this may be of some local interest
You’ll have to excuse the Big 10 if they feel a little bit like the counselors from Camp North Star as the league heads into the final night of this year’s Big 10/ACC Challenge.
What, you don’t remember Camp North Star? It’s from the late 1970s comedic classic Meatballs, one of Ivan Reitman’s first breakthrough films. The movie was a pretty standard, slapstick comedy revolving around the antics of the goofiest set of camp counselors ever assembled. It’s one of Bill Murray’s first starring roles, debuting a year before Caddyshack and Carl Spackler was introduced into the world.
One of plot lines of the movie was the camp’s rivalry with the more ritzy and glitzy Camp Mohawk from across the lake. Each year the camps competed in an Olympiad. And, each year Mohawk drubbed North Star like a drum.
That’s how the Big 10/ACC Challenge has played out over the years. The ACC, the more tradition rich and talented league in basketball, has won this challenge, often with ease, every year since its inception. Camp North Star versus Camp Mohawk. Big 10 versus ACC. The results are the same every year.
That might be changing this season. Heading into the final night, the leagues are actually tied at three wins apiece. This is newsworthy because it puts a little drama into tonight’s actions. Usually, the ACC is so far ahead that nothing short of a sweep on the final night would do it for the Big 10.
In the movie, Tripper (Murray’s character) inspired his legion of underdogs with a stirring pep talk, claiming it does not matter if they win or lose and repeating the phrase ‘it just doesn’t matter’ until the whole room joined him.
So, does it even matter if the Big 10 wins this challenge? Probably not. I doubt come March that a random Big 10 team will sneak into the field of 65 based solely on the fact that their conference won the Big 10/ACC Challenge. But, for the individual teams there is a lot at stake.
Ohio State and Minnesota will be two teams sitting on the bubble throughout the winter and their wins last night against Miami and Virginia respectively will only enhance their resume. On the other hand, Purdue, a trendy final four pick, has now lost consecutive high profile games. The drubbing Duke gave them last night--on their home floor none the less—could hurt their seeding in March and make their trek through the brackets even tougher. Illinois, which had been creating a nice resume on their own with some hard fought November wins, let a crucial game slip away at home last night against Clemson. Ohio State and Minnesota boosted their resumes, while Illinois did not. All three clubs figure to be bubble teams and last night’s results could be revisited when the selection committee convenes.
In tonight’s action, there really is not that much at stake for the Big 10 teams. Indiana, Penn St and Northwestern are tournament long shots, at best. Their resumes ultimately will be irrelevant. Michigan St, barring an unprecedented winter collapse, will be in the field regardless of how their showdown with the Tar Heels goes. That leaves one team with a lot of stakes on the line tonight: Michigan.
When Michigan and Maryland play each other tonight, two teams looking to regain former glory will but heads. We all know about UM’s tourney drought, but the Terps, despite being a program that’s considered a power, have missed three of the last four NCAA Tournaments. Both teams are also looking to rebound a little after following impressive victories earlier in the year with ‘meh’ follow up games.
Michigan may have the signature win of the season with their upset of UCLA. But, Michigan was totally outclassed by Duke in their next game and needed overtime to avoid an upset at the hands of Savannah State over the weekend. Maryland, meanwhile, may have the second most noteworthy win of the year when they upset Michigan State on Thanksgiving Day. But, they followed that up by being blown out by Gonzaga and Georgetown.
There is more positive buzz around these programs than originally expected because of those upsets, but the loser tonight risks giving up all that good will. That big November win will be looked upon as a fluke. Both of these teams could spend all season on the bubble, so their head to head outcome will trumpet one program and dog the other all winter long.
For Michigan, this is the front end of an important week as the WolverineS host Duke in a rematch on Saturday. If Michigan can get at least one win this week, they’ll probably be considered a tourney team in most of the early field of 65 projections. Coming off one of the worst seasons in program history, just positioning itself to be a member of the tournament field when the league season begins would be a pretty big step towards ending the decade long absence from March Madness.
According to the experts in the desert, Maryland is favored tonight by 6 points. That’s a pretty reasonable line for a home team to be laying in a fairly even matchup. I like the Wolverines chances tonight, not only to cover the spread, but notch the outright win. The Terps are a perfect matchup for Michigan.
Maryland is a doughnut team, meaning they have no center. They have a #4 playing the #5 and a #3 playing the #4. That works to Michigan’s advantage as they’ve vulnerable to big, bruising and banging teams. That description does not fit the Maryland Terrapins. Michigan might have an edge in the frontcourt, given the scoring and overall sound play they’ve been getting from DeShaun Sims, who will be a sixth man of the year candidate if he keeps up his good play.
Maryland’s best player, Grevais Vasquez, is a turnover machine. The Terps take a lot of bad shots. Both of those will come into play tonight under the scrutiny of UM’s 1-3-1 zone defense. Neither team is very deep, but Michigan has shown a lot more second half legs than Maryland. Plus, the Terps could still be worn out from the grueling weekend tournament they took part in, during which they played MSU, Gonzaga and Georgetown. I would be surprised if Michigan was not the fresher team this evening.
