a terrible blight on our fine country
(Diarist Note: I should have some takes, opinions and picks on the rest of Saturday's action on the Just Cover Blog by tomorrow morning. We're leaving for Ann Arbor before 10:00 tomorrow, so thats my deadline. Also: Big time props to Mazie4Blue, the genius behind the site's redesign.)
Well, it's here. Penn State comes to town tomorrow. We're about 24 hours out from kickoff. It's time for the money to meet the mouth.
I have been chirping for two weeks now that Michigan takes this game. Let me formally lay out my case.
1.) This just in, but Michigan is a good team. I know we want to wail on defensive breakdowns, question our merits after those road losses, gripe that a walk on plays a lot of minutes on D and moan that since freshmen aren't instant impact players that they're probably busts. But, get over it people. September 2007 isnt walking through that door. Nor is 2008. This club is better team than those. You'll see tomorrow.
2.) Michigan dominated PSU for a half last year. Michigan is leaps and bounds better this season, Penn State is not as good as last year. The fatal flaw for Michigan in this game last year, and in a lot of their season in 2008, was an inability to turn to second, third and fourth wrinkles once the original gameplan wore out. No such issues this season. Michigan will put up 17 first half points again, but instead of getting shutout, will match that in the second half.
3.) I love the matchup of Michigan's defensive line versus Penn State's offensive line. While everyone else touted the PSU Oline this summer, I kept writing that no team in the league lost as much talent on the line from last year as Penn State did. As it turns out, the line has been 'meh' at best. They could not block Iowa a few weeks ago. Michigan is just a shade behind them as far as DLine quality. Brandon Graham will take over the game. Van Bergen's steady rise will continue. Michigan will stone the running game.
4.) Dayrl Clark is overrated. And perhaps not even that good. We'll see. He is in his second year behind center and he has yet to complete a big pass in a big spot to lead his team to a win. He compiles stats against mediocrity, but often struggles in the bigger games. Fact is, this team misses and has yet to replace the presence of do-everything Derek Williams. He has been the hardest player in the league to replace (with Beanie Wells in columbus a close second). He made more big throws last year than Clark in the money games. Big drives on the biggest stages last year were spearheaded by Williams who caught the ball, ran it out of wildcats and reverses and threw it out of direct snap formations. The defenses no longer have to guess what he is doing. The Lions have not been as explosive as they were last year as a result. They dont look like a team you need to plant at least 30 on to win, like they did at times last year. Remember how mediocre PSU became compared to the top of the league after Michael Robinson departed after the 2005 season? Williams had as much an impact on last year's Rose Bowl drive, even if he was not statistically as potent as Robinson, and I've been expecting a step backwards from PSU all season. The first step back happened last month against Iowa. A second step back happens tomorrow.
5.) Special teams. Big advantage for Michigan. Zolton wins the field position game for Michigan. Stounum can set Michigan up with field position. The Penn State return team (again, there's no Derek Williams back there) can not.
6.) This will be the best offense PSU has faced all year. Their brand new secondary has not been tested like it will in this game. Spread out, with a speed disadvantgae, this will be a bigger chore than thwarting Paulus and Syracuse and Weber and Minnesota. Night and day. The Lions will have their hands full trying to matchup. Michigan had little trouble running the football on PSU last year. Michigan is much better at that this season. The power of Minor and speed of Brown will be the story. The fact is, Penn State has not been forced to really play a full four quarters in most of their games. Tomorrow they will have to. Michigan's offense will put a lot of pressure on this defense. They will score points. The burden is on PSU to keep up. I dont think they can. They scored 21 fourth quarter points to finally shake Illinois, the league's worst team, earlier this month. Otherwise, they have scored just 36 points in their other six second halves. That wont do it against Michigan. Even last week, in their alleged best game of the season, they struggled to finish drives, only found paydirt twice and scored in the single digits during the second half.
Ok, I've said a lot. It's getting repetitive as I have been beating this drum for two weeks about this game. I didnt drop any analysis in the above screed that I have not laid out in piece meal fashion throughout various threads here the last several days. The Revolution takes a big step tomorrow, comrades.
The Pick: Michigan +5......I wont lie. I feel very confident here. I am getting the same vibe about this game as I did heading into the matchup twelve years ago. We all know how that turned out. Translation: Take the points, but you wont need them.
Illinois at Purdue, noon, BTN. Lines: Purdue -10, O/U 55.5
When was the last time a 2-5 team was a double digit favorite in a Big 10 game? Thanks to the 2009 Illinois Illini, we might be breaking new ground here.
Purdue is on letdown alert, playing at home a week after a monumental upset over Ohio State. I'd worry, except they're playing a team that's probably mostly quit. If you take Illinois here, you must be banking on one of two things: Hoping that this is the week that they will finally look prepared, interested and talented enough to compete in a legit football game. Or, that Purdue is still awash in morning glory apres Ohio State. The latter is a distinct possibility. The former, I will bet against. In fact, its enough for me to make a call here.
The Pick: Purdue -10........there is no reason to stop betting against Illinois. The Boilers are a few plays away from probably reversing their current 2-5 record. The Illini, meanwhile, are a few plays away from at least being in the game at the half in all their games. Yeah, I'll give the head start and take my chances with the suddenly PurDOIN' It Boilermakers.
Indiana at Northwestern, noon, BTN. Lines, NW -5, O/U 53.5
Critical Motor City Bowl positioning is on the line when Northwestern Wildcats host the Indiana Hoosiers this weekend in Evanston. The winner could be in the driver's seat for a post-Christmas weekend of skirting team rules while trying to secretly play blackjack or cross the border for the Windsor clubs. Oh, yeah, and a football game where they will likely be shredded by Central Michigan, one of the best teams in the nation. Arguably.
Despite being the road team, I like the Hoosiers in this one, not only with the points, but straight up. Both teams are 4-3. But, I think Indiana has played better, against pretty comparable slates, than Northwestern to this point in the season. Northwestern will have trouble with the WR combo of Tandon Doss and Damario Belcher. Indiana ought to be able to play their game on offense without much trouble. On the other side of the ball, I think IU's active front seven, spearheaded by Kirlew, Middleton and Repogle will bottle up NW QB Mike Kafka. He's really been a one man show this season. He could carry the Cats to the win all by himself. But the Hoosiers appear to have better athleticsm and skill than the last couple years on defense and I think they will do a solid job of containing Kafka. Contain. Not stop. This could be a high scoring game, so grab some of the Over if thats your thing. It should be pretty close. The last five games between these two have been decided by 4, 6, 7, 3, and 2 points.
Here's a tidbit: In games with IU and northwestern this year, the underdog has gone 9-3 ATS, including 5-1 in the Big 10. I'd wager that oddsmkaers, and the betting public, still have not figured these teams and take my chances with the points. Frankly, I would not lay five points with either of these teams in a conference game. I'll take the points, please.
The Pick: Indiana +5.......this may sound simple, but through seven games the Hoosiers have been making more plays than Northwestern. That continues this weekend and the Hoosiers get the win. But, I am taking the 5 points anyway. Maybe it comes from seeing them play in person in that great game last month in Ann Arbor, but that team we did see should not have a problem winning at Northwestern.
Minnesota at Ohio State, noon, ESPN. Lines, OSU -16.5, O/U 42.5
After seeing Minnesota play Penn State last week, do we really think they can score any points against an OSU defense fired up to punish somebody after last week's debacle? The Gophers are a one trick pony. If Decker to Weber isn't rolling, they really have no answers. That's what happens when you rotate offensive coordinators every year during your tenure and you cant decide on offensive philosophy. But, hey, you did cajole Sentreal Henderson to at least visit your campus on an official recruiting visit. Just dont forget to buy ESPN Gameplan so you can watch him play at USC the next four years.
Of course, in the other corner is the equally disturbing offense from Ohio State. Talk about lacking an identity. The team has not been to pass the ball in two seasons. And boy do they miss the threat of Beanie Wells, one the league's best home run runners in the last 20 years. I've heard a few stories or two this week about a quarterback that likes to turn the ball over and looks lost at times trying to lead this offense. Can anyone confirm those stories? They have not allowed newspaper delivery or live radio here in Ohio since last Saturday night. In fact, I am writing this under candlelit with Shoelaces the Puppy Rot running on a treadmill chasing a stick giving the power generator enough juice to get the computer fired up. We havent had much Internet access this week either.
The Pick:Ohio State -16.5......When push comes to shove, I dont really want to lay 16.5 points with Ohio State. But, after that ridiculous effort and offensive strategy last weekend, I dont want to take 16.5 points with the Gophers either. The Buckeyes have struggled this year. But, they're an angry bunch. And the Gophers just look bad all of a sudden. They are walking into a hornet's nest in this one. The angry Buckeyes will pummel their offense. Pryor's bounce back game wont be half bad. I am seeing 31-10.
Iowa at Michigan State, 7:00, BTN. Lines, MSU -1.5, O/U 42
This begins and ends with something I said in yesterday's podcast. Iowa makes other QBs look awful and, as a result, they're able to keep points off the board, even if it doesnt look pretty in the box score. In fact, its not meant to be pretty. It's meant to win. And destroy QBs physically and mentally. In three weeks when they invade Columbus, take the Under in every prop stat for Buckeye quarterbacks. Just sayin'
Of course, you might want to do that with Kirk Cousins tomorrow as well. Check out some of these numbers. They're holding foes to a less than 50 percent completion rate. They've swiped 14 picks and allowed just five touchdowns. Completions that do get made, generally go nowhere as the Hawkeyes allow just 5.43 yards per pass attempt. The carnage include harassing Daryl Clark into his worst day, knocking around a potent Arizona to the point where the Cats tried three different signal callers and, sadly for us, swiping Tate Forcier's cnady.
