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!
Commentator Hat asked in a mgoboard post he made about Minnesota's defense, wondering aloud how they could elevate from the worst in CFB to more than serviceable this season, so much so that the unit is helping tp spearhead one of the most dramatic single season turnarounds in Big 10 and college football history. I have some thoughts on the Minnesota team, but rather than keeping that thread going, I figured I would hog all the glory and write a diary piece on the matter.
I like this Golden Gopher team as I have bet on them four times (all winners) bet against them once (a loss) and taken the Over in two of their games (one win, one loss). Needless to say, I have found myself watching a lot of the Gophers this season. Here's how I see their turnaround happened, with much of the focus on the defensive end, which began the question in the first place. One caveat is that I am banging this out at work, so it might be a little unorganized and not every fact 100% true. Hey, I am writing on a blog, what do you expect.......J/K.
Send in The Fixer
First year defensive coordinator Ted Roof has gained a reputation throughout his career of turning around previosly bad defenses and molding them into quality stop units. He was the DC at Georgia Tech for 2000 and 2001. In 2000, the Jackets were 12th nationally in rush defense and 20th in scoring D. In 2001, the defense was ranked 23rd in overall total D. After that season, he moved to Duke, where the Devils defense had put up similar numbers to Minny's D last season. In his first year in Durham, the Devils, who had had the nation's 113th ranked total defense the year before, had the league top rushing defense and in 2002, they were ranked 58th nationally in total D. He knows how to turn bad defenses around, even if the reclamtion project is taking place at a program not known football winning, like Duke. Or now at Minnesota.
Unfortuneatly, Roof was such a good DC that he got the head coach position at Duke. Typically, he failed there, as most would and was fired after winning only 8 games in a four year stretch as the head man. Make no mistake, however, this guy can coach a defense. Many have defended UM's DC Scott Shaffer due to his reputation of being one of the best, young up and coming DCs in the country. Well, that was Roof before he made the fateful decision to take the Duke head coaching job. Free from task of first head coaching gig at a lonely, lowly place for football, Roof has said he feels rejuventated. He's probably having the most fun coaching football as he's had in a long time.
The results show on the field. The Gophers were the worst in the country last year in total yards allowed, permitting 518 yards a game. This season, they're giving up just 362 per game, good for 68th nationally. They've improved from 36.7 points per game (109th nationally) to 17.1 points per game (20th nationally). Only 11 football teams across the land have picked off more passes than the Gophers oppurtunistic D.
The Fixer has succeeded in turning around another defense. He ought to be a strong candidate for the Frank Brolyes Award, given annually to the best asssitant coach in the country.
Cupboard Not Bare
The Gophers weren't devoid of talent, but it was far and few in between. However, Minnesota has received solid to great play from the holdovers of last year's porous D. They had a good defensive line to begin with with Willie VanDeSteeg, Garrett Brown, Lee Campbell and Steve Davis. Michigan fans may remember Davis as the freshmen phenon the OL could not block in the 2005 Jug Game. This foursome is probably among the top 3 DL's in the conference and have a combined 18.5 sacks and 21.5 TFLs. As long as you have a solid DL, you can creat a good defense, right? Deon Hightower is a solid LB. Kyle Theret at Safety was thrown to the wolves last year as an undersized true freshmen. He's responded with a breakout second season, leading the team in INTs and second in tackles. He has a Jamar Adams type of game and tackles anything that comes near him.
Jazzing it up with Jucos
So, the Gophers weren't devoid of defensive talent and had a pretty good defensive line to build off. Despite that, this defense would not be clicking had they not had an influx of new talent to work with. Roof was hired after the recruiting season, so this is all the work of Head Coach Tim Brewster. He dipped into the JUCO ranks and signed six guys to play defense, three of whom have stepped right in to revamp the Gophers back seven which leaked like a sieve all last year.
Traimaine Brock (1, FS), Traye Simmons (15, CB) and Simoni Lawrence (21, OLB) have been JUCO revelations for this program. Newcomers to the team this season, that trio represents three of the team's top five tacklers and have given Minnesota big play potential. What's interesting is not one of them is playing the position they played last fall in Junior College. Brock was a corner, but now a free safety, Simmons a safety, but now a corner and Lawrence, a safety, now an outside LB. Lawrence has really impressed me. He plays up on the line a lot, next to one of Minny's pass rush specialists, either Davis and VanDeSteeg. Folks, this is pretty tough to block. Lawrence has had a big season with 3.5 sacks, 6.5 TFLs and he's scored a pair of defensive touchdowns. He's a big play waiting to happen. I cant wait to see how Michigan blocks him.