Michigan will have the best player on the floor tonight in Manny Harris. With Sims, they might even have the second best. As long as they don’t shrink in the moment of a tough a road environment, I think Michigan can pull away and win the second half.
As for the rest of the Big 10 tonight, it does not look as rosy.
Camp North Star finally beat Camp Mohawk because the scrappy Rudy Gardner won the final event, a distance race through the woods. The Big 10 will need to channel a whole bunch of Rudy Gardner to come out ahead. Indiana will be taken behind the woodshed tonight by Wake Forest. Expect the Deacons to win by at least 20 points. Penn St has shown some scoring acumen this year, but I don’t like their chances in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. Northwestern at least is playing at home, and are slight favorites actually over Florida St. Still, the Noles will have too much in the end.
The marquee game is UNC and MSU playing in front of 70,000 fans at Ford Field. The Spartans will have a nice home court edge, but nobody expects that to really help. UNC is a whopping 10-point favorite tonight. I am not sold on MSU just yet. I’d be impressed if Raymar Morgan stays out of foul trouble and his coach’s doghouse long enough to keep this game close.
But, like Tripper said, it just does not matter if the Big 10 tops the ACC in this challenge. That scoreboard tally won’t mean much come March.
But, the outcome specifically of the Michigan/Maryland contest will loom large and matter in a few months.
I attended my first Michigan game during the 1979 season. Bo was exactly half way through his tenure as coach in Ann Arbor. Anthony Carter was a freshmen. Michigan had beaten OSU three straight times, but were facing the reality of replacing the all-world Rick Leach at quarterback. Bob Ufer painted Maize and Blue scenes for all of us.
My first game was against Northwestern. While my memories of the game and who did what are fuzzy, I do know the Wolverines flat out destroyed the Cats, 49-0. It could have been 56-0, but a late score by Michigan was nullified by a penalty. The scoreboard operator had already put the TD on the board, but I still remember by grandfather telling me they would erase the score from the board. At that point, I got this image of a giant eraser coming from the sky to do the work. Even now, when points are taken off the board, I flashback to this scene. Maybe its because I am sitting in the seats, all these years later.
The other notable occurence from that game were the amazing 100-year anniversary special yearbooks they sold. It proved to be my Michigan History Book for years to come as I embraced and voraciously ate up whatever knowledge I could on the program. Everything was in there to fire up the imagination of a kid who was drunk on Maize and Blue Kool Aid.
I was so excited that in school the following week, I made it my show and tell for class. Decked out in a UM sweatshirt, I talked about my first game, the tradition and attempted to pass on the UM gospel. I'll never forget the pair of kids in the middle of the room, though, quietly heckling me. They were Ohio State fans. Throughout my time in front of the room, they were miming thumbs down and mouthing Go Bucks, Michigan Sucks.
My love for Michigan and disdain for Ohio Stae got cemented in that week long cycle when I as 7 years old. I feel like I've been battling these scarlet and gray fools my entire life. And now, another chapter in the series that defines way too many of us on both sides of the aisle, has arrived.
Michigan comes in at its weakest point in most of our lifetimes. Everyone knows the deal. I wont rehash it. OSU is favored by over 20 points. Everyone keeps harping on the fact its the biggest line in series history. That may be true, but seeing a heavy favorite in this game is not new territory. Both teams have been double digit favorites at least a couple of times within the last 20 years.
In 1996, Ohio State was a 17.5 point home favorite, which is not a whole lot more of a mismatch than a 20.5 point line we're seeing today. On that day 12 years ago, the gap between the teams seemed as far as ever. Yet, Michigan won that day.
The next year they won the National Championship.
The sports world changes fast. Stay patient guys. Our time will come.
Alright, on to, sadly, the final installment of Big 10 Picks. We've had a nice run since we debuted on 9/27, logging a 29-22-1 record. Today we have big rivalries and a ton of bowl positioning on the line. And, most importantly, I look forward to one last day of CIL/Open Thread discussion with my mgofriends.
Michigan at Ohio State. Lines, OSU -20.5, O/U 44
As Brian pointed out in his own preview, its hard to construct a scenario in which Michigan pulls out a win today. I think they have to land the game's first few punches and stake out to a lead in order to have a chance. But, then again, it does not matter as far as this column goes if they win or not. Its about covering the spread. In retrospect, the worst part about this season has not be the Wolverine's ineptitude on the field, but the fact I haven't made any money of their woes, despite seeing it all unfold up close. I actually picked UM seven times in this weekly piece and gone 2-5. I should have learned from that. I have not. I'm going down swinging with my boys today. I think they make us proud with their fight today.