There is no reason to think MSU can buck those numbers. The Spartans enter this game a bit one-dimensional. A year after Javon Ringer leaves, the Sparties are dangerously close to the bottom third of the country in running the football. Kirk Cousins has elevated the QB production, but Iowa will force them to pass even more tomorrow and that plays right into the Black and Gold's plan. This will be far and away the toughest defense Cousins has had to face in his 7-start career. He's going to go down. Hard. He'll be wearing Adam Clayburn's helmet paint before its all said and done.
Also, nobody has scored any points against Iowa in the second halves this season. They've allowed just 21 points in the second half against the five BCS foes they've faced this season. On the road at Penn State and Wisconsin, they shutout the Lions and badgers during the second stanza.
Iowa has the best side of football in the Big 10 with their defensive lineup from top to bottom. They also have the most dominant positional group in the conference with its defensive line, a collection of would-be pass rushing ends, all trained to move back and forth along the line until mismatches are found. This defense can carry the team to a surprise Big 10 title. At the least, it will push Cousins into his worst day of the season en route to another win.
The Pick: Iowa +1.5.........We know how this is going to play out. It will be tight at halftime. Tied, or a slight lead for either team. Iowa will dominate the second half. Nobody has really scored on them all year in the third and fourth quarters. They will slowly, but surely through field goals, sacks, batted passes and a long pass play to either Moeki or Johnson-Koulianis pull away in the final 30 minutes to a 23-13 win.
(Note: Just got the morning lines. Everything held steady, but the NW/MSU O is 51.5. So that's what I have. Heading to Ann Arbor right now. Go Blue!!!!)
Here we at the verge of another Big 10 football weekend.
It's mid-October. The autumn air is crisp. The colors have changed. Football is in the air. And, like always, it's an October showdown at the Big House between Michigan and, uh, ah, ahem, Delaware State? Is that right? Are you sure?
Ok, scratch that. On a day with big games dotting the landscape, Michigan welcomes a school from the mighy MEAC where they will play in front of a single day crowd larger than the combined capacity of the rest of their season.
The real competition tomorrow will be between the MMB and DSU's band dubbed The Approaching Storm. This one is anybody's game, and I look forward to this halftime moreso than ever before. But, it's rare that the MMB is the underdog, so we're rolling with the local Bando's. Well, if I can hear them, that is.
We joked on the MGoPodcast about a hypothetical pointspread in this one. Make no mistake, there is a real spread. Michigan is favored by 35.5 points. I want be touching this one in the Diary or anywhere else.
Many folks are probably saying, "what are you talking about, they dont do lines for games with FCS schools?" You could not be more mistaken. Several offshores do indeed put lines out for game spitting FCS and Bowl Subdivision against each other, not to mention a full board of games within the FCS and Division III ranks. 5dimes.com is one such place, and that's where the -35.5 line for tomorrow's classic comes from. Place your bets accordingly. Actually, places like 5dimes are greeat come Decmember when those levels of football begin their playoffs. We're out of college football at the level we enjoy, but there are plenty of December weekends with small school playoffs going on. And, you can gamble on them all the way. It's 50/50 that the Just Cover Blog will be a part of that. We'll have to see how the rest of the season goes.
To that end, here's another installment of Big 10 Picks. Our season record is 21-14, which is not too bad, except we've been running in place for three weeks in a row. Last week, we were 3-4, with that Wisconsin side and over being swing results the wrong way. Down 18, with a 16.5 spread and needing just a two points for the Over to hit, Brett Bielema skipped a field goal to get his team to within two scores. Instead, he sent the offense back out there to convert a fourth and long. They did not. A made field goal there is the difference between 5-2 and 3-4 record last week. Sometimes the line between profits and losses can be depressingly thin. But, those are the breaks.
Let's get it on this weekend. Five league showdowns, some big spreads and inmportant games in Madison and Bloomington that will shake up the pecking orders at both the top and bottom of the standings. And, as always, blindly following my plays may be hazardous to your wallet.
Northwestern at Michigan State, noon, ESPN2. Lines, MSU -14, O/U 51.5
Michigan State seems to have steadied the ship after a three-game losing streak in September nearly derailed the season. Now comes the hard part for Sparty: maintaining consistency. Can they navigate the rest of their schedule without any of the lapses in concentration that have become the identity of the program? Mark Dantonio's teams have suffered those lapses at a lesser rate than past MSU regimes, so I give them a pretty good shot at getting through the rest of their slate without more disasters.
But, doesn't this game with Northwestern just smell of Sparty letdown? Two weeks removed from a season-saving win over bitter rival UM, coming off a big road win against Illinois, the Spartans now host little old Northwestern in the sleepy nooner slot on the schedule. They have a huge night game at home next week against Iowa. I wonder if the Cats have MSU's full attention.
Northwestern has looked ragged at times this season, but they're still 4-2 and likely headed to another bowl game. The defensive issues that plagued them in September seemed to have been fixed a bit in recent weeks, in large part to better health. MSU, with the top ranked passing attack in the league, will be a formidable test. Offensively, QB Mike Kafka has stepped up his game passing the football and also remains a top threat for Northwestern running the football.
Actually, both teams are good at moving the ball in the air and mediocre at best at stopping aerial attacks. The Cats struggled to stop Syracuse and did surrender yards in chunks the last two weeks despite giving up just a total of 27 points. MSU, meanwhile, got torched by ND and Wisconsin and nearly saw the Michigan game escape them thanks to fourth quarter passing downfield. I dont see either defense locking the other offense down.
Northwestern will hang around in this game. They might not be a brick wall on defense, but they are good ball hawkers and have forced 20 turnovers. MSU is a young team. They're vulnerable to the turnover, and the Cats are just potent enough to take advantage when they do snare a takeaway.
Frankly, I am not sure these programs, as they sit now, are two touchdowns apart as this spread suggests. In the last 50 Big 10 games, NW is 25-25, while MSU is 23-27 and the clubs have split their ten head-to-head meetings. MSU won in Evanston last year, continuing the trend in this series that has seen the road team win outright four straight times and earn covers in seven of the last eight meetings. The Wildcats have covered four straight in East Lansing with outright wins a double digits underdogs in each of their last two trips to the E.L.
Also, the Spartans have been money burners at home, going just 9-19 ATS as home in recent seasons.
The Pick: Northwestern +14, Over 51.5...........MSU wins, but closeer than the experts think. I think NW will continue getting turnovers, which could set up scores, and that Kafka will be just enough of a running threat to keep the Spartans pass rush honest. As for the Over 53, the last seven games between these teams has averaged 65 points with the loser averaging 25 points. We're sticking with our theory that when certain teams take the field in the Big 10, the Over is the play. Here goes another one as I like both of these offenses to outperform the defenses.
Ohio State at Purdue, noon, BTN. Lines, OSU -13.5, O/U 46
This game will be blowout city. A Purdue team that specializes in inventing ways to lose now faces the premier progran in the leage. Look out, cub scout.
When the Boilers aren't handing the ball over (they have 20 giveaway this year), they're committing killer penalities. There is no way you can endorse such a sloppy team, even at home, against the league's most dominant defense. The Buckeyes will plant Purdue QB Joey Elliot into the ground enough to shatter his confidence. And, a playmaking pass defense will score points for the second week in a row.
Offensively, the Buckeyes are less than ideal. They won this matchup last year without scoring an offensive touchdown. Terrelle Pyror is confounding fans with his lack of progress. The running game is struggling to find a home run threat in the post Beanie Wells era. But, you know what? All those ills are at ease in this one. Purdue is just the right defense to get it going against. The Boilers rank in the bottom half of the country in nearly every defensive category. They are 100th in points allowed, giving up more than 30 points a game.
Here's the deal: I dont think Purdue can get more than two scores in this game. While the Bucks lack a dominant spark running the football, they have enough horses in the stable to march through a Boilers defnese that's 87th in rushing yards allowed. The Bucks O averages just under 30 points per game, while the PU D gives up a smidge more than 30 a game. I am pretty confident OSU gets more than 30 in this one.
Is it worth mentioning that Ohio State is 16-4 ATS in their last 20 stabs as a road favorite? I think so. There's something about this Buckeye program right now, where they take no prisoners and play more loose and free away from the judgemental eye of a home crowd that demands perfection.
The Pick: OSU -13.5.......The Buckeyes win this by more than to touchdowns, with the final being in the 31-14, 34-10 ballpark. Purdue has yet to be blown out this year. They wont be able to say that when the sun sets on Saturday.
Minnesota at Penn State, 3:30, ABC. Lines, PSU -17.5, O/U 46.5
I made my feelings known about Penn State in this week's MGoPodcast with Brian and Tim. Penn State boosters, send me your hate mail, but.......this might be the most overrated team in the country right now. Just E-pinion. With a little dash of No Sugarcoat.
They have piled up some guady numbers, but against who exactly? Nobody, that's who. It says something about the slate you've worked against when a home game with Minnesota is your second hardest foe by the middle of the season. The one team with a pulse that they have played from a BCS league, they lost at home to Iowa 21-10. They could not move the ball across the street after the first quarter. Could not protect their QB. Turned it over a lot. And the alleged premier defense could not stop the Arron Robinson/Brandon Wegher combo running the football. I'm not so sure this team is worthy of being ranked. I make the case that at least four (Iowa, OSU, MSU and Wisco) league teams are better than PSU this season.