Minnesota has gone from one of the worst turnover margins in the nation to one of the best. They were -15 last year, and this year, I suspect they're over +10. I dont have those at my finger tips. Obviously, the recrafted secondary has a lot to do with that on the defensive end, but credit here belongs on the offense on many levels. QB Adam Weber threw 24 picks in his freshmen season. He has 3 this season. Wow. Just wow. Michigan is heading for a -10 or higher turnover margin this season, but ask yourself, how much better the team would be if they get a reversal like the Gophers have had? Or even enough change in fortune to break even on turnovers. The Wolverines would be at least 2 wins better in the standings, if not more.
Yeah, but they've played a high school schedule
The Gophers have not played a murder's row of a slate and they have the fortune of skipping MSU and PSU this year. However, that should not detract from their accomplishments. Both last year and this year, they played BGSU and FAU. Last year, they allowed over 30 to each team. This season, only 20 points combined. Last year, IU, Illinois and Purdue all had scored more than 40 on the Gophers before November rolled around. This season, a combined 35 points between those three teams. Their schedule may be 'meh' at best, but its basically the same slate they struggled to a 1-10 mark against last year. This is no faux improvement.
Ok, genius, you lost me about 1,000 words ago. Does this have anything to do with Michigan?
Oh yeah, about that. Clearly, we should fire Shaffer and hire Roof the Fixer. Actually, thats not a bad idea, but Roof is probably going to get another HC coach in the future and will probably stay at Minnesota until that inevitable offer comes his way. And, I took an oath, with many others here ,not to seriously call for anyone's head in the first year. One thing I like about Roof as a DC as opposed to Shaffer is that he's not rigid with his system. He's basically putting his best guys out there on the field and turning them loose. They have a new DC, but unlike the UM players right now perhaps they're not as burdened by trying to learn a fancy new system, which, like their offensive counter parts, might not exactly match their own personal skill sets.
In Shafer's defense, however, you could argue that Roof inherited as many quality, proven defensive players as Shaffer did. Honestly, I dont think that is a far fetched argument. The defensive lines are basically a wash, perhaps a slight nod to UM. But the LB Hightower and S Theret are better tacklers right now than anyone in the Michigan Back 7.
What Roof has that Shafer lacked are all those JUCO trump cards that he's been able to insert into the lineup and play all over the field. I will not suggest that Michigan hand out scholarships to a half dozen JUCO prospects a la Brewster. But, the lesson here, though, is to be creative with where players go on the field. Would the Gophers be as good now if they played Lawrence at his JUCO position of Safety? No. In fact, they're better because he was moved to that hybrid OLB spot, where he's been downright dominant for stretches of games. With this year's freshmen and next season's recruits, we can only hope that Michigan can find its Brock, Lawrence and Simmons they way the Gophers did this season. And, if so, its reasonable to think (in large part due to the testimonials of GSimms) that Shafer will use those parts to the benefit of his Okie D.
Minnesota in 2007/2008 is a case study for Michigan. They had tremendous success under Glen Mason. They were in a bowl game virtually every year and Mason, while never breaking through into the upper ranks of the Big 10, still led the Gophers to its best era of football in years. They set records for having multiple 1,000 yard backs in the same season. But, they canned him in favor of a younger, more energetic guy who ran the, gasp, spread. A 1-11 season ensued with a lot of people tsk tsking the administration for making the coaching change. Now Michigan has all the pundits mocking them for going the spread route and ruining decades of tradtion. We see what Minnesota is doing in Year 2 of their spread. We can only hope Michigan sees similar improvement.
The only other item worth stressing is the turnovers. Over the last 25 years, 70 percent of the teams who finished the season with a negative, double digit turnover margin went on to improve their record the next year. And, in the Big 10 we've seen woeful teams climb significantly in the standings by rebounding their TO margin the following season. Penn St did the trick from 2002 to 2003 going from 4 wins to a New Year's Day Bowl. Illinois went from 2-10 in 2006 to the Rose Bowl the following. And, now, we have the Gophers after a 1-10, 0-8 in the league season, starting directly at January football.
Some random thoughts on the Big 10 Bowl picture to preface this week's installment of the middling mediocrity that is now known as my Big 10 Picks. At least I have a winning record still (15-12), but its been one big taffy pull for a couple of weeks now after a hot start.
**** So if you're a Big 10 Pride kind of football fan, are you a little nervous about what January 1 may bring? Are you aware how close we are to seeing Northwestern and Minnesota square off with SEC teams in the annual New Year's Day clashes. Can you see either the Wildcats or Gophers hanging with the likes of LSU, Georgia, Florida or Alabama? With Penn State and Ohio State both looking like BCS candidates, Michigan's overall sucktitude and Wisconsin doing a mean Sparty imitation, its pretty clear the Big 10 will be sending new blood to those bowl games against the mighty SEC. A lot still has to happen to pave the way for NW and Minny to grab one of those bids, but if both schools can avoid traps games on the road this week, then the winner of their contest next Saturday will have an major inside track--especially if that winner is Minnesota. I think the Wildcats will fade back into a December Bowl, but right now the Gophers are in excellent position, It would not surprise me to see them go 4-1 down the stretch (at PU, nw, UM, at Wisco, Iowa), climb to 10 wins and get a long awaited January bowl bid.