The Pick: Michigan +20.5......do you know the last time someone was even winning during the course of a game by more than 20 points in this rivalry? That would be 1991, UM 31-3. Michigan was up 24-3 at half. Desmond puncuated the game with his historic punt return in the second half. For a modern day Michigan fan, doesn't that have to be one of the top-5 moments in the history of this series? I was somehow sitting in the OSU section of Michigan Stadium that afternoon and thats the end zone he struck his lasting Heisman pose in. Folks, now that moment was priceless.
Indiana at Purdue. Lines, Purdue -11.5, O/U 52
The Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket has been one sided the entire Joe Tiller era. Its hard to imagine he's going to let this baby slip away in his final appearence at Ross Ade Stadium. I expect the Boilers to be about as effective offensively in his game as they were against Michigan (gulp). I also faith in the Hoosier offense. I am always a sucker for taking the underdog in both rivalry games and in games between sub par teams this late in the season. Dont forget, Indiana comes into this game with pretty good QB play and they should be able to score points along with the Boilers. Weather might be snowy, or I would take a lilte bite of the Over.
The Pick: IU +11.5......Picking against Purdue has worked for this column, going 4-2. Meanwhile, its been an inconsistent season calling IU games, but still a winning 6-5 record has emerged when calling bets on the side of total involving Hoosier game.
Michigan St and Penn St. Lines, PSU -14.5, O/U 47.5
Everyone seems to be calling for a Penn State blowout in this one. Indeed, its easy to see that happening, given the egg Sparty laid when OSU was across the field from them. And, that was at home. Today will be a tougher challenge than that. I actually think MSU is going to hang around in this one. They've had a week off and I think that will give them a strategic advantage early on. I expect the Spartans to show us some different looks today to get an early edge. Of course, Penn St will be just as aggressive in their last home game. I think we're also going to see a whole mess of points. I think Ringer will star in his last game and find the end zone a couple of times. Derrick Williams for PSU? Ditto. This has been traditionally one of the highest scoring series in the Big 10. In the 15 times these clubs have played since the Lions joined the league, only twice has the combined total score not reached 50. I'll be riding that history today.
The Pick: MSU +14.5, Over 47.5.......lets be honest. That hook on the 14 looms big. I can see a 35-21 type final score. I might think a bit differently about the final outcome had the line been 13.5 as PSU could pull away with a great closing kick in front of its home fans.
Illinois at Northwestern. Lines, Illini -2.5 (-118), O/U 53
Did you know teams that played Michigan this year are only 2-7-1 ATS the following week? Uh oh, Northwestern. I guess that means other teams are absolutely leaving it all on the field in their quest to notch a rare win for their program against the Maize and Blue. Yeah, thats the ticket. Nevertheless, in this matchup between two teams that have crossed me up all season, i'll lean on that phenomena to make a call. I was so smart about the Illini back in August when I said they would enter November with a .500 record. I was less smart about the Illini back on the final Saturday of October when I said they would win out the rest of their slate. Oops. They've gone 1-3 since that proclamation. I probably should get off them, but I wont. Illini, I just cant quit you. You should have too much offensive talent in this game. All the firepower that teams like Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan lacked the day they played Northwestern wont come into play today. I think Illinois has the potential to win this one going away.
The Pick: Illini -2.5.....hey, if they win they'll get the Motor City Bowl Bid. Who wouldn't play their asses off with a trip to Windsor, er, I mean, Detroit on the line. Illinois wins this 27-21.
Iowa at Minnesota. Lines, Iowa -6, O/U 42.
No game on the board is pulling me in different directions as this one. On one hand, back in my Bowl Projection Diary back in August, I predicted the Gophers rise this year, saying they would notch a bowl win and beat Iowa in the finale to get that bid. On the other hand, I've been a huge Iowa and Shon Green backer for over a month now to some profitable results. Minnesota is a home dog in name only as half the fans tonight will have trucked up from Iowa to support the Hawks. Iowa fans have always joked that the Hump Dome is Kinnick Stadium North. Another reason this game has me twisting is the fact that these are the two teams I have been most successful with gambling this season. In Gopher games, I am 7-3 taking the side or total, including 3-1 when biting on Minny themselves. Iowa? Try 7-2-1. Basically, this column has been successful because for whatever reason I am locked into the pulse of these two teams.
So where does that leave us tonight? I think Minnesota matches up well with Iowa. I like Weber to have a good game. Mobile QBs can hurt Iowa. They have a great front on D, but struggle actually getting to the QB. Weber will be one step ahead of them a lot today, and really hurt Iowa with his legs. WR Decker is back and Iowa has no DBs who can cover him. Expect at least 10 catches and a TD. I also think Iowa still is turnover prone and the Gophers remain one of the more opportunistic teams in the country. I've seen enough of these teams play this season and if I could play a longshot prop bet it would be the Minny D putting up a score of their own. Of course, Shon Green wont be stopped. He'll pop for close to 200 yards and find the end zone twice. Stanzi will make a big play or two and the Iowa D will also create turnovers. This is going to be a great game. It'll go back and forth. In the end, some sort of Pig statue will be won. The Hawks have owned this series of late, but lost the time they played in Minny in 2006 and won by just 2 on the road in 2004. This game goes down to the wire and will be every bit as exciting--and high scoring--as last week's Gopher/Badger game.