We'll see if they show me up tomorrow. I think they have a hard time shaking the Gophers. I talked last week about hisotric bugaboos for UM and OSU. Minnesota has played that sort of foil to the Nittany Lions. They've won four of the last six matchups outright. and are 5-2-1 ATS against PSU the last decade.
Minnesota is a decidedly average team. But, here is what I like. The defense bends and even breaks a few times. But, they are very physical at the line of scrimmage, are good at getting QB pressure and are ballhawkers. This is one of the best in the Big 10 at generating turnovers and when they do, they are excellent at turning the D into offense and scoring on INTs and fumbles. I dont trust Dayrrl Clark. I see him throwing a few mistakes, with one of them being returned for direct points.
On offense, I like the Weber to Decker combination to do damage in this one. Illinois is a bad team and yet they almost thrw for 300 yards on PSU and Arrellious Benn nearly had 100 yards in receiving. As explosive as he is, there has not been a more consistent, smooth or tough combination in the league than Decker to Weber the last few seasons. I see 120 yards and a score for Decker against an untested secondary that's less talented than past years.
None of this is to say that PSU wont win. Hardly. They get it done in the end, but Minnesota will play just well enough and the PSU flaws, which have been masked on account of poor competition, will be exposed enough to make this a close game.
The Pick: Minnesota +17......the Gophers are 9-4 ATS the last couple years in Big 10 play. The Gophers keep this within two touchdowns and if they do maintain their usual ID as a ballhawking, scoring D, then the game will be decided by single digits. Want a real best bet, however? Get down on UM +5.5 over PSU. That's the line right now for next week. You wont need the points, but Book It anyway.
Illinois at Indiana, 7:00, BTN. Lines, Illini -3, O/U 54
Sometimes, it's not who you pick, but who you pick against.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 Illinois Fighting Illini.
I dont have enough space to diagnose all that ails the Zooker's Ship these days. But the offenses are many. And, not going away. They dont know who their QB is, have no offensive identity, cant stop a cab on defense and, well, ahem, they are still coached by Ron Zook. This has the look of a team that has quit.
Right now Illinois cant block up front. That's trouble against the Hoosier's active defensive ends and linebackers. The Hoosiers were embarassed by their performance at Virginia last week. They talked all week about making a statement at home to right the ship. They have a perfect foe to make that statement against. Indiana will kill Illinois all day with their midrange passing attack. Ben Chappelle and the Pistol O of Indiana ends up having its best day of the season.
The Pick: Indiana +3........I was burned by Illinois early in the season, but since have made that back by betting against them since the calendar turned October. I'll keep fading them until proven otherwise. I said two weeks ago, this was your last place team. Money meet mouth.
Iowa at Wisconsin, noon, ESPN. Lines, Wisco -2, O/U 46
The biggest game of the week in the Big 10 is both the hardest and most dangerous for me to handicap. I say dangerous because I remain bitter at the way the Wisconsin game went down last week and how both my bets on the Badgers and the Over went down in flames thanks to sloppy QB pla, porous blocking and questionable coaching moves as Wisco attempted to shave the deficit in the fourth quarter. It left such a bad taste in my mouth, that I remain a bit prejudiced against the boys in Madison.
Do I have to guts to take Bucky Badger again? Or do I recklessly fade them, even though they return home where they are always a tough out? In the end, it comes to this: Wisconsin is unranked. Iowa is not only ranked and undefeated. Yet, it's the Badgers who are favored. To quote famous Indiana Univeristy Coach Lee Corso, somebody knows something, and I am going with that somebody.
At the end of the day, the magic dries up for Iowa. Statistically, they dont look pretty. Heck, they dont even look like a winning ball club. But, they beat you up, never quit and find a way to get things done. Unlike Penn State, the Badgers have more offense to put the Hawks on their Heels. Unlike Michigan, the Badgers are playing this game at home, not Kinnick Stadium, and they have not been as prone to giving up the dagger play on D as the Wolverines. It all adds up to a big win in Madison and fifth quarter like no other.
I remain steadfast in my belief that Jonathan Clay is the best running back in the Big 10. Michigan's offensive line took over the game last week and Wisconsin's is as good, but bigger. They will lean on the Hawks and Clay will bust out big, with two long scoring runs. And, I am giving Scot Tolzien another chance. I've said numerous times that he has been as much an upgrade at the QB position as we've seen in the league. Then, he spit the bit in Columbus last week. I dont think the Iowa pass rush will swarm him the way the Scrlett and Gray did last weekend. I remain in love with this offense. It might be the best in the Big 10. They had little trouble scoring until last week. And even against the mighty Buckeyes, the Badgers moved up and down the field and were in rythmn most of the way until disaster struck. But, that was Tolzien's first road start. He will bounce back at home and help the Badgers outscore the Hawkeyes tomorrow.
On the other side of the ball, the Hawks dont do any one thing well. They had issues with the Michigan pass rush last week. Stnazi is an INT machine and has thrown a pick-six in three of the last four games. At times, he is in control of the offense, but no QB in the Big 10 is more prone to WTF moments than this kid. It's hard not to see a new round of Stanzi Ball rear its head tomorrow. The Badger D is a whole new unit from last year and despite the departure of star power seem to be a better unit than last year.
This will be a fun game. A rivalry game. For Iowa, an undefeated season is on the line. For Wisconsin, they will be favored in every game from here on out, so they're bucking towards a double digit win campaign. I expect this to be one of the best games of the day. It's an even matchup, but the Badger have better skill players and a QB that's playing a bit better.
Badgers hit the 30 mark for the fifth time this season. Iowa will put up points to. In the end, a final drive spurred by the legs of Clay and a big catch by All Toon will lead to the game winning points in a 31-28 win
The Pick: Wisco -2, O46.....Listeners of the Podcast are doing a double take now. I did say Iowa earlier in the week, but I also said I would revisit the game. We taped on Tuesday. The scars from Saturday were still open. Besides, Tim and Brian are pretty smart, right? I'll blame them if it goes awry. See, and you all thought I wasn't addict enough to point fingers and place blame elsewhere. You have no idea who you are dealing with.
There you go. To sum: NW +14, NW O 53, OSU -13.5, Minny +17.5, IU +3, Wisco -2, Wisco O47.
It's historic bugaboo week in the Big 10 this week. While the composite slate of games might not swoon the casual fan to tune into the league's action, I am more than intrigued by at the sight of two matchups: Wisconsin at Ohio State and Michigan at Iowa. These are two of the more underrated series across the college football landscape and both the Hawkeyes and Badgers have proven to be thorns in the sides of these two pillar power programs of the Big 10.
I came of age as a fan during the 1980s. My memories of college football start just as the Big 2, Little 8 dynamic of the Big 10 began to crumble. By the time I started going to games at Michigan Stadium, it was 1979 . Woody Hayes was no longer the coach down in Columbus. A new era had started across the league. Parity set in. Programs like Michigan State, Iowa and Illinois qualified for a combined 4 Rose Bowls during the decade. Wisconsin then emerged in the 1990s under Barry Alvarez.
As these upstarts developed into threats, Iowa and Wisconsin became consistent foils for the Wolverines and Buckeyes respectively. We all know the history of the Iowa series in the 1980s. The Hawkeyes beat Michigan three times and notched a tie. Most were seismic results. The 9-7 Iowa win in 1981 was Hayden Fry's first bigtime win and helped knock Michigan out of the Rose Bowl. The 1985 contest came in the famous #1 vs #2 matchup the schools played and Iowa killed Michigan's National Title hopes without scoring a TD en route to a 12-10 win. In 1984, Iowa handed Michigan its first shutout and worst loss in years in a 26-0 whitewashing. They added a one-point win in 1990 that also helped kill the Wolverine's travel plans to Pasadena. While Iowa has not really kept up their role as foil since then (they passed the baton to Northwestern in 1995), they did get consecutive wins over Michigan in 2002 and 2003, both of which scarred the program to some extent. Six of Iowa's 10 total wins over Michigan have come since 1981 and the beginning of the Little 8 crashing of the gates.
During this time, Ohio State did not have too many problems with the Iowa Hawkeyes. In fact, they famously upset the Hawks while Iowa rested on the top spot a few weeks after the epic win over Michigan in 1985. Their foil rested a bit further up north with the Wisconsin Badgers. And, in many ways, the Badgers developing into an historic bugaboo for OSU was a lot more damning. Wisconsin was one of the last gate crashers to arrive to the party. While they had a couple of nice seasons in the early 1980s, they pretty much spent the decade as a league bottom feeder until Alvarez arrived in 1990. Regardless of their stature, they have given Ohio State more fits than just about any other league team over the last 30 years.
Their 10-15-1 record against Ohio State equals the most wins against the Buckeyes in that time span by any school not named Michigan. The beat the Bucks fives times in the 1980s. In the 1990s, they notched two wins and tie. This decade, they are the only Big 10 team to beat Ohio State at least three times. That sentence actually broke my heart to write, despite it being a ding on the Bucks.
