowa under DC Norm Parker limits the number of big plays a team hits on them. They will take that away from PSU's arsenal today. And, they dont give up many points, either. I am having a hard time seeing Penn State score more than 23 points today. They will milk Shon Green and this will remain anyone's game late into the fourth quarter.
The Pick, Iowa +7.5..........we have three big showdowns today involving the top three teams in the country. All three, this one included, will be decided in the final minutes. It will be one of the more dramatic days of the season. This feels like such a big trap game for PSU. I give Iowa a better than 50/50 chance at spring the outright upset.
Should be a fun day of football today. Its getting downright cold and wintery up north today, so might as well hunker down and enjoy the action. Hopefully these eight picks are all winners.
Overall column record is 20-16-1.