The Pick: Minnesota +6, Over 42.....Some of my favorite players from this year's Big 10 season will be on the field. Ought to be fun. Shon Green seals his Big 10 MVP candidacy with a huge final drive and score as the Hawks pull it out, 30-27, in the closing minute.
There you go. The final Big 10 Picks of the season. We're seven games clear of .500, so hopefully we can cap off the season with a winning week and add to it. Have fun watching the games today.
Go Blue.....and Boo on the Bucks.
Oh, UCLA, Michigan cant seem to quit you. Just when you're off the schedule, you reappear as an opponent in this pre-conference tournament. Luckily, the Bruins survived a spirited effort out of Miami Ohio last week to advance to tonight's semifinal game against Michigan.
Previously, the teams had played for six straight seasons, but that series ended last year. The first couple of years of this head to head worked out well for Michigan as they notched wins over the Bruins. Of course, those were the final two years of the Stevie Lavin era. Since BEN Howland took over, things have bee much different in this series. The Bruins won and covered each of the final four meetings, at times dominating the Michigan squad. Remarkably, as recently as 2005, Michigan was favered by seven points to win in this matchup. Since then, UCLA has played in three Final Fours. Michigan, meanwhile, uh, has not. Tonight, the Bruins are favored by 12 points.
Michigan advanced to this game with a pair of smooth wins over Michigan Tech and Northeastern. The Wolverines played good D, shot the ball reasonably well and Manny Harris showed All-American potential in those games. That was nice. Step forward and take a bow. Now, forget about it. The next two nights, the competition takes a major step up with the Bruins tonight and either Duke or Southern Illinois tomorrow.
It begs the question of not only how will Michigan perform, but what should Michigan fans' expectations be for their squad during the rest of this tournament?
A third place finish--meaning a win tomorrow night--would set the bar a little bit higher for UM this season. If they can get out of this foursome with one win, considering the other three squads are perennial tournament teams and each season rank among the best defensively in the country, it would signal a tougher Michigan squad than what they've shown in recent years. It could set them up for a run at the upper half of a pretty watered down Big 10.
Its hard to see Michigan getting by UCLA tonight. I would be happy just to see Michigan compete, give the Bruins a run for their money and cover the spread.
You have to wonder how Michigan is going to score against UCLA tonight. In the last three matchups with the Bruins, Michigan has averaged just 56.6 ppg and shot a combined 38.9% from the field. While the operation looked smooth last week, no secondary scorer emerged after Harris. The Bruins specialize in taking out the other team's best guy and making others beat them. Dont expect that scorer to emerge tonight against the stingy Bruins who have been ranked in the top-10 nationally in scoring D each year during their Final Four run. Can Harris overcome the Bruin D? Can he score 30 tonight? More importanly perhaps, is can he score the ball tonight with efficiency and help set up his teammates?
The Bruins counter with Darren Collison at point guard. Its unclear how much Harris and Collison will match up head to head, but you have two of the best guards in the country tonight. That alone will make this quality viewing. If Collison stands out over Harris, this will be a blowout. If Harris has the upper hand, then Michigan might be in the ball game the whole way through.
Overall, the jury is out on this year's UCLA team. They are not as talented and fine tuned as other Howland squads. Other than Collison and Josh Shipp, they are relying on a lot of freshmen. And, while its a great freshmen class, they looked out of sorts in their game with Miami last week. Miami is a tough team to play. They play in your shorts D and have a goofy, half court style of O, that always seems to surprise the big name out of conference foes. Collison and Shipp starred against Miami, but they needed every bit they got out of them to advance. The rest of the club, however, shot less than 40 percent against Miami. If Michigan can keep the ball out of Collison's hands, the Wolverines can probably thwart the young Bruins with their 1-3-1 defense. Of course, keeping the ball out of Collison's hands is a lot easier said than done.
Beyond the win-loss expectation, I think there is an intangible element of success or failure that hangs in the air the next two nights for the Michigan basketball program. Can they come out of these two games with their confidence intact? Even if they go 0-2, do they do it in close affairs, or, under the pressure of some of the best D they'll face all year, do they wilt and get blown out?
Lets assume they go to the consolation game and play SIU tomorrow. The Salukis are a great program coming off a down season. Despite that, Chris Lowery's crew was right up there with UCLA in most defensive categories last year. If you can score 60 or more against the Egyptian Dogs, then you are doing better than most. In a span of 24 hours, Michigan will be playing a pair of teams that have the best defensive systems in the country. For a team that has no consistent secondary scoring, it could get ugly.
Aesthetics may be as important as the actual scoreboard results for Michigan the next two nights. Last year, the team came out looking OK, but then struggled mightily against some cupcakes. The team never recovered their confidence until late February. By that point, any possible postseason berth was off the table. UCLA and then Duke/SIU can destroy this team's confidence. Would anybody be totally shocked if Michigan failed to score a combined 100 points the next two nights? Disappointed, yes. But, totally out of left field shocked? No.