Let's go back to the 1980s for a second. The Wisconsin Badgers, for the most part, were a Michigan fan's ally. I can picture a young Brian Cook pounding out a This Week in Schaedenfruede on his Fisher Price Pica typewriter while humming 'On Wisconsin.' Badger wins over OSU in 1981 and 1982, the later by an amazing 6-0, score knocked the Buckeyes out of the Rose Bowl. Art Schlichter started that 1981 game, so maybe he had money on the Badgers, I dont know?
Wisco beat the Bucks in consecutive years again in 1984 and 1985. Those were some powerful OSU squads featuring Chris Carter, Vince Workman, Keith Byars and MIke Tomczak with young studs Chris Spielman and Eric Kumerow leading the defense. That 1985 outfit had just toppled top-ranked Iowa a few weeks earlier and I remember serious discussions (Read: Arguments and occasional playground fights) about the Buckeyes deserving the top ranking after that win. Thankfully, the Badgers took care of that issue, although John Kolesar was laying in the weeds just in case they didnt.
The legend of three-loss Earle was penned in part by the Wisconsin Badgers. Bruce left Columbus with a losing record against Wisconsin. His fifth loss to them in 1987 started a late season tailspin that eventually cost him his job. As Nelson Munz would say, 'Ha ha.' Sometimes you gotta love those spunky Badgers.
Getting back to the current day, should the Badgers and Hawkeyes both add more to their resumes as foils for these powers programs, then an unexpected and compelling storyline will be written. Both clubs would move to 6-0 and are deck for each next week in Madison. Both would become BCS Bowl contenders.Since Wisconsin hosts Iowa, they likely will be favored to win the rest of their games. After the Hawks, they host Purdue, go to Bloomington, host Michigan and then close on the road at Northwestern and Hawaii. Iowa, meanwhile, is expected to beat Michigan. If they follow through on that promise and win in Madison, they are a road win in Columbus away from a perfect season, barring a significant upset somewhere else on the way.
Both of these clubs have positioned themselves to do no worse than the Outback/Capital One slots at this point. Should they maintain their historic sway over the big boys of the league this weekend, then both will have thrown their hats into the ring for more serious prizes. And to think, you didnt think tomorrow's league slate was all that impressive.
Now that I have convinced you otherwise, let's move quickly through this week's round of Big 10 Picks. Last week, we got back on the winning track and through four weeks stand with a shiny, profitable 18-10 ATS record. Let's keep the good times rolling.
Michigan State at Illinois, noon, BTN. Lines, MSU -4, O/U 55
Illinois, to be blunt, blows donkey. I cant come up with any excuse to take them here. The only thing I can think of is a hangover on the part of MSU after their rivalry win last week. Eh, I dont buy that. Even before Illinois became the most disappointing team in the nation, I thought Sparty had the better team. I like this offense with Kirk Cousins pulling the trigger, and if last week was any indication the personnel changes they've made in recent weeks on defense have helped shore up that side of the football. Meanwhile, Illinois can't run, can't pass, can't play defense, have benched Juice Williams and still have Ron Zook as their coach.
The Pick: MSU -4......I hate road chalk, especially in league play, but this is a short number. MSU should be favored by a TD, but I think their inconsisent play combined with the public expecting a UM hangover has given us a bit of a bargain here. Illinois has not scored double digits against the Bowl Subdisivsion team this year, not to mention notching any wins over those teams either. I think they show some more offense, but it wont be enough. MSU muscles their way to a 27-13 win.
Purdue at Minnesota, noon, ESPN. Lines, Minny -3, O.U 51.5
Interesting game up in Minneapolis this weekend. A win is a reuirement for either club if they want to go bowling. Purdue is 1-4, in desperate need of a win. But, with a little more luck and ball security, their record could be reversed. Minnesota, meanwhile, is 3-2, but, despite the excitement of a brand new stadium, have been completely outclassed by Cal and Wisconsin, in their two big showdowns already this season in their new digs. If you take Purdue, you risk your money on a team that has been inventing new ways to shoot themselves in the foot each week. If you take the Gophers, you risk your money on a one-dimensional team, that isnt really good at any one thing and that also has its fair share of turnoveritis. Ah, the choices we have to make in life.
The Pick: Purdue +3........overall, despite the difference in record, I think Purdue has played better against better competition. If the turnover battle is neutralized, then I really like Purdue's balance on offense more than Minnesota's one trick pony offense of Weber to Decker and the shrug your shoulders. Plus, Danny Hope > Tim Brewster. Just E-pinion. Also, the Boilers are 7-2-1 ATS against the LOLphers in their last 10 meetings.
Wisconsin at Ohio State, 3:30, ABC. Lines, OSU -16, O/U 47.5
Sometimes it is as easy as getting the ball to Jonathan Clay. I think the Badger's Clay is the best running back in the Big 10. Unfortunately, during his career, Bielema and company have bouts where they lose track of him in favor of some of the other backs they've had. Well, not in the last two weeks, during which Clay ripped off 142 and 182 yard games in leading the Badgers to a 2-0 Big 10 start. In the only other game this season where he was the clear featured back for Wisco, he ripped off 143 yards against Fresno, including a game changing 72-yard dash to paydirt. He is primed for a Shon Greene-type of season.
I think he is the difference maker tomorrow. If Wisco gives him two dozen carries, I can guarantee that at least two of those runs will be bigtime gains that goes to the House or sets up the Badgers for points. And, unlike the last couple of seasons, the Badgers are dangerous and can get points out of their passing game. Scott Tolzien is every bit an upgrade at QB for Wisco that Tate Forcier has been for Michigan. A year after seeing their QBs tosss more picks than scores, Tolzien has a TD/INT ratio of 9 to 3. Al Toon, Isaac Anderson and Garret Graham give him arguably the best group of targets in the Big 10. Once they get rediscover David Gilreath in the offense, it will only take another step forward.
All of that means is that I think they can move the football against the Buckeyes and put up points. On the other hand, the Buckeyes will more than respond. Even though the Badgers defense is improved from a year ago, the Buckeyes will probably do enough damage to ultimately win this game. But they seem to have mastered the art of winning, but not covering at the Horseshoe in recent seasons. Since the Troy Smith era ended, the Bucks are just 5-9 ATS as home favorites.
The Pick: Wisconsin +16.5.......Look for Clay to have a big day against Ohio State. That will keep the Badgers into this game in the end. Dont forget, the Badgers had the Buckeyes on the ropes in both 2007 and 2008 before letting it slip away in the fourth quarter. This Wisco team is better than those units. I dont know if 2009 OSU is as good as 2007 or 2008. The Badgers have a big cushion here to come in under the number. I think they have the offense to make this happen.
Michigan at Iowa, 8:00, ABC. Lines, Iowa -8, O/U 47.5
Since 1985, Michigan is 26-13 ATS when catching points against anyone other than OSU (who they are 5-5 ATS against in that role). They did not cover as pups last week.......so......we're playing the percentages here and taking the Wolverines plus the TD and 2-point conversion. Iowa always seems to play close games, regardless of their foe. While I think this is a strong club, I dont think the win in Happy Valley a couple weeks ago makes this some sort of monster team that is impossible to beat. Tate Forcier could possibly be the better QB in this game. Forcier does not kill his team, the way Hawk QB Rick Stanzi does. Stanzi has pick-6's in two of his last three games and is worth a blow up or two in a game that would make Mike Matusow proud. I think Iowa's defensive front can outplay Michigan O-Line, but if Michigan can contain ends Clayborn and Ballard, then Forcier will have time to do his magic. I love Michigan's wideouts against the Iowa secondary, and I feel the Hawks are a much better matchup across the board for UM's defense than the Spartans were last week. All Iowa does is play close games. In the three viable games UM played this year, all went deep into the fourth quarter (or beyond) to decide. I dont see why those trends won't continue tomorrow.
The Pick: Michigan +8.....the last time an unranked UM team played a ranked Iowa squad, the 26-0 1984 disaster happened. This is not 1984. This UM outfit has a playmaker at QB and is playing with a lot more confidence. I think Tate will have a chance to win this one late.
Hold on, aren't you forgetting something? There are three non conference games. You promised a pick for every Big 10 game. Pay up, you gypsie!
Ok, well, prepare be to be disappointed. One of those games is Eastern Illinois at Penn State and even though I could easily seek out on online that actually carries a line on this (according to 5dimes, the Nits are 37-point chalk), there is no way I would play this game. You can't take the team in a obvious talent mismatch, but, on the other hand, Penn State has not been scoring any second half points this season. Never a good recipe for heavy chalk. Pass.
Same goes for the Miami (NTM)-Northwestern game. By all accounts, this should be a blowout and oddsmakers have made the Cats a 20-point favorite. This is not Terry Hoepnner's Miami (NTM), let alone Bo, Ara or Sid Gillman's. But Northwestern is one of those programs that is hard to stomach as a heavy favorite. Case in point: their game with Eastern last month. Besides, the defense has not really stopped too many folks this season. I'm just going to ignore this game is even on the board. Pass.
That leaves us with Indiana at Virginia. I have one message for e-friends Other Chris and MaizeNBlueWahoo: Eat it, bitches. I know you are all high on Grohmentum after last week's win and are dreaming of another October turnaround to save the season. Well, good luck with Darius Willis and Tandon Doss. Good luck with Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. Good luck with the Repogle family. You will need it. I've washed myself of my initial trepidation on the MGoPodcast, and I am now calling for the outright win for the Cream and Crimson as they make a statement that they indeed are Motor City Bowl contenders. They go into the city that has the unfortunate history of spawning the Dave Matthews Band and trounce those ghey and gueer looking Musketeer-looking people. But just in case, I'm putting Indiana +7 (-120) in my pocket. Oh, and I'll see you guys at high 3:30 on ESPNU. Well, when I'm not watching Wisco-OSU. Or Alabama-Ole Miss. Not to mention Oregon-UCLA. Oh yeah, and Sam Bradford's return to the Sooner lineup. But, otherwise I'll be there. Join me. If you dare.
