"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
Who said Thanksgiving is a football weekend? Not anymore. It's all about the hoops, babby.
Screw the Lions. Screw the Cowboys. Screw the NFL and them shoving crappy games down our throat on a weekly basis. This is no longer their weekend. Maybe there are folks out there who dont know better, but the true sporting wonks know that for the last several years, this weekend has morphed from a football one into a college hoops weekend. Frankly, there is way more intriguing action on the hardwood today than on the gridiron.
And your Michigan Wolverines will be in the thick of it. In fact, I wont even turn the LOLions game on. Especially since John Beilein's boys will be in action at same time playing their first legit foe of the season.
We all know the deal. Old Spice Classic. Orlando. Florida. State of. We all have high hopes that the Wolverine cagers will take the next step and be a Sweet 16 caliber team. Personally, I feel the, uh, ceiling can be much higher. However, hoops is a tricky game come March, and we've seen plenty of legit Final Four teams bow out before the first weekend of the tournament is even over. I am looking right at you, Wake Forest.
Translation: Let's not get too far ahead ourselves. March is a long way away. Let's buckle in and enjoy the ride. The team is good. They will be there at the end of the season. But, March Madness is not much different than the hockey tournament that MGoBrian complains is as finicky as a random number generator. The Michigan basketball program still needs to put consistent and achieving regular seasons together. Remember, this a program that has not won a Big 10 Title in 24 years and has not been in position to win one in 15 years. Beilein's task is not as much to turn Michigan into a Final Four team, but turn it into a Big 10 contender. If the latter gets accomplished, the former becomes easier just from a seeding standpoint alone.
If its not obvious from the ramblings of these opening graphs, I've been chugging rum in south Florida since Monday afternoon. So, before I get too wordy, let's just simply relish the start of the season and I'll briefly break down this field the only way I know how to: looking at odds, checking out preseason brackets and going by my world famous gut that has been tried and tested to work 51.9457 percent of the time.
Michigan enters this tournament as the betting favorite. Their odds to win are 3/1. Technically, they're the co-favorites. Possible second round foe Xavier shares the chalk role with 3/1 odds. I think both are solid bets. I have a hard time picturing a final without one of these teams coming out of this half of the bracket. And, you cant win a future bet without a team in the finals.
After those squads, you have Florida State and Alabama at 4/1 odds. Both are on the other side of the bracket than Michigan. The Crimson Tide is a sucker bet. I dont know how strong they are. I dont think they beat Baylor in the opener. Yes, that is an official lean as to who I like in that game (Bama is favored by a single point). I would have thought FSU would be a solid play, but man, they looked awful the other night against the Gators. They had nothing going on offense. So far, uber-recruit Marcus Snear does not look ready to pick up any of the scoring slack left in the wake of Toney Douglass' departure. Snear had just five points against Florida and right now good defensive teams--which includes all four teams FSU might see should they even get to the finals--ought to be able to render the Noles impotent.
So, if you want to play a future bet, lay a little out there on either Michigan or Xavier. One of them will be in the finals. And, at 3/1 odds, there is some wiggle room to hedge that bet once Sunday rolls around.
But, the betting odds are for fun. The serious business is what kind of ramifcations will three days in late November have come mid-March and Selection Sunday? Looking back one year ago, you can say a lot.
In this very tournament last year, Oklahoma State and Siena battled for last place. And, yet, thanks to the RPI boost from playing three games against tough foes, neither were ever too far off the at-large bid radar. You can make a case that the Cowboys didnt really do anything from a quality win standpoint all season, yet they never fell out of too many mock brackets during the winter. Their 7th place finish, 1-2 record and win over Siena in this tourney last year kept inflating their resume. They parlayed that into a first round win over Tennessee in a 8/9 game in the NCAAs. The Saints, meanwhile, went 0-3 in last season's OSC. While we'll never know if they would have merited an at large--they made the point moot by winning the MAAC finals--they still got a generous seed compared to previous MAAC standards and in a 8/9 game beat Ohio State. Siena beat Ohio State. There is something poetic about those four words, n'est pas? But, I digress.
Conventional wisdon says this year's field is not as strong as last year's. I would not feel too good about a 7th place finish. But, its still pretty strong at the top. A team like Creighton, who plays Michigan in today's opener, would all but write their own at large ticket with a couple of wins today and tomorrow. Barring a MVC collapse, they will be on the board come March if they can get to Sunday's final. It may be too early to make these considerations, but tomorrow's nooner between the Jays and the Wolverines could end up being on the more important out of conference games of the season.
Did I really say it was too early to consider the possible bracket? Because that is hogwash. Before signing off, lets take a quick tour of the smattering of mock brackets that have already been put out there as part of people's preseason coverage and how it relates to this field.
According to ESPN's Joe Lunardi, only two teams in this field are early projections into the NCAA field. Michigan,a #4, and Xavier, a #8. Marquette is one of his final four teams out and Florida State is among the second final four left out of the field. Creighton is nowhere to be found and the only MVC team in his field in Northern Iowa, a #12, but the Jays are widely tabbed as one of the MVC favorites.
CollegeHoops.net actually places three teams fron this field: Michigan, #4; Xavier, #7 and Creighton, #11. Are you suddenly sweating today's game, MIchigan fans? Florida State makes the grade as one of their final four teams cut from the field.
The Sporting News published a bracket look-ahead in their preseason rag on newstands. Michigan, #6, Florida State, #7 and Xavier, #8 make thier field. They did not list the teams who just missed the cut. They did pick Creighton to finish in second place in the MVC. So, they Jays come highly regarded by their writers. Interesting stat from their preview article on CU, btw: Only Creighton, Florida, Duke, Gonzaga, Syracuse and Kansas have at least 11 consecutive winning seasons. The Jays are going for their 13th straight season of 20 or more wins. Yo.
Bracketology 101 lists Michigan as a #4, Xavier as a #10, FSU a final four out and Creighton as one of their next four teams out of the field.
The Bracket Matrix is already in gear with plenty of other way too early mocks to absorb. While some may find bracket crunching in November silly, I feel these mocks are way more tellin and engaging to look through than the polls. Those are, by and large, irrelevant in the college hoops world.
Obvioulsy, these snapshots are so early, they're not worth anything. But, you can see just how important tomorrow's game might be for Creighton. A win over Michigan and a good overall showing this week would put them on a lot of people's bracket lines and it would take a lot to budge them off. This game, in some ways, is a lot like that Boise/Oregon football game to start the season. It's much more important to the mid major. And, that makes tomorrow's noon tip way more exciting than anything the NFL is giving us during the day.
A year ago, Michigan was in the dumps with one of the longest tournament droughts within the BCS conference ranks. They were coming off an awful season. There was not much on the roster screaming big improvement.
Now, the Wolverines are ranked in the preseason polls, the betting favorite to win a Feast Week Tournament and considered a #4 seed via the consensus of preseason bracketologists. I am thankful for John Beilein.
Here's hoping the Wolverines can live up to the hype and not fall under the weight of the program's first bigtime expectations in over a decade.
(Diarist Note: I dont know how many of these hoop diaries I will do this season. This site was lacking last winter on hoops coverage, mostly because of Brian's sojourn abroad, but I never got the impression he was all that into it. Tim has set a pretty high bar so far for MGo hoops coverage. I dont want to be repititive. If anyone has ideas or hoop news they would like to see to supplement their coverage, feel free to drop me an idea.)