****Illinois and Michigan St, of course, will have something to say about those January bowls. Both are in position to start impressive winning streaks and play in January. The Illini, however, need to win some key road games and host Ohio State. The Spartans have to get by their Maize and Blue nemesis today and close the year at Penn State. So, while both teams have potential, it's hard to imagine either going the rest of the way unscathed. Any losses by them would create chaos on the pecking order and open the door for teams like Northwestern and Minnesota, as mentioned above, to grab those January spots.
* Iowa is off this week and that's too bad because we wont get a chance to watch Shon Greene, the best running back right now in the Big 10. If I had a vote, he would get mine right now for Offensive Player of the Year in the conference. He has the numbers: 1,154 yards, 10 touchdowns and an impressive 6.5 ypc. He's tilted the 100-yard mark in every game this year, and his to lowest outputs of the season (109 and 115 yards respectively) came in blowouts where he didn't see any fulltime action after intermission. His 214-yard, 4 TD game last week against Wisconsin stands as the most impressive individual effort the Big 10 season has seen thus far. More than stats, however, is the value he carries to the team. They have nothing without him. He's single handedly carrying them a bowl game.
****How boring would a USC-OSU rematch be in the Rose Bowl? Of course, the elephant in the room is that there's a good chance these two will rematch for all the marbles in the BCS Title Game. The stakes alone there would make the game worthwhile, I suppose, but if the season plays out and these clubs are BCS worthy, but out of the title game, I urge the Rose Bowl suits not to square these teams off. They played each other already once this year and, of course, play each other next September, Give us something fresh. Sadly, there's a also a good chance that we could see another Pac 10-Big 10 rematch in the Granddaddy, that being Oregon St-Penn St. Dont laugh, but Oregon St controls its own destiny as far qualifying for the BCS. A 1-loss Penn St team would be a strong candidate for Pasadena. This probably has a 10-percent chance of happening, but those odds go up with a Penn St loss tonight in Columbus. Regardless, I think its time for the Rose Bowl to forget about forcing a Big 10-Pac 10 matchup on us. The exception would be if they can get USC and Penn St to the game. Otherwise, its a good year to bring at least one new conference to the Rose Bowl.
****The final weekend of the regular season is shaping up huge. MSU-PSU, Illinois-Northwestern and Iowa-Minnesota all will be games between bowl clubs and the results will likely swing the placement of just about every bowl affiliation the league has. Oh yeah, Ohio State-Michigan is that weekend too. It might be the least relevant league game of the day.
**** Here's a real quick synopsis of my bowl projections for the conference that I predicted in a Mgoblog Diary back in August. The good: calling for OSU and, most importantly, PSU as BCS bound; promoting Minnesota and Northwestern as improved, bowl bound squads; rejecting any notion of Purdue and Indiana playing a 13th game; and nailing the fact that because of their schedule the Illini would hover as a .500 team for most of the season, even if they're better than last year. The bad: Predicting Wisconisn and Michigan to get to January bowl game. Actually, thats not bad. Its brutal. Worse than Pushing Daisies. As it turns out, Michigan needs a major win streak just to get bowl eligible while Wisconsin, by dint of a functional do not play in their finale against Cal Poly Slo, will rebound to cobble enough wins to probably snatch the Motor City Bowl bid. Thats good news for local casino operators in Detroit who will have another chance to rake in the bucks from the pockets of Cheeseheads. They'll load up the roulette wheel on 9 for Beckhum, 2 for Casillas and 32 for Clay and those numbers wont hit all weekend.
Ok, enough of the bowl blather. Here are this week's Big 10 Picks.
Minnesota at Purdue. Lines Minnesota -1, O/U 53.5. I dont know about all that mumbo jumbo about the Gophers playing in January, but I am sure they'll get by a reeling Purdue squad. Minnesota is doing everything right and come in with a week of rest. Since they went winless in league play last year, they wont be looking past anyone because every week is a chance to hand out a little revenge. Weber will make plays, they'll run the football and their retooled defense will force three killer turnovers. Purdue has been rotten against good teams over the years. These numbers ought to be familiar by now: The Boilers are just 4-22 against bowl teams since 2005 and three of those wins came against the MAC. There are rumors their QB and RB have a Mallet-Manningham relationship and Tiller has lost this team. We saw the malaise of a lame duck coach in Ann Arbor last season, but the situation is much worse in West Lafayette. Lisa Horne should be on the case any day now.
The Pick: Minnesota -1.......I like this team a lot in this game and feel they are still an under the radar money maker from here on out. They've covered five games in a row.