Fine. You are ripping us off by not making picks on all games. But, what about your cracker jack theory about underdogs and overs in the Big 10. What, no mention of that? The AM radio was right in telling me scientists were stupid and not to be trusted.
Whoa, there big fella. No need to get all righteous on me. Besides, I've got something to feed that beast. Of course, I have totals.
A review of the hypothesis: When Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern play always make sure to at least check out the over as a possible play. Also take a look at the underdog as these teams might be the right combination of not enough defense to be a poor favorites, but potent enough offenses to be valuable underdogs. When they play each other, dont worry about thinking too much. Lock and load the Underdog, the Over and then wrap it up in a parlay. So, far in these head to heads, you would have an 8-4 record with three (that's half, if you're counting) parlays paying out. If you play the standard one unit of play on each side and half that unit on each parlay, you would be up 6.05 units. If a unit is $100, that's $605 in profit. In two weeks and six total games.
Now that I have your attention, let's point out the obvious: We have one of those games with Purdue and Minnesota. So, gimme gimme gimme the Over 51.5. It will be the seventh stab at this whole three-pronged strategy. Let's hope its a lucky number.
As for the other games that at least involve one of those teams, I am ignorning the Northwestern-Miami(NTM) even though the 54 total looks enticing. The over machine that has been the Rodriguez program at Michigan is in Iowa this week, which prohibits the Over in that one. All Iowa games have to end somewhere between 17-13 and 23-20. It's a college football rule. So, no dice on the 47.5. I cant trust Illinois to contribute even a plug nuckel to the cause in their game. And, while I feel Indiana can and should score some points, Virginia specializes in low scoring, ugly, are-they-scoring-by-one's sort of game. These teams might be to contrasting to count on a total bet either way to be a reliable play, but I may revisist this later tomorrow.
But, I do love the Over 47 in the Wisconsin-Ohio State game. I know, expecting points in an OSU game does not sound like afun experience. But, this game will be a lot more explosive than people think. I see big plays out of Clay, Toon, Pryor and Sansebauer. This game will have at least a half dozen touchdowns. And, what's a day with Jim Tressel without a couple of field goals. That's 48 points right there.
So, a seven pack: Purdue +3, Purdue/Minny Over 51.5, MSU -4, Wisconsin +16, Wisco/OSU Over 47, IU +7 and Michigan +8. Have a fun day watching college football. Good luck. Go Blue. Be safe.
(Alternate Title: Braving the Weather Edition)
Diarist's Note: A few minutes before kick and the action is final. Here were the odds I got going to the windown at the buzzer: UM +4, Over 53.5, Wisco +3, Over 52.5, NW +7, O 57
We're one month into the season, and just one week into Big 10 play, and already we've seen the league's offseason conventional wisdom and pecking order usurped. Iowa rudely crashed the Big Two of Ohio State and Penn State. Darkhorses Illinois and Michigan State struggled to a combined 0-5 against Bowl Subdivision teams and need fast reversals just to get back into bowl contention. Michigan might be a candidate. Wisconsin, thought to be on the decline, are 4-0, looking as dangerous as ever on offense.
This week's storylines include two intense rivalry games, league heavyweights laying heavy chalk, including two in road games and a lot of teams fighting to save their season or extend the early season good times. As for my picks, we took a dip last week going 3-4. Iowa and the Michigan Over were Ab Fab. But, I should have to wear a bag over my head in shame for a day for hitching my wagon to Illinois. The biggest mistake I made was not adding the MSU/Wisco Over to the card. I did so at the JCB, but right at the last minute before we left in the morning for Ann Arbor. Why I didnt do so here is beyond me. It loomed large as I would not have had to face the indignity of a losing record. Eh, those are the breaks. The column record this year is 13-7, so I really should stop the bellyaching routine. The positive MGoMojo has been good to my picks ever since I began penning diaries, so let's keep that going this weekend.
Northwestern +7 at Purdue, O/U 57, noon, BTN
Wisconsin +3 at Minnesota, O/U 52.5, noon, ESPN
Michigan +4 at Michigan State, O/U 53.5, noon, BTN
I am grouping these games all together, not just because they all kick at high noon, but because I have a theory on the Big 10 this year. We'll get a lot of proof in either direction with this trio of games. And, of course, we're putting our money where our mouth is. It would not be fun otherwise, right?
This will be the year of the crazy shootout here in Big 10 country. Part of it is I think some of the offenses are underrated and potent. I love the skill position players throughout the huddled masses of this league. Al Toon, Jon Clay, Brandon Green, Tate Forcier, BJ Cunningham and Darius Willis just to name several underclassmen who are emerging as the next great round of playmakers and game changers for the league. I'd argue 10 teams in this league are experiencing a significant upgrade at the QB position from a year ago. Sorry Illinois. It's really been several years since I've looked out at the conference landscape and felt that so many teams pose a dangerous offensive threat. I dont expect this to be as shockingly explosive as say the Big 12 South last season, but I dont think it will be too far behind. Most can score 30 with no problem if they're on their game.
And these emerging offenses have the benefit of playing in a season where the defense across the conference might be at an all-time low. Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State can play D, for sure. In fact, they're the only ones I trust on that side of the ball and why, right now, I only consider those three to have any legit BCS Bowl hopes. The rest? Try a combination of too young, not talented enough, no depth and poor fundamentals. Most teams can circle at least two of those plaguing their defensive hopes. Just take a look at the six teams involved in these conference nooners. I think Minnesota might have the best defense of the bunch. If its not them, it might be Purdue. I can't justify putting any of the other four schools at the top of this list. Coming into the season, I thought the Boilers and Gophers D would be among the bottom 2-3 stop units in the league. But, the fact they may rate better than these other outfits is not as much a reflection on any improvement on their part as much as it is a major downgrade of the others.
What does any of this mean? I think it means a lot of points. A lot of teams scoring 30 or more points and still losing. Since it still looks like mass chaos in the league's bursting middle class in the pecking order behind the top team, this will play out with exciting, dramatic up tempo games. It wont be your father's Big 10. But, it might be more fun to watch. The chase for bowl positioning will rival the topsy-turvy world that was the ACC last season. Handicapping this league will prove dangerous for chalk lovers as with these shootouts, the underdogs will regularily make runs at the favorite with more than their share of outright "upsets." When these teams play each other, I see a lot of Overs hitting, and I see a lot of Dogs covering.
I like the sound of that. I enjoy games where I like both the Dog and the Over. Everyone has their own style and mine is rocking when I'm able to pinpoint games with this Dog/Over combo. In 2009, I think we're going to find a lot of these games in Big 10 play. We saw two of these combos cross the stage last week out of five league games. Because of their defenses, I would exclude games involving Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa from this hunt, so really in the first week of play two out of three games hit this combo, with the third at least seeing the Over hitting.
I said in the middle of September that any game involving Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin should be Over bets. During the podcast segment I did with Brian and Tim, I expanded that list a bit, but now really see no reason to include all the other eight teams in this league into this equation. They're all worth a look at the Over every week until these defenses prove they can stop the offenses. And, when they're playing each look extra close, we might have our lucky Dog/Over combo. I think we have it in all three of these nooners. Therefore.....
Wisconsin +3 over Minny, Over 53........one of the greatest rivalries in the Big 10. It's also one of the highest scoring games of the season. In six of the last nine contests, both teams have scored at least 30 points. In eight of the last nine contests, at least 60 points have been scored. No reason to think that'll stop. The Badgers will have a hard time all day containing Erik Decker. And Minny QB Adam Weber has slowly, but surely brought in the other receivers into the downfield game. They're a running game a away from going from good offense to dangerous. The Badgers already are dangerous. I've said it a few times in various diaries and comment threads, but the Badgers might have the best collection of skill players in the conference. They have so many guys who can hurt you and a typical big Wisco offensive line blocking for them. If they're going to dedicate getting Jonathan Clay the ball the way they did last week against MSU, then the Badgers will make a run at league honors. Brett Bielema, if you keep Clay as your feature back, I will take back everything I have said about you. Well, most of it, anyway.
Northwestern +8 over Purdue, Over 56......I said on the podcast I like Purdue to win. I still do. But, there is no way, no how they are more than a TD better than anyone in this league. Northwestern has won three of the last five straight up in this series, so you can make a case they're the better program right now. I'll take this head start. As for the Over, Northwestern has not stopped anyone in three weeks, a cast that includes Minnesota, Syracuse and Eastern Michigan. Purdue has allowed more than 32 points per game. Ironically, their best outing was last week against Notre Dame. That was such a weird ND lineup, however, with injuries knocking out entirely or limiting severely almost all their glitzy weapons. That was a bit of a fluke. I hate the be repetitive, but I see both teams scoring 30 points here.