Michigan Football is but a part of one of the world's best universities. And a cultural touchstone in one of the best college and socially aware towns in the world.
Michigan Football is actually Meeeeeechigan Football.
Michigan Football is growing up with Bob Ufer, be it family gatherings around the radio to listen to road games or wearing gigantic headphones straight from the 1970s over your ears to keep up with the action while at the game. Michigan Football is the indelible spirit and Maize and Blue partisanship that Ufer instilled in many a generation of fans. It's General Patton's horn. It's God Bless Your Cotton Picking Maize and Blue Hearts.
Michigan Football is Great To Be A Michigan Wolverine.
Michigan Football is my grandmother's fried chicken during a tailgate. Its been over 20 years since I had any, but I can still taste it on my tongue at times if the right aroma is wafting around the golf course on game day.
Michigan Football is Wangler to Carter on the last play, Elvis to Desmond on 4th and 1 and Forcier to Matthews with time running out.
Michigan Football is Stewart to Westbrook, Rocket Ishmael kick returns and Spartan Bob to TJ Duckett.
Michigan Football is Paul Girgash, John Vitale, Phillip Brabbs, Vada Murray and Elliot Mealor. You're family once you come here. You did (or in Mealor's case doing) us proud on the field. Your battles are our battles. Always.
Michigan Football is Jamie Morris, Mike Hart, Jim Harbaugh, Chadd Henne, Jake Long, Jon Jansen, Curtis Greer, Lamar Woodley, David Harris, Erik Anderson, Andy Canavinno, Tony Boles, Allen Jefferson, Mike Taylor and Steve Everitt. Michigan Football is Rich Hewlett, Chris Zurbrugh, Demetrious Brown, Steven Threet, Justin Fargas, Sam McGuffie, Brandon Minor, Brandon Graham, Stevie Brown, Obi Ezeh, Zoltan Mesko and David Moosman.
Michigan Football is Super Cid and Super Cede, David Cone, Nick Sheridan and Jordan Kovacs.
Michigan Football is Hail to Victors, Varsity, Hurrah for the Yellow and Blue and Let's Go Blue.
Michigan Football is the Michigan Marching Band, all members past and present without whose spirit the Big House would not nearly be as cool a place. You are the heart and soul of the fanbase. It's the halftime shows. It's Rocky and Bullwinkle, the High Step, Tempation and because you cant have one without the other the Hawaiin War Chant. Its William Revelli, Jerry Billik, George Cavendar, Eric Becher, Jamie Nix, Scott Boerma, and the Man Up Front.
Michigan Football is hating Ohio State, despising Notre Dame, begrudginly tolerating Penn State and ignoring, except for one week, Michigan State.
Michigan Football is being so dominant that Rose Bowl Organizers decided to hold, among other things, Chariot Races in the many years between the first and second actuall football games because nobody could touch the Wolverines and Fielding Yost's Boys.
Michigan Football is Stanford scoring 13 points in the final two minutes, Warren Moon's air show, the Phantom Touchdown and the lethal combo of Vince Young and Dusty Magnum.
Michigan Football is Buth Woolfolk's 182 yards, Leroy Hoard's 142 yards, Tyrone Wheatley's 236 yards, Griese to Streets, Woodson picking off Leaf in the endzone, Brady to Terrell and Lloyd over Urban.
Michigan Football is Yost, Oosterbaan, Kipke, Crisler and Elliot. Michigan Football is Bo, Mo, Llloyd, Hanlon, Gittleson, DeBord and Hermann. Michigan Football is Rodridguez, Magee, Barwis, Frey and GERG.
Michigan Football is long distance calls to my grandfather after every game to rehash the events. Michigan Football is breaking down in a heap of tears after the '98 MSU game because for the first time ever I didnt have a grandfather to call after a big game.
Michigan Football is hugging my brother as the seconds ticked away in this year's Notre Dame game. Michigan Football is jumping up and down with my father after D-War's interception in the fourth quarter against Indiana. A pair of moments of unbridled joy between family members who dont always get along and see eye to eye. A pair of moments that will always define the 2009 beyond anything else we've seen on the the field this season.
Michigan Football is my grandmother's crush on her Little Anthony Carter. Michigan Football is my mother exclaiming her love for Shoelace after the season opener.
Michigan Football has always been family. From my blood relatives to lifelong friends I've tailgated with to this amazing community of invisible e-friends forged the last couple of seasons.
Michigan Football is the Hole that Yost Dug, that Canham Carpeted, and that Bo Sold Out.
Michigan Football is Michigan Stadium, the coziest big stadium in the entire world. The Big House. The Wrigley Field of college football. The best neighborhood stadium in the land. Where 100,000 of our closest friends gather for church a half dozen Saturdays in the fall.
Michigan Football is the look on someone's face the first time they meander through an entrance tunnel and gaze out onto the field and the mass of humanity around them
Michigan Football is trekking to the 1989 and 1991 OSU games in the world's most beat up RV, not so affectionaly dubbed the Golden Turd. I can still remember the looks of doubt, fear and shock on the people we picked up on the way out of town as we pulled into their driveways. Hey, it made it back and forth and for this teenager it represented a new peak in the world of tailgating that helped set the tone for the college days that were about the begin.
Michigan Football is reprising that venture for the 2009 Game. The Wild Rover isnt any less beat up than the Turd, but its guaranteed to provide us with as much fun. We'll be in the Fingerle Lot just after dawn. If we make it, of course.
Michigan Football is the student section infuriating the prudish types with chants of Bullshit after calls against the home team and throwing teepee on the field after scores (1970s-early1980s) or pelting the field with Marshmellows (late 1980 into the 1990s) or pointing at the other team and yelling 'you suck' after every third down failure (current day).
Michigan Football is an oasis from real life. Like five years ago in the wake of one my closest and dearest friends passing away suddenly, inexplicably and way, way, way too early before her time. We grew up together. Our families went to games together. We're still reeling from this in many way. But, for three hours the day after she passed, Chad and Braylon at least gave us something else to cheer about and get into as they won a classic OT game over Michigan State. I remain convinced that Tiff someone guided some of those fluttering deep bals into the right hands that day. She knew we needed a win.
Michigan Football is the arguments. Jamie Morris or Mike Hart? Who is more clutch, Kolesar, Howard or Braylon? Brady or Henne? You know leaving out Elvis and Harbaugh is a mistake, I think you should reconsider. Better defense, 1985, 1997 or 2006? Better offense, 2000 or 2003? Best win over OSU? Can you really pick? It's like picking your favorite child. Who should start? Who should get carries? How much time should Denard get? What the hell is up with that playcall? Pink Slips, anyone? Why come Brian is so harsh in the UFR's, he doesnt even know the playcall?
Michigan Football is 1985, 1997 and 2003. Michigan Football is 1984, 1987 and 2008. Michigan Football is 12-3-1. Michigan Football is 1-7.
Michigan Football is five consecutive Big 10 Championships from 1988-1992. Michigan Football is four straight four loss seasons from 1993-1996. Michigan Football is the 1997 National Champion.
Michigan Football is heartbreak on third and short, be it on yet another fullback plunge into the line (Bo), an inexplicable passing play (Mo), a zone stretch to the far side of the field that has no chance (Lloyd) to a designed quarterback run with your undersized freshmen signal caller (Rich). And who said Rodriguez doesn't understand Michigan tradition?
