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!
A little sadness hangs over the fourth installment of Big 10 picks. After a great start, back to back sub .500 weeks has put the overall record back to even. So much for playing with house money. But, undaunted, we charge forward with this week's slate, and, unlike the past two weeks, it's a card we have a lot of confidence in.
Wisconsin at Iowa. Lines, Iowa -3, O/U 41.5. I am jumping back aboard the Iowa bandwagon. Obviously, Michigan is my favorite team, but I have a list of teams close to my heart after that. Included in that group are Indiana (alma mater), Virginia Tech (family ties to the school......sorry OC), Toledo (my hometown, woot!), Navy and Iowa. The latter two are for gambling purposes as both programs have been moneymakers since the start of the decade. In Iowa's case, the love comes with a big caveat: They must be at home. At Kinnick Stadium, the Hawks are on a 35-16 ATS run, a stretch that would have netted you close to two grand had you been wagering $100 on them the whole time. Lately, they have cooled off in this role, going 1-5 in 2006 and only breaking even in their homes games since then. I used to bet Iowa at home every single game, but have long since jumped off that train as the program derailed in recent years. But, I'm climbing back aboard in this match-up with little reservation. Wisconsin is in a tailspin right now and they're not showing any signs of steering out of it. Iowa is better across both lines. They've bottled up star backs this year like Ringer, Sutton and McCoy, so they're more than capable of containing Wisco's strength, the power run. Meanwhile, on offense, Iowa will hammer away with underrated Shon Greeen. Make sure you catch this kid's act tomorrow as he's eclipsed the century mark in every game this year. He'll control the game for Iowa. The Hawks finally have their QB situation worked out with the Stanzi kid. He's been better than Allan Everidge for Wisconsin this year and will outperform him here. Wisco started to struggle scoring once their schedule passed the creampuff stage. Now they're supposed to penetrate a Hawkeye D allowing only 10 points per game? I dont think so. Iowa has the better lines, the better QB, the better D and a bigtime home field edge. You could say I like Iowa a lot.
The Pick: Iowa -3........if this game is close in the fourth quarter, does anyone think the Badgers will have the moxie to pull it out? I dont.
Purdue at Northwestern. Line NW -3, O/U 50. The analysis on this game begins and ends with one simple question? Is Northwestern a bowl team? I say they are. And that,s important because of Purdue's brutal record against bowl teams in recent years. In the time that the current four-year seniors have been on Purdue's roster, the Boilers have next to nothing on their resume. Against teams that eventually played in the bowl game that season, the Boilers are just 4-21 SU, 7-18 ATS since the beginning of 2005. The numbers get worse in league play as Purdue has logged a 1-13 SU, 2-12 ATS mark against Big 10 Bowlers those seasons. No reason to think those numbers wont fall in line in this game. Northwestern will harass the Purdue offense, and the Wildcats should take control on this side of the ball with their pass rush. On offense, expect Tyrell Sutton to have his best game of the year against the poor Boiler D.
The Pick: Northwestern -3.......Wildcats will pull away in the second half and win by double digits.
Ohio State at Michigan St. Lines, OSU -3, O/U, 42.5. I am going to keep betting against the Buckeyes, who are just 1-5 ATS this season. There's something intangible thats missing from this year's club. They're not the world beaters on D we expected and the offense has been stagnant, despite the insertion of phenom freshman QB Tyrelle Pryor. Michigan has scored twice as many offensive touchdowns than Ohio State has the last two weeks. Folks, that is not a good sign. I've said all along this club would get dinged multiple times in league play this season, and I refuse to back off that statement. A resurgent, confident Sparty program will help begin to make that prediction come true tomorrow. I love this physical, playmaking back 7 on MSU's D. They will bait the kid at QB into mistakes and Dantonio's blitzes will take advantage of a suddenly vulnerable and decidedly not vintage OSU offensive line. Pryor will take some bad sacks tomorrow. I'd love to bet the Over as far as rushing yards for both OSU's Beanie Well and MSU's Javon Ringer. These guys will play 'top me if you can' all afternoon. I cant wait to watch these guys run. In the end, I think Hoyer can win this game for MSU. He's a good QB if given time and I love the MSU O-Line to stone the OSU D-Line all day. Hoyer's uniform wont get dirty.
The Pick: MSU +3.........Sparty wins tomorrow, but clearly their annual collapse is seven days away.