Michigan +3.5 over Michigan State, Over 54.......what, it's raining? No worries. Why would two defenses already a step slow, hesitant to the ball carrier and a twisted mess in pass coverage suddenly get better at that in rainy weather. The offense, after all, knows where its going and thats a strategic advantage. The game will have sloppy moments, but some of those will set up short field scores. These clubs have already played two games apiece where the loser has scored 30 or more. Why would that stop here. Both teams are better at the QB position this year. Both teams have receivers who have improved their games from a year ago. Michigan, in specific, also has an offensive line playing better and more explosiveness from the tailback spot than 2008. These teams scored 56 points last season and both offenses are better. Neither of the defenses are better. MSU cant get off the field, having forced just five three and outs or better than last three weeks and have been easy pickings on third down. We know Michigan's troubles. In the end, Michigan has the one defensive chip State does not and that is the presence of Brandon Graham who murdered the Spartans last year. He will come up with a huge play to kill MSU's final drive. Michigan 41-37.
As for the other Big 10 games of the day, I'm changing suits, and I will be an unabashed chalk eating mo*!@*!er.
Penn State -7 at Illinois. When you watch the Illini, recall that they were the top team on Phil Steele's Most Improved Team list. Yikes. This team is a mess. I dont see how they get better against a angry, bitter Penn State team that cant wait to take out some frustrations. They may sleep walk a bit, but eventually they pull away here. Illinois is the one team in this league that's seen an obvious regression of production at the QB spot. That's going to hurt them all year and drive them into the cellar of this league. Oh, and their defense blows donkey. No Sugarcoat. I'm not sure this game will be any tougher than previous 2009 tussles for Penn State against the likes of Temple and Syracuse. The Nittany Lions win this game by double digits.
Ohio State -17 at Indiana. Speaking of double digit wins. And then some. The Bucks roll. The crowd in Bloomington might be a 50/50 split, and the IU athletic department might have been better off relocating this game to Cincinnati or something and at least cash a paycheck. They wont get much of a home field push. Only twice since 1994 have the Hossiers stayed within 17 points of the Buckeyes, and the Bucks have won the last five matchups by an average of 30 points. Oh sure, the Cream and Crimson in me wants to see IU do to OSU what I saw them do in person to Michigan last week. But I'm keeping those hopes firmly in check. In the last ten games with the Buckeyes, Indiana has not scored more than 17 points in any of them and seven times been held to 10 points or less. Ohio State is all business on road trips. Frankly, they play much better on the road as they dont have 100,000 insane freaks grumbling every time Tressel Ball calls a punt. Ohio State is 15-4 as road favorites since 2005 and they're 12-1 ATS on the road agasint teams that are .667 or better. Ironically, Indiana fits that bill. Road success has followed the Buckeyes to Bloomington where they covered seven or eight against IU. Buckeyes win this by three touchdowns. Indiana will look like a mere shadow of the team we saw up close last week.
Iowa -21 over Arkansas State. Only by the spirit of the agreement that I would play every Big 10 game once league season starts does this game make the list. I wont lie, this game is getting a small amount placed on it as far as real monetary values go. Actually, I'll say it now. I'm passing on this game. Iowa has been known to play down a bit to their foe, especially after a big game. And therein lies the rub. This is a classic sandwich game, a week after such a breakout victory over PSU and a week before another primetime showdown against hated Michigan. The Hawks have spent all week being feted for last Saturday with a lot of hype already being thrown on next week's home game under the lights on national TV. Oh. Yeah. That's right, Arky State comes into town first. It's good policy to avoid heavy chalk wedged in this sort of sammy. So, its hard to recommend Iowa. But, I cant go against them either. Not at home. Kinnick Stadium has been very, very. very good to me over the years. I hate not betting on the Hawks when they're at home. It's like a parent missing their kids Little League game. But, I think I'm going to have to in this case. The power of the Sammy is too strong. While Iowa is 19-8 as double digit home chalk under Ferentz, their actually just 3-8 in that role the last three years. We wont be doing anything with this game. Pass.
(Diarist Note: I'll have a couple updates on the JCB during Saturday. First one about half way through College Gameday, although I dont think I'll have anything to say about the rest of the noon schedule beyond these Big 10 games.)
(Diarist Note: Um, Kinda long. Warning. And this was a hard slate of games to pick. Not sure about this)
The Big 10 season is officially underway. I think we're headed for a crazy, improbable league season. I could see something shake out like the ACC last year where a new contender emerges every week. I just think the power teams OSU and PSU right now arent as good as last season. At least three teams chasing them already have showcased a significant upgrade at the QB position. While the best defense in the league may reside away from Columbus or State College for the first time in a couple of years. I could see both PSU and OSU with at least two league losses and tie breakers needed to separate three teams atop the standings a la 2000. I guess that's a long winded way of saying, I have no true idea what's going to happen in these games. So tread carefully following in my footsteps.
MICHIGAN STATE AT WISCONSIN, NOON, ESPN
LINES: WISCO -3, O/U 53.5
This game is tough to figure out. I think it is going to be a gas to watch. Both teams are equipped with some of my favorite skill position players in the league. Al Toon, David Gilreath and Jonathan Clay for the Badgers. Blair White, Mark Dell, BJ Cunningham for the Spartans. Both teams have fresh quarterbacks on the upswing that have improved the play at that position from a year ago. These are two of the better offenses in the Big 10. It's going to be fun, close and marked by big offensive plays.
But, it's a nightmare to handicap.
In one corner, you have Michigan State coming in on back-to-back losses. Rule #47: Beware of Sparty on a losing streak. You never know when you're stepping in the middle of a tailspin. You dont want your money swept away in that. These are the first signs of a patented Sparty No season killing slide in the Dantonio Era. How will he have his team respond? They are also in a killer sandwich spot a week after losing a bitter heartbreaker to rival Notre Dame and a week before their own personal Armagedon game with Michigan. Way too many emotional question marks to take the Spartans, right? Maybe not. Because . . . . .
In this corner, we have the Wisconsin Badgers. Coached by Brett Bielema. Enough said. I could go on and on about some of the bizarre coaching moments Bielema and his coaching staff have brought us, but let's focus on the now. Their most talented offensive player is Jonathan Clay. Yet, earlier in the week Badgers coaches, notably OC Phil Chryst flat threw him under the bus all because he didn't like his reaction when informed he was finally starting a football game. Ok, whatever. It's your team, but why tell that tale to media, allowing them to write character assassination pieces? You dont beat Fresno without his game changing touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Maybe its better that he save his emotions until then? Just a thought. But, hey, if you think alienating your best player will light a fire under him, go for it. I guess declining wins for three years in a row cries out for new methods. Do what you have to do.
The Pick: Michigan State +3.......The Wisconsin coaches are selling their player out to the hack columnists. I cant get behind that. I could if I thought a quality head coach was behind the move, but that's just not the case. Dantonio might come off as a petulant grump at times, but I dont think he is in over his head the way Bielema is. Frankly, I dont sense the typical Sparty negativity that accompanies the familiar Green and White noise dive. Cousins looks good as a quarterback. How do we even know that Central and Notre Dame arent even better than Wisconsin? We dont, and in fact I think they are better in many ways. Wisconsin is an easier matchup for MSU's D than either of those squads, for example. I think Dantonio rallies the troops and gets the ship righted. Just in time for the Michigan game.
INDIANA AT MICHIGAN, NOON, ESPN2
LINES: MICHIGAN -205, 0/U 54
I have no credibility with any pick here. Last year, I sucked on Michigan games. I dont find it unacceptable that my team endured a rotten 3-9 season. I do find it UNACCEPTABLE that I didnt find a way to make any money off their historic collapse. There rests my 2008 sorrows.
Anyway, 2009 has obviously been a new year, not only for Michigan, but aslo their foe this week Indiana. The Hoosiers were downright awful last year. As Crimson Quarry John pointed out in yesterday's podcast last season was the least competitive season in Bloomington in a long, long time. But, IU is off to a nice 3-0 start and a win over Michigan would not only be historic, but also legitimize their bowl hopes. They have a nifty set of defensive ends, some playmaking ability in the secondary, an underrated stable of tailbacks and a big offensive line that will look to pummel Michigan's front while running out of the Pistol set.
We know what Michigan has. If Forcier keeps performing beyond his years, this offense will not be stopped by Indiana. The defense is shaky. We've been hoping for an injury free season, but we're going to the bench this week for safety help. Is that the first chink in the armour of the glorious 2009 ride? We'll find out.
This game will play out a lot like last weeks. Indiana's offensive line will block well enough against the smallish Michigan front to spring a few plays and move the ball down the field. Michigan's linebackers will be slow to react and Indiana will pick their way downfield and get a few scores. The last two Michigan foes tried and succeeded to a varying degree to run the football. Indiana will try to pound away as well and carve out yards in the early going. QB Chappell, however, does not play very well on the move. I think Michigan's pass rush has a vintage day tomorrow. That helps turn the tide in favor of Michigan's defense and eventually they'll get enough stops to enable the offense to roll to more points.
The Pick: Michigan -20.5, Over 53.....I dont think Indiana's defense has a shot here. I asked earlier in the week if Michigan could get the 38 points needed to maintain last season's scoring pace, but in half the games. I think they go Over that total. As for taking the total, I mentioned in the same column that the total has gon over in 10 of 15 games in the Rodriguez era. The way I see it, the over play is a hedge in case Indiana stays within the number. If they do, it wont be in a 20-16 game. No, instead it will be in a 45-31 game that gets us more freaked out about our defense than the Irish game did.
MINNESOTA AT NORTHWESTERN, NOON, BTN.