The next two nights are not as much about wins and losses for Michigan. Its about can they stand up and play against some of the winningest programs of the decade? Its about can their offensive system manage enough efficiency against some of the best defenses they will face all year? Its about role players like David Merrit, who was a surprisingly steady force in the opening games last week, not being so overwhelmed by the step up in competition that his confidence does not get so shattered. If the team goes 1-1 or loses a pair of competitive games, then feel free to raise your expectations a little. If the team loses its dignity and the coaches have to spend time rebuilding their spirits, then keep your expectations down until further notice.
Enough of what I think. What about you guys? Are you interested at all in these games? What do you expect out of UM in these games? In your mind,what would be a succesful weekend for the hoops team?
The season is winding down. Rather than embracing the final weeks of the football season, I am trying to talk myself into college basketball because once I do that I know I will remain interested and engaged in the sporting world for the next several months even as college football fades to black. By the time that rush ends, it will be April. The hockey playoffs and newness of the baseball season will take me into summer. And, hey, by that point, isn't the college football offseason really over. The new Phil Steele magazine will be out by then. Blue Ribbon wont be far behind. So will the latest Hail To The Victors. See, if you think about, next season is really almost here. Phew, I am glad I got that solved. Western Michigan, you are officially On Notice, bitches! Anyway, onto this week's Big 10 Picks, where we hope to keep the good times rolling (26-18-1 season long record for Big 10 Picks! Woot!) with the following suggestions.
Indiana at Penn St. Lines, Penn St +36.5, O/U 57.
Its been almost two years since a Big 10 was favored by 30 or more points against another Big 10 team. Feel free to take a venture at what that game was. I'll spill the beans a couple of paragraphs later. As far as this game, you have to question the mindset of Penn St on the heels of such a heartbreaking loss of rare magnitude. Penn St cant wait to come out in a showdown and show people they aren't as clunky as they looked in Iowa. I'm sure they will come out on all cylinders when the Big 10 title is on the line against Michigan State. Next week. As for tomorrow, I highly doubt the lowly Hoosiers have Penn St's undivided attention, at least not enough to cover such a gaudy numbers. IU has looked good in recent weeks. Over the last three games, they've exceeded 20 points each time, only have three turnovers, received imporved QB play from Ben Chappell and found a nice stable of RBs to run with. They scored 31 against Penn St last year and think they can get at least a couple TDs in this one. I feel they have a good chance to crack the 20-point mark. In the early going, expect IU's pressure to thwart Clark enough to keep PSU from going off early. Eventually, the Lions will will rev up and go up and down the field on an IU defense that has a ton of injury issues on its back seven. Its being reported they're playing a WR at Safety in this game and that this week in practice certain guys on D wore black shirts to signal no contact allowed. Still, I think the Hoosiers squeak out enough on offense to cover the five-TD spread.
The Pick: IU +36.5, Over 57........yeah, lots of points will be scored. In fact, I am a little afraid that PSU will cover to Over all by themselves. I'm thinking there's a 10 percent chance this could happen. So, consider the Over bet a hedge on the fact that Penn St comes out smoking and scores more than 60 points.
Purdue at Iowa. Lines, Iowa -18, O/U 44.
The nation has finally caught on to the mini Iowa Renaissance we've seen this autumn. Not to mention the excellence that has been Shon Green's season. Thats what coming through with one of the season's signature upsets will do for you. It will also crowd the betting window. Consider the line movement in this game has grown from 14.5 when LVSC released lines on Sunday to now 18 as kickoff nears. The whole world appears to be on Iowa. Usually, I like fading the public, especially with the Hawks coming off such a huge win and being on serious letdown alert. But, I just cant do it. There's too many numbers I like about Iowa. The Hawks are 37-16 ATS at home and 13-3 ATS in their final home game. November is typically their times as Iowa is 22-15-1 ATS in the final four regular season games of the season in the Ferentz era, 12-6 in home games during those stretches. I never fear laying big chalk with Iowa, especially at home, where they're 17-8 ATS laying double digits. One thing worth pointing out about all those numbers is the 2006 season where the Hawks, shockingly, only covered at home once. All these numbers took a hit because of that outlier. All those numbers have bounced back in the nearly two seasons since. Of course, then there is woeful Purdue. I've been pointing this out all year: Purdue is 4-24 SU, 9-19 ATS against bowl teams. They're 2-6 ATS in that spot this season. This is the last chance to play this angle this year and I see no reason to stop. Purdue has only scrapped up 16 ppg in league play this year, but take out that explosion against UM (a non bowl team, by the way) and the Boilers aren't even scoring more than 10 points in league games. Iowa just does not give up a whole lot of points, allowing 13.2 ppg on the season. I have a hard time seeing Purdue breaking double digits. I expect a Senior Day rout of the 31-7 variety. Iowa makes a big defensive stand in the final minute to preserve the spread.