Michigan at Penn State. Lines, PSU -24, O/U, 46.5. Over the years, I have developed a few systems. I have the flip-a-coin system, the reliable dartboard system and, every now and then, in order to get out of a rut, I have the let the girlfriend make the pick system. She liked that the BYU coach is named Bronco. Needless to say, this system did not work out the other night. Perhaps it would help if I Boo her, I dont know? Want a couple more systems? Of course you do. How about picking the team with the cooler helmet or betting on an underdog who lost their last game outright as a double digit favorite? Hey, what do you know, Michigan fits both those systems in this game. Road dogs coming off a big time upset loss rebound to cover the spread close to two out of every three times. In the last decade, those teams are 77-44-2 ATS, good for a 62.5% winning percentage. Those numbers are lethal to a bookie.
The Pick: Michigan +24.........I am still in shock over this line. Not because it isn't warranted, but because I am a little scared about a world where the Wolverines are so routinely more than a 3-TD dog. Michigan could lose 41-17 and still push against the Vegas Line. I'm speechless. Thankfully, the liquor cabinet is stocked for the game. I will need the medication.
Indiana at Illinois. Line, Illinois -15, O/U 55. Illinois should have won last week against Minnesota, but the Illini self destructed and gifted the Gophers 14 points, They wont be as giving tonight. The Hoosiers are on their way back to the basement of the league. I dont see them picking up a league win this season and they're overmatched in this one. Nothing is going right for the IU offense and they wont suddenly find their groove on the road against an Illini stop unit that, while vulnerable at times, remains a big play D. Indiana has no chance at stop the Juice, Benn and DuFrense show. This will be a blowout.
The Pick: Illinois -15.......I see the Illini rolling in this one by more than 20 points. But I hate playing heavy favorites, so this is my least confident pick. Take the disclaimer for whatever its worth.
Right now, just taking those five picks. We'll see how I feel in the morning and I might add a total or two or even a few games away from the Big 10. I should make a quick noe about the Iowa and Northwestern lines. Both spreads have since climbed to -4. I am buying a little extra juice to get -3 in both contests. A little insurance, we'll see if it comes into play. Neither moneyline is too expensive, so if you'd rather pay more juice than deal with the spread, I would not say you're being unwise.
At some point on a sun drenched fall day at the Big House, reality finally set in. I don’t know exactly when it cemented itself in my conscious. My guess is somewhere between wondering aloud our defense failed to make any effective adjustment to counter an unknown wide receiver hauling in 20 balls or gouging my eyes out as another offensive series withered under failed execution of the playbook's base plays over and over again. Whenever it happened is not that relevant. The cold hard reality is the final tally on the scoreboard for the foreseeable future just does not matter. Even if it reads Toledo 13, Michigan 10, the news on the scoreboard is not the outcome that carries the day. It just does not matter. The reason why finally took hold of me fully Saturday afternoon. Why does it not matter?
Because the whole season is nothing more than one big practice.
Oh, sure the results go in the record books. For years on end, haters will mock the program for the 2008 results. During the back half of the season, expect future opponents and the media to kick the program while it’s down. It might look ugly. It might feel like constant stomach punches. But, it does not matter. The games on this year's schedule are nothing more than glorified scrimmages. This is not to say winning and losing is not important and that the program isn’t trying to win. However, isn’t truly the main goal for this season to determine which 18- and 19-year-olds will form the core of the team for the next two to three years?
The whole season is one big practice.
The cupboard is hardly bare. There's plenty of talent on hand. It’s raw talent, however, that's never been asked to be prime time performers, even in a limited role, at this level before. The coaching staff might have a handle on who might play well during the week, but these Saturday scrimmages are the true laboratory for Rodriguez to experiment in hopes of determining who can handle their roles and who will form the playing core in ensuing seasons. So, Michigan is not emerging ahead on the scoreboard, but these scrimmages are revealing a core of playmakers that will be fixtures. The problem is its most everyone's first rodeo out there and opponents at this level are just too good to overcome the inevitable mistakes that a lineup with so many freshmen and first time contributors produce. Try to revel in the emergence of new playmakers, like Sam, Odoms, Matthews, Moundros (yeah, that’s what I said), Ezeh, Mouton, Cissoko (and, make no mistake one or two more will emerge) and not live or die right now with the scoreboard.
The whole season is one big practice.