Michigan Football is the Cook Family Tailgate, a tradition dating back to the 1950s that eventually inspired the genius (or insanity) behind mgoblog. Michigan Football is lifelong fan and lifelong friend Tyler flying odd hours in the night and morning to take his kids Fielding and Tess to their first games. Michigan Football is MJV leaving well before sun up in Chicago and arriving home in the late hours of the night so he can take his young son to his first games.
Michigan Football is Grandma and Grandpa Mac taking a seven-year-old Jamie Mac to his first games waaaaay baaaack in 1979, setting off a lifelong love affair with the program, school and city. It's Uncle Mac and Father Mac stuffing extra beers in my oversized Army coat, after more alcohol restrictions were put in place because nobody searches a 12-year-old. It's sitting in the exact same seats some 30 years later and never failing to think of all of them the instant I walk into the stadium. It's shedding a tear of fondness each home game as I remember all the good times over the decades those seats have brought me and my family. Michigan Football is the thousand of other stories just like this one.
Michigan Football is a young Tim Sullivan casting aside his central Ohio roots for a better place and a cooler football addiction. Michigan Football is the thousand of new students who flock to Ann Arbor every year as freshmen who never gave football a thought, but become rabid lifers after their first four quarters in the student section. Make no mistake, you are the backbone of this fan base and dont let fools like me tell you otherwise just because you dont know who Tripp Welbourne is.
Michigan Football is poaching football studs out of Ohio to play for the good guys. Where would the program have been just in the last two decades withouth the likes of John Kolesar, Vada Murray, Desmond Howard, Elvis Grabc, Jarrod Bunch, Ricky Powers, Jon Vaughn, Marcus Ray, Charles Woodson, Prescott Burgess and Shawn Crable? Getting Ohio kids to cross the state line is one of Michigan Football's oldest and most important traditions.
Michigan Football is Kevin Koger, Michael Shaw, Roy Roundtree, Elliot Mealor, Justin Turner, Patrick Omameh, not to mention the seven verbals in the 2010, busting their butts to forward and enhance the above tradition.
Michigan Football means a lot to many people. It binds us as a community and trumps our differences. It provides us with hope, fun, satisfaction, thrilling highs and depressing lows. Michigan Football is life. I know its one of the more important aspects of my life. I couldn't imagine my life without the Maize and Blue in it. My first heroes in life were guys like AC, Wangler, Greer and Woolfolk. Some of my favorite moments in life took place while sitting in Section 14 or watching from afar on TV. Today, my heart breaks for the kids on today's team because they are working so hard and not getting the results that they want.
Michigan Football is on the rise, even if its hard to discern the forward steps in the climb upwards right now. Michigan Football has the best young talent in the conference right now. Like wine, its just needs some time to harvest into something vintage.
Michigan Football will burn the boats tomorrow. Michigan Football is on the ropes, but they will come out swinging tomorrow with their best punches. Michigan Football has always saved its best for when people doubt it the most. Michigan Football will be carried tomorrow by seniors like Brandon Graham, who have one last chance to leave a legacy. Michigan Football will be carried tomorrow by a freshmen quarterback who has shown enough flashes of brilliance that he'll be taking snaps in Pasadena before his career is out. Michigan Football lays it all out on the line when the Scarlett and Gray are on the other side of the field.
Win or lose, I'll be proud of them and cheer them on. And, have fun doing so. That's Michigan Football. They are Michigan Football.
Michigan Football ruled. Michigan Football will rule again. Michigan Football is down, but not out. Michigan Football will be back.
Go Blue! Beat The Bucks!
I'll meet you at Brian's for the victory celebration tomorrow afternoon.
(Oh, and Big 10 Picks......let's go IU +4 over Purdue, Iowa -10 over Minny, NW +7 over Wisco, MSU +3.5 over PSU and UM/OSU Over 47)
Here we are a deep in the home stretch and it's perhaps the most dramatic weekend of the Big 10 season. Three teams (Purdue, Indiana and Illinois) face bowl elimination games today. Three others (Michigan State, Michigan and Minnestoa) can clinch bowl eligibility, but a lose puts them in a make or break game in next week's finale. A seventh (Northwestern) wants more win because even though they already has the six required for a bowl they dont want to be part a 6-6 logjam and they'v been snubbed with that 6-6 record in the past. Oh, and, by the way, the Big 10 Championship will be decided when Iowa and Ohio State swap paint in Columbus. Rose are on the line and thats always a special day in the Big 10.
Anyway I like the matchups tomorrow. A natural rivalry with Northwestern/Illinois as both teams enter on the uptick. MSU/Purdue with bowl implications galore for both programs. Iowa's defensive line trying to take Pryor's head off. The ongoing drama that has been Michigan's season takes on Wisconsin in one of Big 10's most underrated sereis from a classic value. Here are the picks.
Indiana at Penn State, noon, BTN. Lines, PSU -25, O/U 55.5
The greatest moment in Indiana-Penn State history took place on November 5, 1994, during the Nittany Lions first visit to Bloomington as a member of the Big 10. The Lions were smoking hot back then, in fact they were the top-ranked team in the nation at the time. Kerry Collins, Kijana Carter, Bobby Engram, Kyle Brady, Joe Jurivicious, Brandon Noble, Kim Herring. And on and on and on. This team was stacked. They beat Michigan 31-24 in Ann Arbor and dropped 63 points on Ohio State. They should show that game more often on the classic networks.
And, they pretty much rolled the Hoosiers that afternoon. They were up 21 points with the clock winding down. Then, magic happened. IU hit a long bomb for a score. Recovered on on sides kick. Scored on another long bomb. All in the span of the game's final 30 seconds, with the last TD coming as time expired. They did, however, convert a two-point attempt after that score to make the final score 35-29, with 15 points coming in the final half minute, mostly through desperation heaves into the air.
The scores didnt impact bettors as the underdog Hoosiers had already covered the number before any of those scores. But, the game had a major impact on the polls. When the votes were counted the following day, the Nittany Lions had been knocked out of the top spot. Voters now favored Nebraska in both polls and Penn State never saw the top ranking again. In a clear case of voters doing nothing more than checking the final score, Penn State was punished by a freaky series of events that turned a dominant effort into something that looked close. I was at this game. It was not close. Not in the least bit. This was gift wrapped for Nebraska. Eff You Nebraska! Every corner of you, even you Omaha. Ghey Counting Crows song.
So, one of the best teams in Big 10 history ended up slighted in the final polls. And, for Indiana, its the most relevant thing the football program has done on the national scale in the last 20 years. For that, it stands as the top moment in this series' history. Well, until the Hoosiers pull off the win next year in their home away from home in Maryland, where they do crab cakes and IU football like nobody's business.
The Pick: IU +25......Look, I'm a realist. IU is not winning this game. But, the Hoosiers have been green with profit all season, logging a 7-2 ATS mark. They've largely outplayed their opponenets this season. And, while I dont think they stand a chance in heck hanging point for point with the Lions, they enter this game confident and expecting to do well. PSU might sleep walk a bit in the early going hungover still from last week's OSU game. I think the Hoosiers get at least three scores in this one and PSU has not shown an offense that runs up the score on anyone, so that will be more than enough to keep IU within this number. I think IU's active front might cause a turnover or two out of Clark who has never looked good against teams with active, athletic ends and OLBs, which the Hoosiers have. It wont be enough to win, but enough to keep this one competitive into the second half.