The Pick: Iowa -18......i just had the following conversation with my friend Cherie about this game. She said she liked Iowa. I reminded her about the possible letdown and the huge spread and asked why she was so quick with the Hawks. "They're at home," she snapped. The last time we had this conversation was their game last season with Syracuse. The Hawks won that 35-0 as 24-point favorites. I'm just sayin!
Northwestern at Michigan, Lines Michigan -3, O/U 46.
The last time another Big 10 was favored by at least 30 points in a conference game was when the Wildcats last visited Ann Arbor late in the 2006 season. A lot has changed since then, although it looks like the weather for this one might be as lousy as it was for the 2006 affair. Tomorrow, the Wildcats arrive in Ann Arbor in an underdog role that has people scratching their heads. Its not often you see a 3-7 team favored to beat a 7-3 team. Michigan has the better running and kicking games heading into tomorrow's game, at least as those units have performed in recent games. That gets them through this slog fest. Northwestern is one of the few teams that will gladly match UM turnover for turnover. I think that comes into play tomorrow and I just have this gut feel that Shaffer is going to come out and unleash the D tomorrow. He must feel like his back is to the wall. If last week was indicative of how he responds in the face of loud public criticsm, then I say we register and administer fireshaffer.com for the next several years just to keep him sweating.
The Pick, UM -3......obviously, backing Michigan is done with reluctance. In the end, I will pay a little extra juice on the money line and just need Michigan to win. But, we're playing with spreads here, so -3 will do. I like having cash on games I go to, and every now and then you have to say 'what the fuck' and just bet with your heart and see what happens.
Ohio State at Illinois, Lines OSU -9.5, O/U 45.5
No team has played Ohio State better in recent seasons than Ron Zook's Illini. The maligned Zooker has a great reputation as a recruiter, but he should also be touted as a great underdog coach. His teams--including his tenure at Florida--are 20-15 ATS when catching points. But, dont you almost have to overlook the 3-7 mark logged that first year in Champagne? He inherited such a dogmeat program that had even less experience than this year's Michigan outfit. Those are some great numbers if you consider 2006 an exception to the rule. Regardless, Zook is 9-5 as an underdog when Mr. Juice Williams is his starting QB. I still think OSU has trouble with the looks a Juice-led offense shows. There's been something off about the Bucks all season long. Britt Miller and Vontae Davis are going to torment young Pryor tomorrow. Last year, OSU could not contain the Illini's big plays or the legs of Juice Williams. The Illini will repeat enough of that effort to make this a back and forth game thats undecided the whole way. Illinois plays so much better at home, scoring over 30 points a game. They are one of the few teams this year that didn't stall against the stingy Iowa D, so I feel like they can have similar success on this field against the Bucks. Illinois lost to OSU by 7 two years ago and upset them in Columbus last season. Illinois is about the same, while OSU is not as good as their predecessors. I dont understand how they can be expected to in this one by double digits. I've boasted all season that OSU would lose twice in the Big 10 this season and have been anticipating Illinois as an attractive home dog in his game for weeks now. We'll see if its too good to be true.
The Pick, Illinois +9.5.......is it worth mentioning that OSU is 3-9 ATS the week before the Michigan game, and 0-6 when that foe is Illinois? I thought you might like to know that.
Minnesota at Wisconsin, Lines Wisco -14, O/U 46
Like the Iowa line, this sucker has has grown with money coming in all week on the favorite. What opened as a 10-point line has settled in at 13.5 for the last couple days. Unlike the Iowa game, I will go against the public grain in this one. In a very underrated rivalry game, the underdog actually has some pretty good numbers, logging a 14-8-1 ATS mark since 1985. That gives me enough of an opening to jump on the Minnesota bandwagon when the rest of the world is fleeing like buffett cooks when the Notre Dame coaching staff walks into their restuarant. Minnesota's downtown conveniently coincided with my Diary back in October praising their turnaround as legit. Thanks Golden Gophers! I love ya! Oh, but I do. In the battle of that weird, big, sorta dangerous looking axe these clubs play for, anything goes and as detailed above you should never count the underdog out. Last year, Wisconsin survived and won by a touchdown late in the game. Minnesota is much better than they were a year ago. Wisconsin this November is not as sharp as last November. Despite the change of venue, this game figures to be as close as last year's match. The Gophers looked terrible last week against Michigan, but wasn't it revealing to hear Wolverine players this week talk about how apparent it was the Gohpers looked past them. In an arguably bigger rivalry game for his local fan base, that wont happen again with master motivator Tim Brewster running the show. The Gophers have covered all four road games this season, winning three outright on the scoreboard. I think they're going to rise up to the moment tomorrow, even without Decker playing at WR.