Sometimes you're just in a losing situation. No amount of raw talent can overcome that. It’s frustrating to watch especially when you're able to discern the successes and failures of the team and wonder why one isn't being game planned more to while the other isn't being schematically downgraded. It’s revealing when you watch a review of the game. You see some subtle shifts of play calling and the staff is indeed doing what it appears on the surface they aren't doing. Yet, it’s not occurring enough. But, here's the rub. Rodriguez and company can’t take those game plans to a new level because it seems like they have to rely on a new set of players each week. Instead of developing on field strategies with targets that Threet has found a stride with already against live competition, the staff cant because Stonum and Butler run afoul with team rules and were benched, Hemingway gets sick and Odoms dings his shoulder. As such any game planning for a specific foe gets harpooned by having to re-establish fundamentals with players who weren't good enough to make your initial cut for playing time. Maybe you look the other way on the discipline issues and let those guys play. Maybe you push the envelope with the Odoms injury, not to mention the Warren and Graham injuries on D, and put them in the mix because you need his plays. Those would be poor decisions. Clearly the call here is to sacrifice the short term for the long term. The scoreboard does not matter.
The whole season is one big practice.
I'm sure the coaching staff is chomping at the bit to find a way to get a playmaker like McGuffie into the passing game down the field. But, until they can unearth another tailback they're comfortable with who won’t fumble, miss assignments or get dinged up, why risk Sam over the middle at this point? They're constantly shuffling the offensive line sure that eventually the right combo will click. However, every time they've had a eureka moment, they're forced back to the deck because of an injury. After an effective first half moving the football against Toledo, any halftime adjustments to build off of that took a step back when Threet came up lame. Instead, in goes a walk on QB and the goal becomes hiding the weaknesses a move like that reveals rather than putting the petal to the metal with your strengths. If back in August you had been told Michigan's two minute drill would consist of the vaunted Sheridan to Clemons, Babb or Koger connections, what exactly would you have done? Book a trip abroad during the season? Make sure to pack more liquor with the tailgate? You most certainly would have downgraded mentally whatever winning expectations you may have had.
The whole season is one big practice.
Obvious angst, hand wringing and bandwagon bailing have ensued in the wake of losing a winnable game to a local patsy. The sad part of the outcome on the scoreboard was it significantly obscures the improvement the offense is making. The last 10 quarters of football was a major step forward from the first 14 quarters. The team drove the field for seven TDs in those quarters as opposed to 5--most of which were helped by shorter fields after the D swiped the ball--in the first time frame. Turnovers were reduced from 15 to 5. Threet has shown deft pocket awareness, regularly turning a sack into a positive yard scramble and had a 4 to 1 TD to INT ratio. Unfortunately, that interception happened yesterday and the -3 TO margin against the Wolverines was the difference between the actual losing outcome and a 20-3 slow cooked win with all the accomplishment of the 1987's team 26-9 yawner over a 2-win Northwestern team. That win didn't make the 1987 team legendary, nor did the win really have any impact on the program winning the Rose Bowl the following season. This loss should not doom these kids to three years of embarrassment on the college fields. So what if Appy State now has a little company in the program's history.
The whole season is one big practice.
I still feel this team will win games this year. If they improve over the next 10 quarters another step or two from the strides made the last 2 1/2 games, it would not surprise me to see them cobble enough wins to play for bowl eligibility in the finale. There's enough talent on this roster to compete for these games. Can the team get a consistent lineup going? Can the coaching staff keep the team upbeat and confident in the wake of all the negativity? And, most importantly, can they stop turning the ball over? Michigan is -12 in turnover margin. There are reams of empirical evidence out there that showing that over 70 percent of teams that have a double digit, negative TO ratio bounce back and improve their record the next year. Of course, maybe Michigan improves this year and ends up below -10. If they do that, I predict they will manage to at least break even over their final six games. Turnovers, however, are this team's identity right now and its easier to just expect them, steel your fandom heart on what will occur because of it and be pleasantly surprised if they giveaways don’t happen.
The whole season is one big practice.
So what if Kevin Grady struggled in his role on the field Saturday, keep playing him because he has talent. It’s only a practice. So what if playing Cissoko makes the team even younger on the field, it looks like he can hold his own out there in the secondary, so keep playing him. It’s only a practice. So what if Minor irks the fan base because he fumbles, keep playing him because he has flashed as much big play potential as anyone else. It’s only a practice. So what if Moundros does not scare anyone with his skills, keep playing him because he's one of the more physical guys on the team and is lighting folks up. It’s only a practice. Keep searching for answers on the line because while reinforcements up front are on the way, the current group can only get better with more reps. It’s only practice. So what if ditching half your playbook in favor of something that's not you might net an extra win or two, keep running your base stuff because each time is another rep against a quality foe. And, like hitting the gym, each rep helps turn fat into muscle. It’s only a practice.
And, the best part of practice is you can still tailgate beforehand. I expect to see you all on October 25.
Operation Get Jamie Mac's Money Back.