Northwestern at Illinois, noon, ESPN Classic. Lines, Illini -5, O/U 48
Illinois has seemingly turned their season around, but they still need to win out in order to get to a bowl game. The public must be convinced that Illinois is back enough to be counted on the win games. They're favored in this game. Northwestern, meanwhile, is coming off a physical win against Iowa. Two weeks ago, who would you guess to be favored in this game? What if we spilled the beans and granted a NW win over Iowa? Could you still forsee the Illini as chalk, even at home? I would not have.
That's not to say Northwestern is playing all that good. But, I like Mike Kafka's game. Illinois is still giving up a lot of passing yards and Kafka, despite playing a bit hurt, will still torch the Illini secondary and make plays with his arm. It does not look like Juice will play this game after being knocked out last late week. I think NW's steady defense will contain the RS Frosh Charest in his first start.
The Pick: Northwestern +5.......I am not ready to trust Illinois as a favorite. No way. And, I've always liked Northwestern as an underdog when they're playing fellow December bowl hopefuls. Neither team is perfect, but one is coached by Ron Zook, the other by Pat Fitzgerald. I like the Cats.
Michigan State at Purdue, noon, ESPN. Lines, MSU-3, O/U 53
Personally, I think Michigan State has had a disappointing season. This was supposed to be a 9-win team and a Big 10 sleeper, at least according to their fanbase and a lot of pundits, trying to sound smart by going off track when forecasting the league back in the summer. They just have not been able to close out games, furthering a Spartan tradition about as old as the program itself. I dont think they're guaranteed another win this season as this one will be a dog fight and they host Penn State next week.
Two weeks ago they were road favorites at Minnesota and gave up 42 points in a game that was out of control for them from the start. I once thought MSU could be primed for a late season run, but that game reminded me that MSU cant stop the big play on D and are vulnerable to good, balanced offenses. Right now, that's Purdue. I wont be shocked if the same thing happens in this one with Purdue seizing early momentum on offense. Sparty has not packed its defense for road trips this season, giving up over 30 points a game in their travelers. Purdue's offense has more than enough to continue those numbers.
I'm not sure where MSU is right now. They're neither playing their worst, nor their best ball of the season. They're kind of just average. Purdue, meanwhile, with one glaring exception, is playing their best ball of the year over the last month. At home, desperate for a win to stay alive for a bowl, I think they continue that upward trend. Bolden will outrush the Spartans and Elliot will outduel another first year QB for the second week in a row.
The Pick: Purdue +3........the home team is 9-2 ATS, Purdue is 5-2 ATS as an underdog, Sparty is 2-5 ATS against the Big 10 and 1-4 ATS in their last five trips to Ross-Ade Stadium. It's like a Harem of Trends. What could go wrong?
Iowa at Ohio State, 3:30, ABC. Lines, OSU -17, O/U 37.5
A lot of air leaked out of this game with the Ricky Stanzi injury. After watching the redshirt frosh Vandenburg struggle mightily and look lost trying to steer his team at home against Northwestern, how in the world is he going to get anything done on the road against the mighty Buckeyes? Its not hard to imagine the OSU D swarming this kid and turning this game into a rout on that side of the ball.
But I dont count the Hawkeyes totally out of this game. Nobody on their defense got hurt last week. They're still a nasty bunch. There DLine will dominate OSU's Oline. They make other teams QBs look bad and we finally get to see this defensive unit go up against Terrelle Pryor. While Pryor has played well of late, I stand by what I said weeks ago on the MGoPodcast that when these clubs play take the Under on all Pryor prop bets you could find. So, it was a little disappointing to find out this week that I could only find four prop bets geared on Pryor's performance. For laughs, lets take a look at them.
Completions, O/U 11.5
What will he throw first: Interception +170, TD -220
Rushing attempts, O/U 12.5
Will he rush for a TD: Yes -220, No +170
I could talk myself into the Under in completions. And, I didnt really take rushing stats into account on those words many weeks ago. He seems a lock to go over 12.5 rushes. I have never really done player props in the college. I dont see myself really starting here, but, who knows, in the wake of Michigan game I may do something rash.
The Pick: Iowa +17.......I like the Iowa D a lot, I like the Kirk Ferentz Game Management Plan, I love Tressel Ball to betray the heavy chalk, I think the Iowa DL mauls the OSU OL, I think the Iowa OL holds their own against the OSU front, and I think Iowa's receiving threats can get open enough where the new QB can lead a few scoring drives. I dont think OSU has the ability to score enough points to cover this suddenly huge number. For most of the season, this line as been OSU -9, but we saw the line skyrocket this week almost overnight in the wake of Iowa's loss and Stanzi's injury. I have a feeling the final ends up falling into between those numbers.
Michigan at Wisconsin, noon, BTN. Lines, Wisco -85, O/U 55
This game has also seen a big jump in the line from midseason to now. Pretty much the whole way from summer into early November, the line in this game hovered between -3 to -4 Wisco. We all know now that line actually opened this week at -10 before settling into the 9/8.5 numbers we're seeing everywhere now.
In this game, you have two of best young offenses in the league. So I dont see why you shouldnt expect the continuation of the total trend that has seen Michigan games in the Rodriguez tenure go Over the mark at a two out of every game clip. I know the Badgers have some good defensive numbers, but they've had a hard time matching up on their schedule at times with teams with a wide range of weapons in the passing game. Michigan may not be a fully functional Rodruguez offense yet, but it has those weapons. And, a good enough run game to keep the whole defense honest. If the tackles can hold up enough of the time, I dont see why Michigan cant put forth a good scoring effort.
Obviously, they're going to need it to hang around in this one. But this has traditionally been one of the closest series that Michigan has played. I dont see why these teams wont play another one. These teams arent as far apart as people are making it out to be.
The Pick: Michigan +8.5.......here's another reason. In all games between the 4-11 teams in the league ( a natural cutoff because of the amazing drop off from really good top 3 teams to the equally dazzling mediocre other eight), the underdog is 12-5 ATS. Considering I am just 9-8 ATS in those games, this is something I should have been doing all along. We have three of those dogs with Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue. I like my chances to get two out of three.