Illinois at Wisconsin. Lines, Illinois -2, O/U 54. I dont think Wisconsin will recover out of its tailspin this week either. The Illini offense is too explosive and not the type of club you can get healthy against. I think Illinois is going to win the remaining games on their schedule. Nobody has really stopped the Illini all season long. The Badgers lack the firepower to keep up. Wisconsin will play with pride, but the Illini will pull away with some late scores. The Over looks tempting any time the Illini take the field because of their offensive talent. But, I dont see the Badgers surpassing the 20-point mark, but their D will keep the Illini in range all game until late. But, dont take that as a lean to the under either. I do, however, strongly endorse the Illini.
The Pick: Illinois -2.........if you have time, check out Doc Saturday's post from Thursday detailing the sudden collapse of the Badgers and the hot seat Bret Bielema is suddenly on after starting his Wisco career 21-5. He's taking the Kirk Ferentz career arc, but doing it on speed. Or at least pizza.
Northwestern at Indiana. Lines, NW -7, O/U 52.5. Guess this team with the following national statistical rankings: 4th in sacks allowed, 11th in sacks, 28th in scoring D, 39th in rushing D, 35th in passing efficiency D and for good measure they're second in their own league in tackles for losses. Did you guess Northwestern? Thats the right answer. Fitzgerald has this D playing as good as any D in program history. Indiana has nothing on offense. Their best player is QB Kellen Lewis, but he cant avoid the injury bug and play a full game. They're bad with him, terrible without him. Against the better teams defensively in this league, they've struggled to reach double digits. The Wildcats will control both lines of scrimmage and eventually pull away from the Hoosiers like they did last week against Purdue.
The Pick: Northwestern -7.......One team is good, the other awful, but because of the Wildcats schedule this might be the last win either club gets on the season, Fitzgerald knows that his November schedule is nails and he'll have the Cats focused and strong in Bloomington.
Michigan State at Michigan. Lines, MSU -4.5, O/U 45. From a pointspread standpoint, one of the most intriguing developments is how often the game total sails past the Over mark in Michigan games this season. Equipped with the worst offense the program has seen in years has not hampered their games from seeing a lot more scoring than the experts think. The Over has hit 5 times this season in Michigan's games, including every time the team has not played a MAC school In their five games with Utah, ND and fellow league mates, the average total score in UM games has been 54 points and the Over has cleared by more than a touchdown each time. You know the defense will get scorched for big plays setting up a lot of quick points. You know each team will implode enough to set up short scoring drives. I think Michigan will come close, if not exceed, their highest point total of the season, which was the 27-spot they rallied to put on the board against Wisconsin. Sparty will have more than fair share of fireworks. This rivalry has been one of higher scoring games each year for Michigan with the winner averaging 31 point per game over the last decade. If the winner comes close to that mark, this total will hit with ease.
The Pick: Over 45..........I dont want to bet on or against Michigan today This column is 15-12 in Big 10 games, but 1-3 picking Michigan, so do the math there. And, no way I am walking into tomorrow 'sstadium with an MSU ticket in my pocket. We need all the karma we can get and a jackass in Section 14 whose inner gambler is quietly fist pumping for the Green and White wont cut it. I just hope I dont spend an afternoon tailgating in such terrible, Northwestern 2006 like, inclement weather that I feel stupid about this pick the whole time. Although it would be weird to drink heavily over a pick gone awry hours before it even kicks off. Now, I am even more excited to see what happens.
Penn State at Ohio State. Lines, PSU -2., O/U 44. I dont want to bet this game either. No gambling is required to add any excitement to this heavyweight fight. Home field advantage is huge and JoePa has had no luck in the Horseshoe since they joined the Big 10. On paper, Penn State is the better team. As we've seen week to week, Penn State looks better in real time and is certainly more explosive. Despite Pryor's talent, PSU's Clark is the better QB in this game. Something just has not felt right about OSU this year and I cant shake the feeling that the Nittany Lions expose them throughout the contest. I dont think OSU can keep up in a track meet, nor do I think their D can keep this score in the ideal Tressel Ball range either. Penn State has captured football magic. The Illini won in this stadium last year, and PSU comes into this game in a better position to win than Illinois did last year. Not that it means anything, but I use that comparison to convince myself that winning in the Horseshoe is far from impossible for a good team. This just in: Penn State is a good football team.
The Pick: Penn St -2.........would it surprise anyone to see Ohio State play their best game of the season tomorrow night. Me to. So, this is a play I make with shaky confidence at best. I just want one of these prime time games to live up to its hype, so I hope we get a classic and a game winning FG by the Nittany Lions.
One pick for each game. I took four road teams and the Over in the Michigan game. What could possibly go wrong?
Everyone enjoy the action tomorrow as its a great day of football and if you're at the Big House cheer loud and Go Blue!