The Pick, Minny +14 Over 46......I am feeling a shootout in this one. Since 1985, an average of 50.5 ppg have been scored when these teams play. Thats not a big deal, but consider the trend upwards the last eight years, with 67.6 ppg scored a contest. The loser in this game has exceeded 30 points in 5 of the last seven games. Expect Brandon Green to have his first big play TD of his career, Adam Weber to rip off a long TD scamper and one defensive score from its hawking D. Wisco wont be outdone as Clay will shred and slice his way to at least one 40-yard TD, Gilreith and Graham will each snare TDs and the Badgers might just match the Gophers pick-6. While the outcome may only decide who plays in Orlando or Phoenix, the action will exceed those stakes.
Seven picks this week, all five sides and a pair of overs. I dont feel all that awesome about this week's games. First time in a month where I've been shaky on the lines all week. I love underdogs, so its always hard for me to separate that bias when juicy lines get thrown up there. The two most exciting and watchable games will be OSU-Illinois and Minny-Wisco and in both I like the significant dog to keep it close. We'll see if I have fallen into some traps, but my day will be decided on those games.
Have fun watching football tomorrow (although by now, its today), and if you're heading to Ann Arbor, have fun and drive safely, looks like we'll be dealing with bad weather.
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.
No, its not the rallying cry for the Michigan basketball team's march to the final four this Spring. Instead, its all about the exciting chase over the final month of the season to notch a berth in the Motor City Bowl. The annual Detroit gridiron clash pits the MAC champion against the last bowl qualifier from the Big 10.
November will prove exciting as the to bids for this bowl get ironed out. As many as 17 teams still have legitimate sights set on ending the season in Ford Field and beautiful down Detroit.
In the MAC, nothing has been decided yet and only a hanful of teams no longer remain eligible to win the title. In the West, a four team race for the division's top spot is being waged. While Central Michigan and Ball State look to be in the driver's seat, dont count out Western Michigan and Nortern Illinois just yet as they still games against the aforementioned division leaders. They could end up in first place by winning out and getting the right kind of tie break help. Despite that, the game of the year in this division will be a Wednesday night afair between CMU and BSU on November 19.
In the East, there is no such thing as an also ran. Each time remains alive headed into the final month of they year. Any team that gets on a run and wins out will be hard pressed to be topped. Sorting this division out will test the boundaries of the league's tiebreaking systems. How goofy is it in the East? There is only one game today between MAC foes, pitting a 2-6 Kent team against a 3-4 BG team. Despite neither having a winning record, the winner will take a big step in controlling its own destiny in this race.
The best part about the MAC chase for the Motor City (well, other than the division winners will get to spend two stays in Detroit, one for the league finals, the other for the bowl game) is that every game carries implication and most of the contests will be broadcast live on ESPN in midweek affairs. From here on out, expect your Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night football fixes to come from this killer MAC tilts along the road to Destination Detroit. The investment opportunities will be plentiful. I am salivating just thinking about it. While most will be glued to their TV next Tueday night watching election results rolls in, I will be focused on the ESPN network as a huge East battle between Miami and Buffalo plays out.
My prediction for the MAC finals: Central Michigan over Buffalo. Yes, Ball State has had a nice season, but I favor the Chips because their game later this month is in Mount Pleasant. As for the East, I expect Buffalo to shock people and in the division. In Drew Wiley, they have the best QB in the division and they have a great 1-2 punch at the running back slot to help move the chains. They'll lose the finals to the Chips, but they might bet an International Bowl bid, or something, but just an appearance in the finals will be a huge step for this typically morbid program.
How will the Big 10 shake out? Seven teams still remain with their eyes on Detroit. Only four clubs--Penn St, Ohio St, Michigan St, and Minnesota--have played themselves out of contention. Fools, all of them. Among the seven teams still on the board, some need a big time rally and must in the rest of the games. Others, just need to take care of business and make sure to add a couple more wins on their resume to possibly be Detroit bound. So, with that in mind, here are this week's Big 10 Picks and how it will affect Destination Detroit.
Central Michigan at Indiana. Lines, IU -2, O/U 58. Can you say Motor City Bowl preview? Perhaps, but a lot would have to happen beyond Central just taking care of business in league play. IU comes in at 3-5 and can only affford one more loss before falling out of contention for Detroit. Considering they have a trip to Happy Valley coming up in two weeks, that makes this game a must win for the Hoosiers. Their win over Northwestern last week was their first win over a FBS school all season and they needed a lot of self destruction on the part of the Wildcats to get it. Earlier in the year, Ball State from the MAC trounced IU on this very same field. No reason to think Central cant do the same thing. Emotionally, "Getting a Win over a Big 10 School" carries more on field intensity thant "Destination Detroit." CMU is winning games this year even if they're playing their backup QBs and RBs for key stretches of the season. This game will be fun, and if IU's offense had been clicking more throughout the season, I might be tempted to go with the Cream and Crimson and even the Over. But, two months into the season, we've seen enough. CMU would win this one on nuetral field and its not like they're heading into a hornet's nest by going to Bloomington.