I cant believe its already the first Saturday of November. The season has gone by in a blink of an eye. The Big 10 has divded into two groups: Iowa, PSU and OSU. And everyone else. Two of the former could still make the BCS, which could help the huddled middle class of the laegue. There is so much to shuffle out, but the league could have eight bowl eligible teams. Right now, the leagueis in contention to lead the country in teams finishing 6-6. That second BCS bid could let them all go bowling. But with two midmajors bucking for a spot, Notre Dame cruising to a 10-win season and possible contenders from the ACC and Pac 10 getting a rare at large for thier leagues (I would say USC, Miami, for example, could easily get at larges if they win out and dont win their leagues), the Big 10 could easily get shut out. Meanwhile, a mean chase for the Motor City, er Little Ceasars Pizza Bowl, will also play out. With that in mind, onto this week's picks:
Wisconsin at Indiana, noon, BTN. Lines: Wisco -11, O/U 54.5
Here's a list of all-time moments in Indiana-Wisconsin series history: The 1992 classic in Bloomington with the Hoosiers wheezing to a 10-3 win. The best play of the game was an 80-yard punt. It didnt matter as we swapped whiskey shots on a sun soaked October southern Indiana afternoon. Afterwards we went an amazing barbecue post game tailgate. One of the best football Saturdays I ever had while down there, the moments of which we dont have time for here. I was 20. Sigh; the 1999 tilt, where a group of us fellow Hoosiers took in the game from the Treasure Island sports book during a Vegas weekend. With the emerging threat of Antwaan Randle-El on our side, we were rather bullish on the Hoosiers that day catching points against the Badgers in a shootout, so we all took IU and the Over 56. Three hours and eleventy billion yards by Ron Dayne later, we were praying that the Badgers could at least cover the Over for us by themselves. They did. 58-0; the 2001 clash where, despite an All Big 10 performance the whole year out of Randle-El, IU entered the game winless. Gordie, my college roommate back in the day, was so disgusted with the compentecy of the Cam Cameron era that he bet the house on the Badgers who were laying something like two touchdowns. Indiana played the best game I've seen out of the program and won 63-28. We toasted the Hoosiers and mocked Gordie by downing Irish car bombs into the night; watching him do the same thing the following year in 2002 and seeing IU pull out another upset, abeit this one in a closer fashion, 31-28. So, you might as well keep an eye on this game so you don't miss the magic.
The Pick: Indiana +11.......Jonathan Clay is going to have a monster day. But, I dont think the Hoosiers shrink here. Their defensive front will confuse Badger QB Scott Tolzien into enough mistakes to give the Hoosiers a shot. A year after being non competitive in every game, the Hoosiers have outplayed their opponent in seven of nine games, IMHE. Badgers have had some trouble this year matching up with good receivers and unlike Purdue last week Doss and Belcher wont drop everything thrown to them. IU is one of the best in the nation at the turnover game, something I like in a home dog catching double figures. Am I betting with my heart? Maybe, but that heart is 4-1 ATS when going to the window with the Hoosiers this year. So, Indiana is the reliable football progam and Michigan can't win a Big 10 game? Good grief. What's next? Michigan's basketball team ranked in preseason poll and the IU hoopsters at the bottom of the standings? Wait, what?
Illinois at Minnesota, noon, BTN. Lines:Minny -7, O/U 54
The two most impressive Big 10 teams from a week ago meet up in this one. Dueling gambling trends knock heads as well with the 7-3 ATS road dog Illini going up against the 13-3 ATS against teams with a losing record Gophers. Hey, its the 89th and 108th scoring offenses vs the 76th and 73th scoring defense. Ron Zook vs Tim Brewster. That's some hot Big 10 action. I wish we could wager on things like 'will Pam Ward be broadcasting this game?' or 'will this be a Sam Rosen game on the BTN?' I think the Book would be surprised how much action they could get there.
The Pick: Minnesota -7......yeah, I dont trust the Illini are back. I like the way the Gophers have played at home this year. They'll jump on the Illini early. Illinois will have trouble with Weber's passing. The ball hawking Gopher defense will create a couple key turnovers and might even score. Gophers will be in control most of the game and pull away late to win by more than two scores.
Northwestern at Iowa, noon, ESPN. Lines: Iowa -15.5, O/U 45
Iowa's roller coaster ride in their surprising pursuit of a National Title meets up with a Northwestern team that has actually beaten the Hawks in three of their last four meetings. With a possible look ahead to the Buckeyes next week, are the Hawkeyes primed for an upset? Hey, anything is possible when the ball is in Ricky Stanzi's hand. In the end, I dont think Iowa trips up here. In fact, they get this done by three touchdowns. They were lucky last week to cover the big number, but this week they're legit in earning it. Northwestern can move the ball through the air. Kafka might be the best passer in the Big 10. But, look for Iowa to dominate the field position game as there's a big difference in the punting games in the Hawks favor. I dont trust any QB in the Big 10 to drive long fields consistently against Iowa. Kafka can fall into sloppy tendencies, too, so eventually he might give Stanzi Ball a run for its money. The Wildcats scored just 13 points against PSU and I dont think they get too much more here. Iowa pays back Northwestern in a big way.
The Pick: Iowa -15.5.........If the Hawkeyes are at home, I'm playing them. I have always had a love affair with Iowa due to a four-year span beginning with the Brad Banks era where I seemed to nail everyone of their games. They printed money at Kinnick Stadium. The last two seasons, highlighted by the nation's second longest winning, have been like having a steamy affair with an old flame. I'm on them today and I look forward to their defensive line thrashing Kafka into his worst day of the season.
Purdue at Michigan, noon, BTN. Lines: Michigan -6, O/U 53.5
I share everyone else's fascination with this pointspread, even though I said on the podcast it would probably be around five points. Who really needs nearly a full touchdown to be goaded into betting against Michigan the way they've played? Are we to believe there is such a clamor of people going to the window that the odds needed to be jacked up this high to stem the tide of Wolverine money? Apparently, because that's what happened. When some of the first off shores posted lines late Sunday night and into Monday morning, I saw a number of places, notably caribsports, pinnacle and sportsbook, had Michigan favored by 3.5. I am in a weekly football pool that includes a handful of college and NFL games and the proprietor of the pool grabs Monday lines from an offshore and sends the pool. This game is 3.5 on that sheet. But, then before you know it shot up to 6 points. That's a huge surge of steam towards Michigan. You know who usually bets a ton of money, enough to move the line, that early in the week? Wiseguy types who rake in every week betting the games. Interesting. Of course, many of those same folks will all be investing in Purdue on the late line in attempt to win a juicy middle with a four or five point Michigan win. Thats why they call it gambling. Anyway, for my tastes, I dont think you can lay a lot of points with a defense like Michigan's that can be scored on with any play from anywhere on the field. I think there should be a lot of points, so after two weeks of Unders, expect the Over to cash in a Michigan game. And, if you can, put some chips on the Over for total combined turnovers. Holy hell, these teams perfected the art. Everyone around here likes to say its Michigan 2008 all over again. Except, Purdue has actually stolen the disguise as well. Hard to imagine less than 5 giveaways in this one.
The Pick: Purdue +6......I love going to games. But, if I have to leave depressed by their effort, or see black and gold clad fans snapping photos of the scoreboard like they're at Disneyland, then I might as well profit. And, if the Wolverines come out and play their best game of the season and win this one easy, then I consider this money well spent.
Ohio State at Penn State, 3:30, ABC. Lines: PSU -5, O/U 39
A heavyweight fight. Last year's game was a bloodbath. This will end being one of the more physical games played this season. Frankly, I think Penn State is way more equipped to succeed and win in that type of game. They strike me as the type of team who can win anywhere in any style of game. Ohio State looks like a team that might fold if he gets caught in the mouth. Penn State will come out swinging, eventually landing enough blows en route to winning this game by at least a touchdown. Not a lot of points will be on the scoreboard. Both defensive lines have serious matchup advantages against their opposing offensive lines. But, the I think the PSU DL will inflict a lot more lethal damage on Pryor than the OSU front will cause Clark and company. The Beavers are running smooth on offense. Clark is putting together a fantastic senior season proving doofus doubters like myself wrong. Pryor is a turnover and incompletion machine. I'm not sure I trust him to lead his team to touchdowns against good teams, let alone winning a game. I think he's going to get to know Navarro Bowman and Jared Odrick real well tomorrow. He might even complete a pass to one and hand the ball of to the other. But, he might ditch both of them altogether and toss loving kisses to Sean Lee all day. Take the Under wherever you can on Pryor's stat line.