After a sour 2-5 week, we trudge on with this week's version of Big 10 picks. Lady Luck smacked us around last week. Purdue missed a late extra point in the fourth quarter, costing us one win. Wisconsin's loss to Ohio State in the final minute of the game cost us another. The line is always fine between profit and pain in the wagering world. This week's slate offers an array of questions: Is Wisco DOA? Can heavy favorites OSU and Illinois overcome any letdown in the wake of hallmark wins? How many combined kittens will perish in the wake of offensive implosions by Iowa and Michigan? (I dont know what the O/U is for that, but I can tell you its not high enough) Will Mike Valenti still be breathing come Monday morning? We'll know most of these answers within the next 24 hours. Here's my take on how it will shake out:
Iowa -6 at Indiana, O/U 46. Much has been made of Michigan's giveaway woes on these pages, but has anyone been paying attention to the outfit from Iowa City. The Hawks have lost three in a row by a combined 9 points. The culprit? An offense thats turned the ball over eight times in losing their first two Big Ten games of the season to Northwestern and Michigan State. Iowa can win this game because the Hoosiers wont have too many answers for Shonn Green, whose having a brilliant season running the football. I just cant take them to cover the spread. I cant lay points like this with a team on the road that turnovers the ball over this much. Stanzi might be an upgrade at QB over Christensen, but I dont think its really making a difference. This offense is accident prone. Indiana is no great shakes either, but this is a pretty good matchup for them. They've beat the Hawks in each of the last two seasons, scoring 38 points both times. Iowa has a solid D, stout up front, but they're a bit of a one trick pony. Despite their quality line, they dont rush the passer all that well and their pass D is vulnerable. IU QB Kellen Lewis will take advantage of that against a team he has a lot of confidence against. It would not shock me to see Iowa's turnovers cost them another win. I am also grabbing a piece of the Over. The Unders in Iowa game have been winners for me in recent weeks, but I am changing sides in this one. Indiana puts up points at home, averaging 27.77 ppg in their 15 games in Bloomington. I outlined the reasons above as to why the Hoosiers will have success against the Iowa D. When Iowa has the ball? Indiana wont shut them out, thats for sure, and, despite their tendencies to shoot themselves in the foot, Iowa will find the end zone more than a few times. Both teams will exceed 20 points, with the winner topping 30.
The Pick: Indiana +6, Over 46.
Minnesota +12.5 at Illinois, O/U 56. The Illini are on major letdown alert after playing a pair of bigtime league showdowns and slicing through Michigan last week. They'll find a pretty tough Gopher team waiting for them. I think the Illini can race through the rest of the Big 10. They could run the table from here on out. I would not be shocked. However, they just have the feel of a disinterested favorite considering the marquee of the last two weeks. The Gophers have taken a major leap forward this year. The offense has been efficient and they've gone from one the worst in turnover margin to one of the best. The Illini have given up a lot of points this year and Minnesota will find them flat footed enough to make this a decent game. Before the season, I really liked the Gophers as an underdog and they're 2-0 already in that role. Given the fact the Illini are just 10-16 ATS as a home favorite (4-8 in their last 12), I like the big dog in this one. Despite whatever flatness the Illini will have, I still think they have enough weapons that they'll still score a ton of points. It just might take a while to get revved up. The teams should combine for more than 60 points. That means I like the Over as well.
The Pick: Minnesota +12.5, Over 56.....man I feel like such a square taking Overs.
Toledo +16.5 at Michigan, Over 49.5. Well, I said I would pick every game for Big 10 teams the rest of the way, so I have backed myself into a corner and have to make a play in this one. You know what? I will lay those points. Michigan already beat Miami Ohio by 10 and Toledo is not as good, especially on defense. And, while the results have not been so obvious, the Michigan offense is playing better than they were in the Week 2 matchup with the RedHawks. The Rockets just have not been that good for a while now. Earlier in the year, this looked like a classic sandwhich game for the Wolverines, but with the coaches grumpy and yelling at the team all week for being soft, I actually expect the team to come out playing with way more fire in their eyes than a Michigan team usually would against a cupcake. I feel like Michigan might surpass 30 points in this one. While Toledo will probably hit a big play or two, I dont see them having too much success driving the field and besides their offense is a good bet to match Michigan's implosion for implosion throughout the day. I could see 31-14, 28-7, a shutout or even last week's score of 45-20 only with a reveral of fortunes. Four of Michigan's five games (Utah, ND, Wisco and Illinois) have sky rocketed past the O/U totals. It's at 49.5 this week, just like last week. Despite that record against the Over, I just cant jump aboard.
The Pick: Michigan -16.5.........I hope I dont regret this bravado about the Maize and Blue.