The Pick: CMU +2
Wisconsin at Michigan St. Lines, MSU -5.5, O/U 48. The big question is how will the Spartans fare after the long awaited break through win over the Wolverines? They could be just a little flat for this noon kick. I think they'll play out of it, but by not being sharp in the opening minutes will give the still talented Badgers enough gas to stay in this one the whole ay through. In the wake of a four game losing streak, the Badgers ended up giving their offense a face lift. They're playing with a new QB , becnhing Everidge in favor of Sherer; Clay has all but taken over for Hill at RB; and stud TE Beckhum is out for the season with an injury. I actually like these changes. Everidge was not getting it done, Clay is a favorite of mine and gives Wisco a big time home run threat. The Beckhum injury sucks for them, but trying to get a oft injured player into the lienup sometimes hinders the process. Besides, Graham is an all league caliber TE taking over. This game gets decided by a field goal in the end with Clay rushing for more yards than Ringer. With games at IU and at home versus Caly Poly, the Badgers are a win today away from putting themselves on the outside looking in as far as Destination Detroit is concerned. A win over Sparty could vault them to the Insight or Champs Sports Bowl worlds, but a loss will keep the Badgers firmly in the mix for Detroit.
The Pick: Wisco +5.5
Northwestern at Minnesota: Lines, Minny -6, O/U 46. Considering these teams played to a 46-45 game last year, seeing the total that low made me dizzy at first. But, Northwesen has been real spotty moving the football most of the season. And, now they go up against one the best points per game defense in the land with the Gophers. And, they come in without Bacher at QB and Sutton at RB out with injuries. I sense these teams are going in opposite directions with the Gophers primes for a 10-win season while Northwestern could might be looking at a bad late season slide with a hard slate down the stretch. But, hey, Wildcat fans a losing streak is just what you need to get back into the Motor City Bowl mix. They were my preseason Motor City Bowl pick, and i foresa back then a November where wins would be hard to come by for the Wildcats. Try and catch a little of the Gophers today. Watch a second year QB who was brutal last year continue to lead his team to January. Watch as the D that was the worst in the land next year, flies over the field making stop after stop. Watch as a team that gave games away every week with the giveaway, takes games with takeaways. Watch that and find hope for last year. Gophers foce three turnovers, score a defensive TD and win this game by more than 2 touchdowns.
The Pick: Minny -6
Michigan at Purdue. Lines, Purdue +2, O/U 46. This is exciting. An elimination game for Destination Detroit. Both teams are 2-6 and the loser can longer qualify for the Motor City Bowl My fellow Michigan fans may bristle at the hyperbolic notion of an elimination game for that bowl, but they better get used to it if they're going to watch the game today. That is the storyline the Big 10 Network's broadcast team will be hammering from West Lafeyette this afternoon. So, might as well play along. Would the MCB be all that bad? I say no. We can all meet up in Detroit and have a little fun. Its a short car ride for most of us and we can share good times partying at the casinos. I can see it now, a group of us jamming over the roulette wheel putting our chips on Sam, Tay, Dual Threet and Minor Rage. We do that high fivings, chugging drinks and chanting Tempation, only to see our enthusiasm fade as the wheel keeps landing on'3'. Time and time again. With an occasional '14.' Oh yeah, that would be fun. From a gambling standpoint, this game sucks. Neither team has covered spreads all year. Purdue perennially stinks wwhen the challenge is bigger than them, but does this year's Maize and Blue really qualify as a challenge? The Overs have hit every game for Michigan in their non MAC games, but I just dont like that today. I dont think Purdue can take advantage of anything with Siller playing QB. He's mincemeat for Brandon Graham today. Prediction: Michigan wins the turnover battle today.
The Pick: Michigan +2...........an underdog against a 2-6 team? This is probably a big trap, but, eff it! The Detroit Dream lives on!!
Iowa at Illinois. Lines, Illlinois -2.5, O/U, 50. Huge game for Destination Detroit. Win or lose, either squad remains a possibility, but the loser sees a lot of its options go away, making Detroit even liklier. Is Detroit ready for the barrage of Hawwkeye fans that would hit the city? Classic good offense meets goods defense in this matchup with Iowa's 20th ranked D going up against the Illini's 12th ranked O. Expecyt each side to land blows in that battle. What I dont see is Illinois going bonkers against the Hawkeye stop troops. Nobody has scored more than 22 points against them. But, I really like Iowa's O against Illini's D. They can pound all day with Greene, who will come close to 200 yards, and they have an efficient passing game with Stanzi. The Illini have given up more 17 in each game this year. Iowa pulls this one out with a key defensive stop and Shon Green's ability to keep the chains moving.
The Pick: Iowa +2.5..........what does it say that this key Destination Detroit battle is the game of the day in the Big 10, at least according to the networks? Actually, it will be a fun one, and there's something about this Iowa team that I just dig right now. Win or lose, next week's home game against Penn State will be interesting.
After back to the back 3-2 weeks, hopefully the ball stays on the positive side with these five. Enjoy the games today and Go Blue!