The Pick: Penn State -5........the home team has gone 10-6 ATS since they've been league rivals with PSU covering four of the last five on this field. Buckeyes breaking in a new kicker. Points will be so hard to come by in this one that its hard not seeing that being a negative impact on OSU.
Yesterday's second half was the worst blow to a Revolution since:
A. The Winter of Valley Forge
B. The Seige of Vicksburgh
C. The Alamo
Well, it cant be the Alamo because thats what last week's game was. So that makes it either Valley Forge or Vicksburgh. And, really, right now, on the first day of November in Year 2 of the Rodriguez Revolution, it's hard to determine which is the more apt historical marker in light of yesterday's outcome and ensuing aftermath. It could be either one right now. A clear cut TBD.
If it's Valley Forge, its a cold harsh reminder of how long the struggle will be, yet a fact of life towards the eventual birth of a super power. If its Vicksburgh, its the beginning of an end, one that could be as drawn out with an ensuing upheaval and Reconstruction period that ultimately would set the program back farther back than any of us can possibly imagine.
Clearly, I hope its the former. Sadly, I can no longer expect that. I remain convinced Rodriguez can get it done in a big way here at Michigan. I am now, however, dubious that he can survive the noise that will envelop the program in the wake of the Illinois loss. The critics had been put away, but they seize on losses like this with the reactionary temper of a hyperbolic spastic hopped up on an eight ball. Those critics must be RIGHT becasue their OUTRAGE is LOUD and ANGRY and this is UNACCEPTABLE and they WONT TAKE THIS ANYMORE because this is not MICHIGAN FOOTBALL.
Well, I have two words for those hyperbolic reactionaries today.
Oh, and another sentence.
Go cheer for another team for awhile.
You should have left years ago. Let me clue you in on a dirty little secret: Your precious Michigan program has been fooling people for an entire decade. Any reference to It as contemporary elite program is rubbish. I hate to throw out the real F word, but they have been frauds for a long time now.
Do you want to know why your bowl streak didnt die sooner? The difference between some of the teams earlier this decade and 2008 is some got to sit next hot rollers while one sat next to an all-star cooler.
The 2004 team was the luckiest team in program history. 2005 might have been the second luckiest, despite its Infinite Pain lore. The 2005 team 's 7-5 record was much closer to the program's true identity, record wise, than the seasons immediately before and after it. The famed 2006 team almost lost to Ball State. In the tenth game of the season. A MAC team. With a losing record. Hokalicious!
Come on, we're talking about the same program that lost to Appalachian State in 2007. Even with an all-time group of upperclassmen, the program lost that game, were woodshedded by an Oregon team, and scored just three points against OSU. Not once that whole regular season did they play like a club worthy of even begin ranked. Those uppclassmen had been holding the program together by the skin of their teeth for years.
In the wake of their mass departure after the bowl win over Florida, the program was left with a stark reality nobody bothered to notice: The program had no depth. Ann Arbor claimed to be a place for the leaders and the best. But, instead, it had become a place where recruits went to get get slower and weaker. Folks, that was Michigan's reputation. And it was earned. Michigan was a fraud. That was the perspective from the outside looking in. But, it's easy to be blinded by reality when genuflecting at the church of Hart, Henne and Long.
A team with some all-program caliber players sprinkled throughout the roster almost lost to a woeful MAC team and did lose to a FCS school in embarassing fashion during their final two seasons in Ann Arbor. So, we're melting down in shock, horror and ALL CAPS because the team meshed virtually entirely of freshmen, sophomores and mid-level upperclassmen recruits left in their wake actually did lose to a bad MAC team and a terrible Big 10 team during their first two years? Really, you're surprised by this development? Folks, this is not 'what out of left field' looks like.
This stretch of poor seasons was a long time coming. It took an incredible amount of luck that it didnt happen sooner. And if you cant like Michigan in the bad times, then why do you like Michigan even at all? If you're not up for the long climb to the top, then I dont know what to tell you. If you're not aware of the mediocrity every other past elite program had to wallow through while it reinvented itself before it could become elite again, then crack open some college history books.
This 2009 team is basically where we all thought it would be back in the summer. We all, myself as much as anyone, let our minds get filled with big things this season after that September start. Maybe something like a nine win season could be in the offing. I am discouraged by the outcome yesterday, but certainly not disillusioned with where we are as a program today. Eight days ago, I was stoned enough on Maize and Blue bud and the Power of the Forcier to think the we were about to turn a corner. Today, I have been reminded just how long and hard it will be to take a fraudelent program and turn it into a super power in the current world of college football. And, make no mistake, that is indeed the charge of Rodriguez and he--or anyone else for that matter--aint doing it overnight.
When faced with the reality of yesterday you have to go back and remind yourself where you thought the team was in the summer. I hoped they could find seven wins on the schedule. I also said during one of our WLA Lives in August that I didnt like our chances to win any of the four road games this season. Part of my initial excitement about the Notre Dame win is that it opened the door for a bowl season that didnt include a win in any of these road games. I thought having QBs with the right skill set would enable a big improvement. But, I figured getting all your snaps from true freshmen QBs with this team would probably be enough to really limit the improvements as measured in the black and white world of wins and losses. The defense scared the crap out of me, especially if we had to do any lineup shuffling past our original first string. Can we kick a field goal? Or field a kick?
If you had told me back in the summer that Brandon Minor would be on pace for less carries, yards and scores than last year; and that our freshmen QBs would account for twice as many turnovers as TDs in Big 10 play; and that the defense, more youthful that last season, would be every bit as big play vulnerable and seive like as last years; and that walk ons would emerge as starters with lineup shuffles in the secondary virtually every week; and that after close to half a season of a return game that was impeccable, it would return to last year's lost fumble per game form......well, if you told me all that, I think I would have promptly scheduled and left for a three month Sabbatical to Australia or something.
But, if you had told me all that, and promised a winning record after nine games, I would have made that deal. And, here we are, with a winning record in November. Take it, or leave it.
Now, I had some issues with how Rodriguez handled the game yesterday. He coached poorly. The team has had no offensive identity the last couple of weeks, and its the burden of the coaches to cultivate that. I am surprised we're this confused about how are rushing carries are being distributed. And, I blame him for not being able to rally the kids yesterday in the second half. That goal line stand should not have been the knockout punch it so obviously was. They were unable to coach the kids up and Rodriguez personally seemed as stunned as the players after the touchdown was overturned.
Hearing him in the postgame presser talk about how he felt it was a TD reminded me of Mike Davis bucking for a 17-win Indiana team to make the tournament after a 25-point opening round loss to Minnesota in the Big 10 Tournament by pleading 'we were the fourth place team.' Yeah, they dont even have a color for fourth place ribbons, Chief. And, in case you needed to be told, when I get flashes of Mike Davis based on something you did, it is most definetly not good. No question.
So, Rodriguez has a big chore ahead of him and a lot that he has to achieve between now and the end of the season. He needs to get these kids back playing with confidence and an identity on offense. He cant let November spin out of control the way the second half spiraled last weekend. He has to recharge Forcier and get him back to early season form. He needs to establish some momentum of what a good-looking Rodriguez team will look like in the future. We'll see.