Purdue +19 at Ohio State, O/U 46. Painter and Purdue are overmatched in this one, but they wont turn the ball over and will do enough to stay within 20 points of the Buckeyes. The Bucks have only covered in one of their last six games at the Horseshoe while Purdue has got the cash in five of their last seven chances as a road dog. With a senior QB, the Boilers will be able to do just enough to keep this game from getting out of hand and extending each of those trends for another game. All season, I've said there's something not quite up to par about this OSU defense and we'll see that crop again tomorrow as the Boilers, who strugggled and just scored six points against Penn St last week, will reach the 20-point mark in Columbus. The Over looks nice as well as this score ought to resemble the Bucks score two weeks against Minnesota, 34-21.
The Pick: Purdue +19, O/U 46.
Michigan State -1 at Northwestern, O/U 47. If the Spartans win this game, it will set up a huge showdown next week against Ohio State. That's all I need to know. Northwestern will pull off the slight upset in this one. The Wildcats have enough offensive ability on hand to score somewhere between the outputs that Cal and IU put on Sparty in games earlier this year. They've had no problems scoring on Michigan State the past two years. MSU's D is just average and the best part of their D, a big play and physical secondary, got beat up in a grueling affair last week against Iowa. They might not be 100% effective tomorrow against the Cats, who come into this contest with a critical week of rest. MSU receivers drop too many balls to trust them in a big road contest. The Wildcats won 48-41 last year, so why would we think they would lose this year, as a better team, playing at home. MSU dodged a huge "Oh No Sparty" bullet last week when they luckily fell on a fumble during a QB sneak while trying to kill the clock. This week, expect their history to catch up with them.
The Pick: Northwestern +1
Penn State +6 at Wisconsin, O/U 46.5 The Badgers are one loss away from perhaps being the best 0-3 team in the history of Big 10 league play. The ramifications are huge with another Badger loss as they will be fighting the rest of the year just to become bowl eligible. Many feel they might be a dead football walking after a pair of fourth quarter collaspes the last weeks. I think there's enough upperclassmen leadership to keep that from happening. The Badgers will be properly lathered up for Saturday night's game and they have just the type of oiffense to keep Penn State off the field and in check. Lost in the wake of another fourth quarter loss was the fact that the Badgers kept OSU out of the end zone for over 56 straight minutes of game clock. They did so with some efficient, clock killing drives on offense. Wisconsin will have the same success against PSU and I love their change of pace combo of PJ Hill and Jonathon Clay to keep the Nits off balance. Penn State is just 4-8 ATS in the second of back to back road games while the Badgers are 7-3 ATS in a home game off of a home game. In the summer, the Badgers were favored by 4 in this contest, but now they're catching 6? Public perception is driving this line, not reality. Penn State is not as great as some of their guady scores would indicate, while Wisconsin is not suddenly Temple because they lost games to Michigan and Ohio State in the closing sequences. Maybe the Badgers snare defeat from the jaws of victory again, but they'll likely cover the spread in the process. I think Wisconsin wins this game straight up and the Nittany Lions perfect season gets snapped. Besides, the Band is back in the stadium. That's got to be worth a few points, right? I will gladly take the six point head start.
The Pick: Wisconsin +6......I like this one a lot. I would call it the Best Bet of this bunch.
I did not intend to take all underdogs as far as the league head to heads go. Ironically, Michigan is the only favorite I've taken. I dont see what possibly could go wrong.
For the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan it was a signature four quarters of football. Six different Wolverines found paydirt. The offense, after some initial stuttering, exploded to score touchdowns on five of six drives. Michigan was +2 in the turnover battle and did not have a single giveaway. The defense harassed the quarterback and had a pick-6 of their own that electrified the crowd. The visitors tacked on a pair of touchdowns late to make the game appear closer, but in the end it was a 41-23 rout and a Homecoming celebration promptly ensued.
Sounds good, right? Of course, the above portrait does not capture the start to finish of a single game. Instead, its the final two quarters of the Wisconsin game followed by the first two quarters of the Illinois game. Michigan needed the Wisconsin finale to overcome a terribly historic first half en route to a comeback win. The Illinois first half set them up with their largest lead of the season, which the team gave up because the offense struggled to maintain their new found efficiency and untimely defensive breakdowns.
