Big 10 Picks, On The Hunt For OverDogs
(Alternate Title: Braving the Weather Edition)
Diarist's Note: A few minutes before kick and the action is final. Here were the odds I got going to the windown at the buzzer: UM +4, Over 53.5, Wisco +3, Over 52.5, NW +7, O 57
We're one month into the season, and just one week into Big 10 play, and already we've seen the league's offseason conventional wisdom and pecking order usurped. Iowa rudely crashed the Big Two of Ohio State and Penn State. Darkhorses Illinois and Michigan State struggled to a combined 0-5 against Bowl Subdivision teams and need fast reversals just to get back into bowl contention. Michigan might be a candidate. Wisconsin, thought to be on the decline, are 4-0, looking as dangerous as ever on offense.
This week's storylines include two intense rivalry games, league heavyweights laying heavy chalk, including two in road games and a lot of teams fighting to save their season or extend the early season good times. As for my picks, we took a dip last week going 3-4. Iowa and the Michigan Over were Ab Fab. But, I should have to wear a bag over my head in shame for a day for hitching my wagon to Illinois. The biggest mistake I made was not adding the MSU/Wisco Over to the card. I did so at the JCB, but right at the last minute before we left in the morning for Ann Arbor. Why I didnt do so here is beyond me. It loomed large as I would not have had to face the indignity of a losing record. Eh, those are the breaks. The column record this year is 13-7, so I really should stop the bellyaching routine. The positive MGoMojo has been good to my picks ever since I began penning diaries, so let's keep that going this weekend.
Northwestern +7 at Purdue, O/U 57, noon, BTN
Wisconsin +3 at Minnesota, O/U 52.5, noon, ESPN
Michigan +4 at Michigan State, O/U 53.5, noon, BTN
I am grouping these games all together, not just because they all kick at high noon, but because I have a theory on the Big 10 this year. We'll get a lot of proof in either direction with this trio of games. And, of course, we're putting our money where our mouth is. It would not be fun otherwise, right?
This will be the year of the crazy shootout here in Big 10 country. Part of it is I think some of the offenses are underrated and potent. I love the skill position players throughout the huddled masses of this league. Al Toon, Jon Clay, Brandon Green, Tate Forcier, BJ Cunningham and Darius Willis just to name several underclassmen who are emerging as the next great round of playmakers and game changers for the league. I'd argue 10 teams in this league are experiencing a significant upgrade at the QB position from a year ago. Sorry Illinois. It's really been several years since I've looked out at the conference landscape and felt that so many teams pose a dangerous offensive threat. I dont expect this to be as shockingly explosive as say the Big 12 South last season, but I dont think it will be too far behind. Most can score 30 with no problem if they're on their game.
And these emerging offenses have the benefit of playing in a season where the defense across the conference might be at an all-time low. Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State can play D, for sure. In fact, they're the only ones I trust on that side of the ball and why, right now, I only consider those three to have any legit BCS Bowl hopes. The rest? Try a combination of too young, not talented enough, no depth and poor fundamentals. Most teams can circle at least two of those plaguing their defensive hopes. Just take a look at the six teams involved in these conference nooners. I think Minnesota might have the best defense of the bunch. If its not them, it might be Purdue. I can't justify putting any of the other four schools at the top of this list. Coming into the season, I thought the Boilers and Gophers D would be among the bottom 2-3 stop units in the league. But, the fact they may rate better than these other outfits is not as much a reflection on any improvement on their part as much as it is a major downgrade of the others.
What does any of this mean? I think it means a lot of points. A lot of teams scoring 30 or more points and still losing. Since it still looks like mass chaos in the league's bursting middle class in the pecking order behind the top team, this will play out with exciting, dramatic up tempo games. It wont be your father's Big 10. But, it might be more fun to watch. The chase for bowl positioning will rival the topsy-turvy world that was the ACC last season. Handicapping this league will prove dangerous for chalk lovers as with these shootouts, the underdogs will regularily make runs at the favorite with more than their share of outright "upsets." When these teams play each other, I see a lot of Overs hitting, and I see a lot of Dogs covering.
I like the sound of that. I enjoy games where I like both the Dog and the Over. Everyone has their own style and mine is rocking when I'm able to pinpoint games with this Dog/Over combo. In 2009, I think we're going to find a lot of these games in Big 10 play. We saw two of these combos cross the stage last week out of five league games. Because of their defenses, I would exclude games involving Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa from this hunt, so really in the first week of play two out of three games hit this combo, with the third at least seeing the Over hitting.
I said in the middle of September that any game involving Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin should be Over bets. During the podcast segment I did with Brian and Tim, I expanded that list a bit, but now really see no reason to include all the other eight teams in this league into this equation. They're all worth a look at the Over every week until these defenses prove they can stop the offenses. And, when they're playing each look extra close, we might have our lucky Dog/Over combo. I think we have it in all three of these nooners. Therefore.....
Wisconsin +3 over Minny, Over 53........one of the greatest rivalries in the Big 10. It's also one of the highest scoring games of the season. In six of the last nine contests, both teams have scored at least 30 points. In eight of the last nine contests, at least 60 points have been scored. No reason to think that'll stop. The Badgers will have a hard time all day containing Erik Decker. And Minny QB Adam Weber has slowly, but surely brought in the other receivers into the downfield game. They're a running game a away from going from good offense to dangerous. The Badgers already are dangerous. I've said it a few times in various diaries and comment threads, but the Badgers might have the best collection of skill players in the conference. They have so many guys who can hurt you and a typical big Wisco offensive line blocking for them. If they're going to dedicate getting Jonathan Clay the ball the way they did last week against MSU, then the Badgers will make a run at league honors. Brett Bielema, if you keep Clay as your feature back, I will take back everything I have said about you. Well, most of it, anyway.