But, I'm not going to let one step back with what is still the youngest team in the Big 10, freak me out to the point, where I will back off on the sentiment that Rodriguez can get it done here. I remain certain of it. Maybe we ought to let him have a season with a legit returning QB before we even begin to dole out grades on his tenure? kthxbai.
I want to end with just a glimpse of what a more TL;DR answer would be to the question I see spread by some persistently loud posters around here dismayed at Rodriguez and wondering where the accomplishments are. Sink on these numbers, with all rankings per Rivals.
In 2005-07, Michigan brought in 23 five/four star players. Only 13 remain with the program. Eleven of those recruits came from the 2005 class, so that's just 12 five/four star recruits in our jr/sr classes right now.
In 2008-2009, the two seasons where Rodriguez had to get them to sign on the dotted line, Michigan brought in 31 five/four star recruits, with 26 still on the roster that are either sophomore, redshirt freshmen, freshmen or redshirting.
Rodriguez is stockpiling talent. Replinishing the lifeblood of a program that had received guru approvals in the past thanks in large part to brand name alone. It might not be a very savvy or seasoned team right now. I would even grant that it's not a very well coached team right now, either. But, the program has at least twice as much talent in the underclassmen ranks as it does in the upperclassmen ranks. These kids intend on being here for awhile. I hope the coach that brought him here gets the same chance.
Let It Grow. It will pay off. We'll come get you when we're in full bloom. I promise.
Happy Halloween, everyone!!! What are you going to be dressed up as? Me? My costume is all set. I'm dressed up as a Chalk Eating Mother Fucker this week. I know, I know, you wont recognize me as usally I have my money wagon hitched and locked in on underdogs. But, hey, it's not Halloween if you dont change idtenties for at least one day. Man, looking at myself in the mirror, this is a pretty scary costume. Hopefully, I wont scare any gambling karma away.
We're standing solid with a 26-19-1 record with four weeks to go. Let's do this, people. And, if chalk makes you quesy, then maybe this Diary is not for you.
Indiana at Iowa, noon, ESPN. Lines, Iowa -17, O/U 47
I hinted at it in the MGoPodcast, but this Iowa team is beginning to remind me a whole lot of the 1997 Michigan and 2002 Ohio State teams. Big 10 historians know the significance of those teams.
Now, this does not mean I feel the 2009 Hawkeyes are as good. Hardly. There is no transcendent player like Charles Woodsoon on the field for Iowa. There is no game changer like Maurice Clarett on offense.
But, both those clubs and this year's Iowa club seem to share the same mentality about how to manage games and play mean, physical football. Like those past teams, this year's Iowa team seems both charmed and comfortable playing in tight, defensive games. The championship teams had no panic when falling behind in a game. Iowa not only has no problem playing from behind, but almost seem to prefer it the way their defense amps up once they've spotted some points. Like those teams, nobody gave Iowa a chance at any bigtime postseason honors, but when the final month rolls around, they're one of the few unbeatens left. Neither of those past teams played pretty ball, preferring instead to punch you in the face, turn the game into a brawl and let their no frills, efficient offense do enough to win games. Does that sound familir, Iowa fans?
The 1997 Michigan and 2002 OSU teams fascinated me each week those seasons with how they found a way to win each week. For the last six weeks I have been just as fascinated by this Iowa team. I love this team. A lot. I have no problem predicting them to run the table through the end of the regular season. But, there chances too a big hit this week as some serious injuries hit the Hawkeyes. A rash of injuries is one thing neither of those classic Big 10 clubs had to deal with. But, I think Iowa takes a strong first step towards that goal with a three-touchdown win over Indiana tomorrow afternoon in Iowa City.
As mentioned, Iowa enters this game pretty banged up, with RB Aaron Robinson and OL Dace Richardson both out for the rest of the regular season. Robinson had been a steady replacement to all-everything Shonn Green and Richardson, finally living up to his recruiting hype, had been plowing people over all season. Trying to overcome those issues might keep this game close at the start, but in the end I think the Hawkeyes lay the wood to Indiana.
The Hoosiers have looked solid on offense at times this year. But, the one time they played a dominant defense--Ohio State--they had problems doing anything. Expect the same against Iowa. The Hawkeyes just make other QBs look bad and I dont think Ben Chappell escapes with his game intact. The Hoosiers have been good at not turning the ball over this year, but I think they will face more pressure tomorrow than ever before this season causing some giveaways. Their O-Line is big, but I dont think they contain Iowa's defensive line, which I think is the single most dominant positional unit in the Big 10 this season.
Indiana does have some recent success against Iowa, beating them twice during the lull period in Ferentz's tenure. But, the Hawks got their mojo back last year and promptly rolled the Hoosiers 45-9. This year, Iowa is better and playing at home.
The Pick: Iowa -17.......Under Ferentz, the Hawks are 38-21-1 ATS at home. We'll take our chances with those numbers.
Penn State at Northwestern, 4:00, ESPN. Lines, PSU -16, O/U 47
This will be another blowout. Nobody has been scoring on Penn State all season long. Say what you will about the level of their OOC competition during the season's opening leg, but they've given up just 10 points in the last two weeks against Big 10 teams. Defensively, they have really allowed only four touchdowns in non garbage time all season. I cant help but think another systematic dismantling will happen this weekend in Evanston. It will look exactly like PSU's last two games.
I like the game of Wildcat QB Mike Kafka. He can move the team down the field, but he's also been turnover prone. I dont know if the Cats have enough weapons to keep drives moving against Penn State. Drives will be killed off by Kafka picks. Kafka is bucking for a spot somewhere on an all-league team, and I think how he fares against the PSU defense is one of the key matchups tomorrow across the Big 10 schedule. I like his chances to get some things done early in this contest. In the will get knocked around a ton and have much trouble finding the end zone as Minnesota and Michigan did. He will, however, have as easy a time finding Navarro Bowmann as the LOLphers and Wolverines did.
PSU has been sneaking around in the weeds all season, listening to people disrespect them on account of their schedule. Watching them the last two weeks, they seem to have turned it up a notch in attempt to quiet critics. Like me. I am not 100 percent sold, but I do submit the following as truth: They are playing better football now than they were at the end of September when Iowa beat them.
I have ragged on Clark, but, man, did he throw well last week. He'll have another solid game against Northwestern. The Wildcats are banged up in the secondary with S Brendan Smith and CB Sherrick McManus nursing injuries and not 100 percent. That does not bode well for NW. PSU and Clark have been hot lately with 5 TD passes, no picks and 230 yards on average through the air in their three October big 10 games. I expect him to add to those numbers without much in the way of negative stats. Also, Evan Royster will go for 150 total yards and score twice. They will be +2 in TOs. They will romp.
The Pick: Penn State -16.....Do you like trends? If so, then try these numbers on for size: PSU is 15-4 ATS in October and 5-0-1 as double digit road chalk. Meanwhile, the Wildcats struggle when times are good as their 16-34-1 ATS record following a win would attest. Worried about a look ahead to next week's game with OSU? Maybe. But, the defensive front seven should really knock around the Wildcat offense way too much for it to be effective. If you like totals, this could be an Under game. I see Penn State winning 30-7 in a workmanlike performance.