Putting those halves together does look pretty sweet and offers a ray of hope that this team is closer to gelling than Saturday's final score would indicate. Sprinkle in a few unicorns streaking down the sideline along with a dash of capitalist disdain and the opening paragraph of this diary reads like a dispatch from the WLA propaganda machine. But, seriously, this team is not miles away from being good and if they can come out even in the turnover game from here on out, they will snare enough wins to make for an interesting November. Here are some other quick thoughts on the game:
- A lot of type was banged out last week regarding which running back should get touches and what the hierarchy of the depth chart ought to read. One name never got mentioned. Mark Moundros. I am convinced that he needs to play a lot. The sputtering running game had consistent life--and more importantly positive yards --just about every time he was in the formation. He was the lead blocker on 8 runs for 33 yards. The only two runs in these cases that did not go for more than 4 yards were because McGuffie tripped over his own feet on the way to a clear and free corner and then another time did not run hard to the corner on a third and goal run. They ran some pretty cool counter plays with him lining up just behind the tackle and pulling on the snap. He was also used as as basic straight up lead blocker out of that formation and the traditional power I look. He also caught a TD pass and served as a nice decoy in the passing game that helped open Odoms up on a couple of corner routes.
- Piggy backing on the Moundros theme, its pretty clear what makes this running game work and what does not. It needs a lead blocker from the backfield. The OL is terrible and overmatched. But, with an extra blocker paving the way, Michigan has found running plays that regularly move the line of scrimmage forward. With a lead blocker, I counted 13 runs for 63 yards. Conversely, when it was just McGuffie in the backfield, we saw 5 carries for 1 yard. A lead blocker is needed or the running game goes nowhere but backwards. Minor had an excellent lead block off the above counter look to spring a big run, so it was not always Moundros doing the dirty work. Carlos Brown and Kevin Grady did not see the field and Shaw first played late in the third quarter and was complicit in a killer turnover. Pretty much right now, I am fine with the backfield as long its a combination of two of the following, McGuffie, Minor and Moundros. Dare I dream of a runaway beer truck moment out of Moundros?
- I am not sure we need to pass the ball more, but I do know that the coaching staff has to get creative and make it a goal throughout the game to keep the passing game in rythmn. Threet can move this team down the field, but since he is a red shirt freshmen he is prone to in game slumps that remind me of 2001 John Navarre. He was on fire to start the game, but then went through a 3-for-13 stretch, many of which came in difficult down and distances to work with.
- How does this game change if Threet and Odoms connect on that play down the middle just before half time. It was open and should have been a touchdown. Talk about a frustrating play. A week after Odoms and Threet weren't in the same zip code, these two were a top flight combination Saturday. Except for one play. And, it cost Michigan six points and an immeasurable amount of halftime momentum.
- Of course, its hard to get into a passing game groove when every week you are seemingly breaking in new receivers. A few times on Saturday, Threet needed Savoy and Clemons to come up with a big route and catch and the timing just was not there. Savoy should have been able to haul in a long catch to set up a first and goal, but he just lacked the on field saviness to do so. It will come from him, but its just too bad that in the fifth game, the new QB still needs to break in new guys, but thats what a series of injuries and unofficial suspensions will do. Mathews will be there, Odoms is getting better, but third and fourth options are not developing yet. The last time Michigan had a QB this inexperienced at this level, the targets were an all-american senior/future NFL first rounder and two others who had at least one year off all-big ten caliber production. Threet has to develop an in game rythmn with new targets every game.
- The coaches need to lose a few pages of the playbook. Specifcally the one with the option pitch. Not only are these plays going nowhere, but they're being executed carelessly and are a bad turnover waiting to happen. Other plays that need a temporary hiatus include anything thats run horizontal and takes time to develop. The blocking is not there to sustain reverses, runs wide in a single back set without a lead blockers and passes parallel or behind the line of scrimmage to targets not on the move. These plays were much less a staple of the play calling on Saturday and we actually saw arguably the offense's best game of the season. But, they were called, these plays still went nowhere and were wasted downs.
- Fourth and four at Illinois' 42-yard line with 50 seconds to go in the first half. Michigan punts the ball. Discuss.
We all knew this year would be tough. We knew the team would lose one game because it would have no idea how to execute the new offense. We knew one game would be lost because all these freshmen and first time players would crap down their leg in a turnover fest. And, because it is a Michigan tradition, we knew one game would be lost because of mind blowing defensive breakdowns. Well in the Utah, Notre Dame and Illinois games, we've seen all of those. Are those out of their system?
I am still hopeful for the rest of the season. If they come out even in the turnover department, they'll win games. I feel this offense can hum against Toledo, Purdue, Minnesota and Northestern. Only brutal turnover outcomes will get us in trouble in those games. We're in trouble against PSU and OSU (understatement of the year...well, its in the team photo) and will probably have similar defensive breakdowns in those games making it hard for the offense to go point for point anyway. That leaves Michigan State. I like the matchup and Threet can outperform Hoyer. Its clearly a must win for bowl hopes and to avoid being shutout in the rivalry games this season.