LINES: NW -1, O/U 49.5
I have watched a lot of both these teams this season thanks to the magic of DVR. I reviewed both of them play Syracuse. I caught NW playing Eastern as well as the other two games on Minnesota's slate against Air Force and Cal. From what I've seen, the Gophers are the better team. I'd have zero issue taking them to win this one on a nuetral field. On the road? In this case, yes, as I dont think the Wildcats have a real strong home field advantage. Not to mention with Minnesota now playing home games outdoors and on grass, there are no longer any worries about the dome team going outside anymore. At least that's what I have convinced myself.
I like both QBs in this game. Unlike some of the grumbling fan base, I am a fan of Gopher QB Adam Weber. He is an improved passer, but this season he has better weapons around him. Mostly, this statement is supported by the presence of Erik Decker, who is not only a big time playmaker, but pound for pound the toughest WR in the league. The Cats could not contain Syracuse's passing attack, so you have to expect Weber and Decker to do a lot of damage. Unlike last year, however, there is more to the receving corps than Decker. I have liked the way Weber has spread it around in recent weeks and guys like Brandon Green and TroyStoudermire have added elements to the passing attack that demand attention away from Decker. And they've been delivering big time plays even if Decker still gets more than twice as many catches. Cal had a hard time keeping the Gophers from sustaining drives and checking this passing game. I think they can keep that up against a defense shredded by Greg Paulus.
I also like Minny's defense better. They are not a shut down unit, but they did an ok job getting penetration up front and some pressure on Cal. And, they appear to have that big play turnover mojo from last year still rocking. Kafka for NW will do some damage, and he killed the Gophers last year. But, in the end, I see Gohper LB Simoni Lawrence forcing a key turnover late, that if not returned for a score, will at least set up Minnesota for a swing score paving the way to a win.
The PICK: Minny +1.......the last two years have seen the Cats win dramatic contests in overtime and in the final seconds of regulation. Nothing is ever due in the sports world, but I think the karma in this series evens out a bit Saturday. A week after playing fast, athletic Cal, the Gophers will, as a result, be a step ahead of Northwestern all day. I am beginning to think the Gophers are improved from last season, while the Cats are not. We'll see.
ILLINOIS AT OHIO STATE, 3:30, ABC
LINES: OSU -14, O/U 49.5
I am intrigued by this game if for no other reason to see what kind of Illinois team will emerge. Its been three weeks since we've seen them take on a team with a pulse when they were routed by a Missouri team that might be much better than a lot of us thought. Since then, however, they've endured a funcional DNP play against a lowly FCS school, a bye week giving them two weeks off in advance of this game.
They've basically been able to run a second summer camp and work on the issues that plagued them in the opener. Of course, that begats the question of is having all that extra prep time a good thing when your coach is Ron Zook? The Zooker takes a lot of heat, but I think this will be a good development for a team many pegged as a Big 10 darkhorse. I think they come out more focused and ready than the opener and give the Bucks a decent game.
Throughout last year, Ohio State looked a little clunky, especially in front of their home crowd. Despite last week's curbstomp of Toledo, I still wonder about this team as heavy chalk. Do they have the offense to cover big spreads? Will the line be consistent enough? Will Tressel let the team stretch its legs and by that I mean let Pryor loose? They are only 4-10 ATS as a favorite at the Shoe the last two plus seasons. Ever since Troy Smith left town, the Bucks have mastered and showcased the art of slogging through boring games, keeping things close and forcing audible grumbles from the home crowd. I see that trend continuing tomorrow.
THE PICK: Illinois +15.....The Buckeyes settle for one too many field goals and their bugaboos with running quarterbacks give Illinois enough offense to stay within the number. OSU wins, but does not cover, 30-17.
NOTRE DAME AT PURDUE, 8:00, ESPN
LINES: ND -8, O/U 59.5
I dont trust either of these teams. Purdue has been terrible over the years against teams that eventually qualify for a bowl. Notre Dame's defense has been schooled by Big 10 offenses in consecutive weeks. I could see this playing out like either of the games these teams played in Brady Quinn's junior and seniors seasons when the Irish when they averaged 42 points per game. But, I could also see the improved Purdue offense lighting up Notre Dame the way they did to Toledo and Oregon. They have played ND tough over the years at Ross Ade Stadium.
The Pick: Over 59.5.........taking the easy way out and cheering for points. The loser in the ND and Purdue games this season have scored just over 21 points per game, but thats with that goose egg an awful and one dimensional Nevada team put up against ND in the opener. Whoever losses this game will beat that number by a touchdown.
IOWA AT PENN STATE, 3:30, ABC
LINES: PSU -10, O/U 40.5
Penn State defies the notion there is no preseason football in the college game. After all, what else would you classify their non conference slate and the manner in which they played those games. The Nittany Lions lined up Akron, Temple and Syracuse (these teams are 41-102 the last four seasons combined) and exercised controlled scrimmages in each contest. We learned absolutely nothing about Penn State, despite their 23-point average margin of victory in those games. They didnt cover the spread in any of those games and just scored 13 total second half points. Paterno could have named the score in any of those contests. Penn State appeared to treat each game like a live practice, getting reps on the field for the young and/or green talent replacing some big time veterans lost to graduation.
Is Penn State ready for live football? Are they ready to play four quarters of it? Personally, I doubt it. Penn State might be one of the most overrated teams out there right now. No team has done as little to deserve their top-10 ranking. Now they enter their toughest game of the season to date without a star defensive player and a depleted linebacker corps.
I still wonder how they're going to be offensively in a big game without those glitzy wideouts they've had the last four seasons. Do I trust Jay Paterno to call a game without the crutch of Derek Williams to lean on? Um, No. Don't forget in the fateful game with Iowa last year, Williams threw for a key first down on what looked to be the game clinching drive. A few plays later QB Darryl Clark threw a game changing interception. The scoring drives in the critical showdown with OSU were fueled by runs, direct snaps, throws and catches from Williams. In my mind, he is the hardest player to replace in the Big 10 this year, and I remain both curious and dubious that Penn State has shown they can do that when playing teams their size.
Their reshuffled offensive line has struggled to get a push so far this season. The running attack broke out a bit last week, but has been rather stagnant during the early season. Sixteen games into his career, I still doubt Clark. He has yet to make a successful big, money throw in a big spot. Like I said above, if you rewatch PSU games from a year ago, you would be taken aback at how often Williams had the ball in his hands in the game's bigger moments.
Iowa will push them fully to the limit tomorrow. Iowa has already been through a lot this season. They escaped an embarassing loss by blocking kicks on the final two plays against Northern Iowa in one of the goofiest endings we've seen in a while. Since then, they've trounced rival Iowa State and throttled Arizona, a Pac 10 Bowl winner from a year ago. The Hawks dominated them along the lines of scrimmage and won the game going away. They've had a lot of injuries on the offensive line, including an illness to their best blocker Bryan Bugula. But, Iowa's makeshift offensive line performed well against Arizona and, for comparison, has been better against better competition than PSU's reshuffled front five this season. The Hawks have played rotating tailback thanks to more injuries, but have run the football well in consecutive weeks and might have found their future go to guy in Adam Robinson. I think their running game can hammer away a bit at PSU tomorrow and keep them just off balance enough to allow Stanzi a chance at an efficient passing attack. They are rumblings too that Derrell Johnson-Koulianos will play after being out with an ankle injury and his addition to the game would obviously only make me like Iowa more.
Penn State's defense will be tough to penetrate. But so too will the Hawks. You can make a case they're the best defense in the Big 10 right now. They have playmakers rolling at all three levels. I think this defensive line will beat PSU at the point of attack. The Hawks are good in coverage and if the faster Arizona wideouts could not create separation and open looks, I doubt the green WR corps from PSU, in their first real test, will find a lot of room to move either. Clark could have enough in him to finally be the reason his team wins a big game, but I just dont think from top to bottom that this is an elite PSU team and one that can just roll to a double digit win over one of the better teams in the league.
THE PICK: Iowa +10........I dont expect the Hawks to pull out the win, but this game is going all the way down to the end. Just like last year. Penn State is not as good this season as they were last year, its just that people have not figured it out yet. Frankly, Iowa played a better and faster defense last week against Arizona, particularily in the secondary, and put together an efficient, effective and winning game. I would be shocked if they dont acquit themselves well. Ferentz has had the upper hand against Joe Pa in recent years, and I expect that to continue somewhat in a low scoring, 23-20 type of game.
Holy crap was I long winded with this one. Sorry. Hopefully the long read is worth it and these seven games give us more winners than losers. So the two Big 10 columns (here and here) during out of conference season netted a 10-3 record. Lets keep building.
I cant help but be a little disappointed that THE KNOWLEDGE has not checked in to give us his thoughts on last weekend's college football results. It's funny how fast things can change in the sports world. One day you're wallowing on a 15-game losing streak. A week later, you're upending the Mighty Trojans.
Around these parts, you could say the exact same thing about our Meeechigan Wolverines. Pick the subject matter, and the storyline has done a 180 from the tales spun last season. Can't move the football across the street in 2008 has given way to one of the nation's top rushing offenses. Cant score, period, in 2008 has given away to 38 points per game. A charitable turnover strategy in 2008 has given way to more takeaways than giveaways on this young season. Stevie Brown, goat of the D in 2008, has given way to Stevie Brown, our best linebacker. A 3-win season with only 2 covers in 20008 has given way to a 3-0 SUATS start. I think you all get the picture.