Purdue at Wisconsin, noon, ESPN2. Lines, Wisco -7.5, O/U 53
This will be the most exciting Big 10 game of the day, not involving Michigan of course.
I think Purdue might be the most improved team in the league from the perspective of what we expected back in August compared to what we know now. They have been in every single ball game this year, taking high octane teams like Oregon and Notre Dame down to the wire and famously upsetting Ohio State. Personally, I think they're primed to go on a late charge to a possible bowl game. They buried themselves with a 1-5 record, but the Boilers are way more equipped than, say for example, last year's UM squad that buried itself and didnt have the gas or personnel to go on a late season streak.
They will pull off the outright upset as long as the turnover battle is even. But, that's the problem with Purdue. As far as TOs go, they are as close to 2008 UM as we have in the league this season. Hard to imagine the active pass rush of Wisconsin not forcing a turnover or two. But, Purdue has a very solid front four and pass rush as well. Have you been noticing how Scott Tolzien has been faring when he was smacked in the mouth against OSU and Iowa. He became a INT machine. Now, Purude is no OSU or Iowa. Actually, they're better than OSU (Zing!). Seriously, I think they can do enough defensively to force turnovers and keep that TO margin even. The difference in this game is which all-league candidate pass rushed--Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan or Wisconsin's O'Brien Scholfied-creates more havoc in the backfield and forces more QB panic, indecision and giveaways
The Pick: Purdue +7.5.....I think this game, like most of Purdue's this season, will go down to the wire. I could see both teams scoring a lot of points too, so the over is worth a look. While I think we could see an upset here, I am sticking with my MGoPodcast call of a Wisco win, but Purdue cover.
Michigan State at Minnesote, 8:00, BTN. Lines, MSU -3, O/U 46
A lot of my analysis for this game begins and ends with the following sentence: Eric Decker is out for the rest of the season.
For Minnesota that translates into a big 'uh-oh.' We've seen that the Gophers have not improved at all on offense from last year. Despite more experience and some nice-looking, on paper at least, other playmakers, they have not evolved from their one-trick pony offense of Weber to Decker. Now, they will be forced to do so. If they cant pull it off with any sort of aplomb, then they're staring at a 4-8 record. Yes, that includes the South Dakota State game. If that happens, will Tim Brewster change coodinators again on both sides of the ball?
As for Michigan State, the season has been heartbreak city one after another. Four losses by a combined 19 points. To teams with a combined record of 25-5. So, to beat MSU this year, you had to be a really good team and still need some final minute magic to get it done. Ok. Well, Minnesots is not a good team. And, no last minute heroics will be available to them.
I like this MSU team. It might rub my fellow UM fans the wrong way, but the Spartans are good. And young. My only concern with them is their possible emotional fragility after ripping defeat from victory's hands last Saturday night. I think Dantonio has them focused, however. I think they rip the Gophers from start to finish. They bring so much more to the table than the Gohpers do. A better playing QB, a more established set of WRs to stretch the field, a competent running attack and a more physical defense.
The Spartans really remind me today of the program back in its Perles heyday of the late 1980s. Back then, MSU would put up 8-3 and 7-4 records virtually every year. All their losses, however, would be to high end teams, like Notre Dame, Miami, Michigan and USC teams that were in national contention. The program peaked in 1987 with a Big 10 title and Rose Bowl Championship spearheaded by the likes of Lorenzo White, Bobby McAllister, Andre Rison, Percy Snow and Tim Moore. Their OOC slate that September was USC, at Notre Dame, Florida State. Whoa.
While the Perles years never climbed those heights again, they remained a factor in just about every Big 10 race the rest of the way. A typical MSU season during that era would involve a heartbreaker to ND just as painful as UM's losses were to the Irish, one or two more close losses, a to-the-death Michigan game that could go either way, then a sprint to the end with a flurry of wins all culminating in an impressive performance in the Sun Bowl or something like that. From 1987-89 the winner of the MSU/UM game went to the Rose Bowl. You could make a case MSU was the #2 program in the Big 10 after Michigan during this time. They're sneaking their way back to the level. Look out.
They beat the Wolverines a lot. In the nine-year period from 1986-1993, MSU went 3-5 against Michigan, their best stretch against UM anytime during the last 40 years. Michigan also went 6-1-1 against Ohio State during that same stretch, won six Big 10 titles, four of them outright and won a pair of Rose Bowls. What was that you were saying about the programs cant ever be good at the same time? Frankly, I like a quality MSU program. I think he helps sharpen Michigan's edge and going through an intense hate week in the middle of the season gives the team invaluable experience when going through the hate week that really matters. That resume I ripped off above. None of it happens if Michigan's record is half as good as it was against OSU. The ends--a good MSU team--justify the means. Commence neg-banging.
The Pick: Michigan State -3 (-120).........I cant shake the feeling that MSU stands at the front end of one of those late 1980-like runs to close the season, beginning Saturday with a big win over a Gopher team thats heading in the wrong direction. If they pull off a late season streak, the Spartans could end the season with four straight wins to put themselves in the mix for a Jan. 1 bowl. Games against Purdue and Penn State to close November will serve, to me at least, as a litmus test of whether or not Dantonio can get the program close to those heights from that era 20 years ago or not.
Michigan at Illinois, 3:30, ABC. Lines, Michigan -7, O/U 52
I dont have anything new to say that wasnt said in Brian's preview of this game, in the comment thread after that post or anywhere else on the site where the game has been broke down all week.
Two months ago, Illinois was -7 in this game. Now, it's Michigan giving a touchdown. On the road. With two freshmen quarterbacks that have been turnover machines for most of this month. What could go wrong?
Nothing. Michigan is going to run, run, run and then run some more. Look for five carriers to have at least half dozen touches today. It's a testament to just how bad the Illini have been this year that this line has swung a remarkable 14 points in less than 60 days. Seriously, how stoked would you be if you were savvy enough to grab the Wolverines in this one during the summer. Or how grouchy you'd already be about the weekend if you backed the Illini in August.
We're not sure what we have in Michigan, are we? With the narrow loss to Iowa City it looked like the Wolverines were ahead of schedule. But in the beatdown at home to Penn State last week it looked like the destination was as far away as it was last year for Michigan. This tug of war is driving all of us fans up the wall. I've been coping by taking long runs and reading college basketball magazines. But, that's just me.
We are, however, pretty sure what we have in the Illini. And, its not a good football team. They cant score points. They cant stop the run. They're furiously reshuffling their QB position as the Juice Williams era comes crashing and burning to an end. Oh, and Ronn Zook remains there coach. I feel like I say that every week. They have not covered a spread all season. They have not beat a Bowl Subdivision team all season. They've averaged just 11.33 points per game in those contests.
Michigan will have way too much offense in this one. They'll jump out to an early lead and, unlike the Purdue game last season (which I compared this game to on the MGoPodcast), the Wolverines wont let them back in the game. Michigan will look as good in this game as they have all season long.
The Pick: Michigan -7.......I've never been shy about playing the beloved Wolverines. I wont lie, though. I am not to keen on laying this chunk of road chalk with a team playing freshmen QBs who have yet to win on the road. A safer bet might be the Over because if this game does happen to get out of Michigan's control, because you know it wont be because the score is 17-13. Might as well profit on the roller coaster ride.