I think last week's debut of the column did fairly well. Its not that often you sweep the board, but last week these picks went 7-0. Someone asked if it was luck or routine for me. The answer: Both. I feel I am savvy enough where I can make several awesome plays a weekend based on my capping skills, but to sweep a card of seven picks involves some luck. Like having a team overcome a 19-point deficit. Or, a team punching in two worthless TDs late in the game to nab an Over. My goal in continuing this column is not to find another undefeated card, as much as it to exceed the number of games right now that I am over .500. A 7-0 start puts a lot of cash in the pocket. My goal is to not lose that cash and maybe add a little more to it before the season is done. Lets just string some winning weeks toghether and ride it out until the end.
Today's Big 10 card does not excite me. Nothing really screams out as an obvious play, but after looking at the contests, I have found sides in all five games and two totals. I hope you like playng underdogs.
Indiana at Minnesota. Line: Minnesota -7, O/U 59.5 A key game in the drive for the Motor City Bowl takes place this afternoon when the Hoosiers and Gophers play in downtown Minneapolis. Here's a stat: In these teams last eight matchups, the winner has avaerged 41.36 points per game. In six of those games, the combined total points scored exceeded 60. Indiana has given up 40 points in consecutive games heading into this contest and has allowed over 225 yards rushing and passing in both of those games. The Gophers, meanwhile, have allowed an average of 32.65 ppg in their last 25 Big 10 games. Those numbers are trending upward with Minnesota's D giving up over 36 ppg in the last nine league tilts. It's safe to say that I expect a lot of points to be scored in this one. QBs Kellen Lewis and Adam Weber will be stat sheet stuffers today. Indiana catching points intrigues me as well. I dont think a whole lot spearates these teams. Last season, the Hoosiers were laying 14 points and won by 20. I doubt the fortunes of these teams have changed all that much where we will see a 28-point swing in the outcome. I can see either team winning, but I cant see either team stopping the other.
The Pick: Indiana +7, Over 59.5
Penn State at Purdue. Lines, Penn State -13.5, O/U 59. I hate this game. There is nothing I like about it. On one hand, you have Purdue who has a worse resume than Matt Millen. They have a senior QB who can play, but they haven't shown up for a big game it seems since Drew Brees was in town. On the other hand, you have a Penn State team that is flat out rolling and getting a lot of national love. However, The Nits are in a classic sandwich game today. They're on the road between primetime national TV showdowns. That sounds like a hard motivational chore to overcome. Its also their frst true road game in front of a hostile crowd (I dont count their trip to the Carrier Dome vs the Orange considering how bad they are and that there were more PSU fans in the building that day). I think that adds up to some trouble for Joe Pa's crew and Purdue QB Painter will make them pay for showing up flat footed. Here's a theory: Once you get to around mid season, it becomes real profitable to bet on double digit home underdogs. The problem is you find yourself betting on bad teams, so its a lot like driving on ice and never makes for comfortable gambling. I'll leave it to you if you want to play that theory blindly this season. But, I am game in this spot. Is Purdue appreciably worse than Illinois, a team that covered 14.5 last week on the road vs PSU? I say no and this large number will be hard for Penn State to hurdle. Eventually Penn State will notch the win, but they'll get a little bit of a scare from the Boilers, who are 34-26-2 ATS at home in the Tiller era.
The Pick: Purdue +13.5......and holding my nose the whole way.
Iowa at Michigan State. Line, MSU -7, O/U 46.5. Do you want another gambling theory of mine? Whenever you say, hear or read the following phrase, "Hey, if the Spartans win this one, it sets up a pretty big showdown next week," contact your local bookie and bet against Michigan State. Do whatever you have to do, but get that bet down. Stop reading this if you must. We'll wait. Sparty has this habit of not so much losing the big game, but losing the game the week before and thus tarnishing the luster of the future showdown. The question is, does a win over Iowa today, set up a huge game next week at Northwestern? In this year's Big 10, that answer is yes. I think D'Antonio will have his team focused enough to notch the win, but I dont like their chances laying points in any possible look-ahead situation. Besides, this is a tough matchup. Iowa's defensive front is active, aggressive and will hem in the powerful Ringer enough times to make Hoyer beat them. And, he wont do it enough to let the Spartans run away and hide in this one. Iowa's D is pretty good at getting sacks and MSU's receiving corps has problems with drops, so if they contain Ringer like I expect, I dont see MSU loosening things up with their aerial attack. Say what you will about Iowa's team inconsistency, but on defense they have the 20th ranked overall defense, 28th against the run and 4th in scoring. Stanzi, their QB, has actually put up better numbers than Hoyer this year and in Shonn Greene, the Hawks have a power back of their own. This will be a fun contest to watch for the battle between Ringer and the Iowa front. Iowa has a strong shot of pulling off the mild upset. And, if Sparty proves me wrong here, dont think for a second I wont chase my theory hard next week. After all, with a victory over Northwestern, a huge showdown looms the following week against Ohio State.