Here is one of my favorite numbers so far on the season: Michigan has scored 114 points through three games. In 2008, it took Michigan six games to ring up 113 points. Like, whoa. To keep up the pace this week--that being scoring as many points that took twice as many games last season to score--the Wolverines need to lay at least 38 points on the board against the Hoosiers this Saturday. That would give Michigan 152 points through four games, a number exceeded last year only after the first touchdown against Purdue, in the ninth game of the year.
Now, I know everyone here would take a 10-7 game over IU as long as it s a 'W' for Michigan. But, let's play some fun e-speculation my fellow MGoBloggers. Will Michigan hit the 38-point mark Saturday? Who you got, the Over or the Under on that one? I'll say this: It sure will be intriguing to see how the offense matches up in its first Big 10 test of the season.
How about Carlos Brown? Say what you will about his frailities and difficulties staying on the field fulltime, but he sure does know how to get the bang for his buck, doesn't he? He is the only person in the last decade years to crack the list of longest runs in Michigan history. And, he's done it twice. His 90-yarder against the Eagles was the third longest run from scrimmage in school history. Dont forget in the 2007, he scored on an 85-yard run against Minnesota, a run that stands tied for seventh-place on the all-time list.
Ah, I remember that run well. A gloomy, soggy Ann Arbor afternoon had given way to early evening darkness. Late in the fourth quarter, Michigan held a 27-10 lead, and Brown ripped off the right side of the line, cut into the middle and outraced several LOLphers as he weaved his way down the rest of the field. How important was that touchdown? It helped Michigan cover the -23 number that day. And I was there, pumping my rolled up program in the air, the way a jockey whips his horse, urging Carlos to take it to the House. It was a magical moment at the Big House.
I am also old enough to remember the two runs on that list that were longer than Brown's this past Saturday. Admittedly, my seven-year-old memory is a bit hazy on how Butch Woolfolk's run in 1979 went down. I do, however, have strong memories of the game in 1989 when Tony Boles went for 91 yards and a touchdown. The game was against the Hoosiers, and, believe it or not, during the late 1980s Indiana fancied themselves as a darkhorse contender in the Big 10. The teams' games in 1987 and 1988 both served as October elimination games, of sorts, atop the Big 10 standings, and the '89 contest shook out the same way.
Michigan's defense dominated most of the game. After a scoreless first quarter, Michigan kicked it in gear with three second quarter touchdowns to break the game wide open. Boles sprint highlighted the action en route to an easy 38-10 Michigan win.
Indiana's lone touchdown on the day came in garbage time in the fourth quarter. Despite the timing, the score did prove rather historic. They had a stud back by the name of Anthony Thompson, who was one of the leaders in the Heisman Trophy race that season. He was a touchdown machine. Coming to Ann Arbor that day, he stood one score away from breaking the NCAA all time record for career touchdowns. Down 35 points, A.T. notched the record with a 1-yard score in the fourth quarter with one of those patened, old-school leaps over the pile, landing in paydirt.
At Assembly Hall on the IU campus hangs an amazing photo of the play. The way its prominently displayed shows that the folks at IU feel this is an extremely important point in the history of IU football. In a 28-point loss. I think that tells you all you need to know about football in Ann Arbor compared to football in Blookington. It's right up there with home games in Maryland, I suppose.
There has been a lot of discussion this week about the fate of our current second string quarterback Denard Robinson and what his ideal palce in the program is. My take? He has to stay at QB. It's pretty obvious, isn't? If Forcier goes down, I feel this team still has more than a puncher's chance at succeeding with Shoelace behind center due to his speed and playmaking ability. Hopefully, Rodriguez keeps giving him possessions as I dont think too many teams in the Big 10 have the speed to contain him. Regardless, we all should be excited at the prospects of this offensive weapon, and I am stoked to see what kinds of tricks the coaching staff has up their sleeve to get Robinson invloved in the game plan.
My thoughts on the issue aren't dramatic or too revealing. I bring it up because more than anything I want to discuss the stat line that Shoelace produced against EMU: 0/4, 0 yards, 0 tds, 2 INT, 3 rushes for 60 yards and 2 scores.
What a goofy boxscore line. I thought it might be interesting to throw a couple other stat lines out there that are comparable with other UM quarterbacks:
2/10, 32 yards, , 1 TD 3 IN , 8 rushes for 30 yards
0/3, 0. yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 1 carry for 11 yards
2/15, 33 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 13 carries for 84 yards
Do any of these look familiar? You might have to be older than I am (37) to recognize these amazing games by the above quarterback. The answer? Rick Leach. All three of these are from his freshmen season in 1975. The first was the season opener, a 23-6 win at Wisconsin. The second game, which includes the 0-3 passing line and is eerily similar to Robinson's game from Saturday, took place in a 14-14 tie against Baylor. The final stat line, which saw Leach throw as many picks as completions, not to mention more than six times as many incomplete passes as complete, was from the Orange Bowl, a 14-6 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners. Leach became one of the best signal callers in school history, yet in his freshmen season, he had at least three games with as many interceptions as completions.
1/5 3 yards 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 14 carries for 144 yards and 2 TDs
Anyone? I am going to guess nobody remembers this game, but these were the numbers that Michael Taylor put up in his first ever start at quarterback with the Wolverines. Against Northwestern in Octoebr, 1987, Taylor subbed for an injured Demetrious Brown and paced Michigan to a 29-6 win. I was at this game. I had taken the SATs that morning, and I still remember my father picking me up from the testing center and racing us up to Ann Arbor in time to make kickoff. We were treated to one of the most boring games I have ever attended. But, Taylor emerged as a killer option QB. He eventually became an effecient passer as well. He never lost a Big 10 game he started and led the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl in 1888 and 1989.
12/26, 158 yards, 1 TD. 7 INTs, 9 rushes for 13 yards.
Seven picks! That's a dead giveaway for folks who are around my age. This was the aforementioned Demetrious Brown and his effort in East Lansing during the 1987 Michigan-Michigan State game. MSU won 17-11. If Brown only has six picks, Michigan likely wins this one. Lorenzo White was a beast, IIRC. Anyway, this game took place a few weeks before Taylor's debut as a starter. And, it took place on the same day the Tigers beat the Twins in Game 3 of the ALCS at Tiger Stadium. Pat Sheridan hit a 2-run bomb late in the game to notch the win. Otherwise, lets not talk of Brown's game, that ALCS or the freaking Twins again.
3/8, 62 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 5 carries for 27 yards
The rare Rich Hewlett start, this one from the 1980 opener against Northwestern. No offense to Mr Hewlett, but when Anthony Carter is split out wide, you have to have better numbers than this. At least, he connected to AC on a pair of scores. They were needed as UM escaped with a 17-10 win. Folks, this was back in the days when NW ripped off 20-game losing streaks like it was their job, so being involved in a fourth quarter game with the Mildcats could be deemed, uh, unacceptable. Anyway, Hewlett was only starting because incumbent QB John Wangler ended to season before getting his knee torn to bits by UNC's Lawrence Taylor in the Gator Bowl. Bo was too nervous to play him, but seeing Hewlett's performance eased those fears out of necessity. Eventually Wangler regained his starting role and his passing mojo helped led Michigan to their first ever Rose Bowl win under Bo to cap the season.
3/18, 39 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs, 11 carries for 40 yards and 1 TD
Is it good if you're the preseason #1 team in the country and your QB throws up the above numbers in the opener? Not if you're Michigan. Steve Smith's career as UM QB could not have started any rockier. Again, if you have Anthony Carter as your wideout, you have to complete more than three passes. Smith bounced back the following week and led UM to a win over Notre Dame, the newly installed top ranked team, and hit AC on a bomb in the process. Smith started for three full seasons at Michigan, but he was constantly booed during every inconsistent stretch of play he had as Michigan fans never really forgave him for the embarrassing 1981 loss to the Badgers.
Do any of those stats matter? Probably not, but I thought it might make a fun trip down memory lane. Michigan had a .500 record in the above games that involve head scratching QB lines. At least Michigan won the game in which Robinson's bizarre stat line took place. As long as he is not relied upon as the Man this season, Robinson might still produce some funny box scores, but probably wont drown the Wolverine's chances either.
Before signing off, how about a word on the defense? Would you have believed me if I told you a month ago that Jordan Kovacs would play the second half against Notre Dame and that Kevin Leach would lead the team in tackles for a game? What would you have said? You probably wouldnt think the team would be 3-0.
Otherwise, I dont want to talk defense. At the risk of incurring GSimms wraith, defense is a boring to talk about. I mean, you're with me, right? OK, its not really boring to talk about, but it sure is scary as hell. I still feel the starting 11 is fine, but the line between fine and disaster seems pretty small.
Instead of obsessing about the defense, I will instead quietly point out the possibly profitable strategy of taking the Overs the rest of the way in Michigan games. In the Rodriguez era, 10 of fifteen games have gone Over the total. Those that didn't included both MAC snooze fests last season, the Jug winner against the LOLphers, the Northwestern Slush Bowl and this year's opener against Western. Nick Sheridan started three of those games, went the distance in two and figured prominently in the four Under games from last season.
Given the new found offensive potency and the shaky defense, I expect this trend to continue. For that matter, I think all Wisconsin, Michigan State and Notre Dame games should lean strongly to the Overs as well. The total for the Michigan-Indiana game is 53, by the way. I just have a feeling Michigan is going to lose a game during which they score at least 35 points. Hopefully, the loss will be muted a bit with an Over ticket in my pocket.