Northwestern +8 over Purdue, Over 56......I said on the podcast I like Purdue to win. I still do. But, there is no way, no how they are more than a TD better than anyone in this league. Northwestern has won three of the last five straight up in this series, so you can make a case they're the better program right now. I'll take this head start. As for the Over, Northwestern has not stopped anyone in three weeks, a cast that includes Minnesota, Syracuse and Eastern Michigan. Purdue has allowed more than 32 points per game. Ironically, their best outing was last week against Notre Dame. That was such a weird ND lineup, however, with injuries knocking out entirely or limiting severely almost all their glitzy weapons. That was a bit of a fluke. I hate the be repetitive, but I see both teams scoring 30 points here.
Michigan +3.5 over Michigan State, Over 54.......what, it's raining? No worries. Why would two defenses already a step slow, hesitant to the ball carrier and a twisted mess in pass coverage suddenly get better at that in rainy weather. The offense, after all, knows where its going and thats a strategic advantage. The game will have sloppy moments, but some of those will set up short field scores. These clubs have already played two games apiece where the loser has scored 30 or more. Why would that stop here. Both teams are better at the QB position this year. Both teams have receivers who have improved their games from a year ago. Michigan, in specific, also has an offensive line playing better and more explosiveness from the tailback spot than 2008. These teams scored 56 points last season and both offenses are better. Neither of the defenses are better. MSU cant get off the field, having forced just five three and outs or better than last three weeks and have been easy pickings on third down. We know Michigan's troubles. In the end, Michigan has the one defensive chip State does not and that is the presence of Brandon Graham who murdered the Spartans last year. He will come up with a huge play to kill MSU's final drive. Michigan 41-37.
As for the other Big 10 games of the day, I'm changing suits, and I will be an unabashed chalk eating mo*!@*!er.
Penn State -7 at Illinois. When you watch the Illini, recall that they were the top team on Phil Steele's Most Improved Team list. Yikes. This team is a mess. I dont see how they get better against a angry, bitter Penn State team that cant wait to take out some frustrations. They may sleep walk a bit, but eventually they pull away here. Illinois is the one team in this league that's seen an obvious regression of production at the QB spot. That's going to hurt them all year and drive them into the cellar of this league. Oh, and their defense blows donkey. No Sugarcoat. I'm not sure this game will be any tougher than previous 2009 tussles for Penn State against the likes of Temple and Syracuse. The Nittany Lions win this game by double digits.
Ohio State -17 at Indiana. Speaking of double digit wins. And then some. The Bucks roll. The crowd in Bloomington might be a 50/50 split, and the IU athletic department might have been better off relocating this game to Cincinnati or something and at least cash a paycheck. They wont get much of a home field push. Only twice since 1994 have the Hossiers stayed within 17 points of the Buckeyes, and the Bucks have won the last five matchups by an average of 30 points. Oh sure, the Cream and Crimson in me wants to see IU do to OSU what I saw them do in person to Michigan last week. But I'm keeping those hopes firmly in check. In the last ten games with the Buckeyes, Indiana has not scored more than 17 points in any of them and seven times been held to 10 points or less. Ohio State is all business on road trips. Frankly, they play much better on the road as they dont have 100,000 insane freaks grumbling every time Tressel Ball calls a punt. Ohio State is 15-4 as road favorites since 2005 and they're 12-1 ATS on the road agasint teams that are .667 or better. Ironically, Indiana fits that bill. Road success has followed the Buckeyes to Bloomington where they covered seven or eight against IU. Buckeyes win this by three touchdowns. Indiana will look like a mere shadow of the team we saw up close last week.
Iowa -21 over Arkansas State. Only by the spirit of the agreement that I would play every Big 10 game once league season starts does this game make the list. I wont lie, this game is getting a small amount placed on it as far as real monetary values go. Actually, I'll say it now. I'm passing on this game. Iowa has been known to play down a bit to their foe, especially after a big game. And therein lies the rub. This is a classic sandwich game, a week after such a breakout victory over PSU and a week before another primetime showdown against hated Michigan. The Hawks have spent all week being feted for last Saturday with a lot of hype already being thrown on next week's home game under the lights on national TV. Oh. Yeah. That's right, Arky State comes into town first. It's good policy to avoid heavy chalk wedged in this sort of sammy. So, its hard to recommend Iowa. But, I cant go against them either. Not at home. Kinnick Stadium has been very, very. very good to me over the years. I hate not betting on the Hawks when they're at home. It's like a parent missing their kids Little League game. But, I think I'm going to have to in this case. The power of the Sammy is too strong. While Iowa is 19-8 as double digit home chalk under Ferentz, their actually just 3-8 in that role the last three years. We wont be doing anything with this game. Pass.
(Diarist Note: I'll have a couple updates on the JCB during Saturday. First one about half way through College Gameday, although I dont think I'll have anything to say about the rest of the noon schedule beyond these Big 10 games.)