The Pick: Iowa +7, Under 46.5.....hey, I have won three weeks in a row taking the Under in Iowa's games. I wont get off this bandwagon until it crashes.
Illinois at Michigan. Lines, UM -2.5 O/U 49.5. Michigan beat Illinois last season in front of hostile crowd under the lights. The big key will be how will Michigan overcome the graduation of Carlos Brown who churned out over 100 critical yards last year against the Illini. Wait, whats that you say? Carlos is still on Michigan's team!?!? Hmmm. Interesting. I did not know that. So, with Carlos in tow, the suddenly smooth sailing UM offense will just march up and down the field, right? Alright, enough with the lame jokes, lets make a pick here. I have to go with Michigan. I dont get the feeling the team is resting at all on their laurels in the wake of last week's comeback. Besides, this defense wont rest until it murders someone. I love the matchup of UM's D-Line vs Illinois O-Line. Juice Williams will be under a lot more seige than he saw when he raced up and down the field against Missou and PSU earlier in the season. Michigan struggles againt the spread, but they bottled up Illinois quite well last season and defensively, they are stronger and faster now. Expect Shaffer's Okie Defense to come out firing immediately in this one to set the tone. On the other side of the ball, well, lets hope the Wolverins can extend the current 2 quarter, turnover free streak they're on. If so, I think they'll be ok in the end.
The Pick: Michigan, to win on the Moneyline, -124.......my preseason bowl projections have Michigan in the Outback. A win here was originally projected, so I wont back down on that. Its a cheap moneyline, so I'll do that rather than deal with the number. Typically, you have to wager $110 to win $100 and this is just $124 to win $100, not a big difference and worth the extra juice. Now Michigan just needs to win. I have a good feeling about this club. Maybe its the Bailey's I poured liberally in my morning coffee. Rodriguez ought to outcoach the Zooker, right!?!?
Ohio State at Wisconsin. Line, OSU -1, O/U 44. When the Big 2, Little 8 began cracking in the 1980s and parity slowly found the Big 10, each of the traditional Big 10 powers, Michigan and Ohio State, found foils in certain leagues foes that continue to this day. For the Blue, it was Hayden Fry's Iowa teams. The Bucks' foil was the Wisconsin Badgers. Since 1980, OSU is only 13-10-1 straight up against Wisco. In that time, the Bucks actually have a losing record in Madison. Dave McClain owned Earle Bruce springing famous upsets in 1981, 82 and 85, all of which kept OSU out of the Rose Bowl and the latter coming a week after the Bukcs had toppled top ranked Iowa. Cooper's teams struggled as well, losing in 1992, tying in 1993 and giving up 42 straight points at home in a 1999 drubbing. The Badgers played those powerful 1995 and 96 Buckeye teams better than anyone else (well, almost better than anyone else) en route to covers. Surely Tressel has turned the series around, right? Um, no. The Vest is 2-3 versus Bucky. The last time these teams played on this field was in 2003. It was a primetime game and OSU was the defending national champs. The Badgers won a slugfest 17-10 and OSU LB Robert Reynolds commited felonious assault. My gut tells me Wisconsin cant wait to get n the field to make amends for last week. OSU looks better with Pryor, but I think the confident/cocky kid is in for a rude Big 10 welcome tonight. I am still not sold on this year's OSU defense. Something is not right back there and thay have yet to meld into the dominant force that was expected. We're getting far enough into the season where maybe thats just the reality. Very intriguing to see how they play tonight.
The Pick: Wisco +1.......for months, I have said OSU will not run the table in Big 10 play and have circled this game as a likely loss. Tonight, I'll be sticking my money where my mouth is. Also, various books on the web are still offering lines, with steeper juice of course, showing Wisco +3. I'll probably be on one of those, but for this exercise will use the line local books are likley to use. There's no negotiating with those folks like there is on line.
So, that's my Big 10 card for the day. Three underdogs kick off at noon, so lets hope for some afternoon dramatics. No game stands out as a better bet, unlike last week where three of seven jumped out at me. If I have time before I leave for Ann Arbor, I will update this with some of my picks in other games across the country. Overall, I am on a 17-6 run in college picks since last Friday night, so hopefully I will stay hot. Good luck with whatever you play today. And, as always, Go Blue!!