(Guess what? I published a book this offseason. It’s about baseball. The Cubs. The White Sox. And that one time they played each other in the World Series. Check it out. It’s only available via Amazon Kindle right now, but a paperback, print on demand option is in the works)
I have to brief this week because I’m running late. It happens. I swear it’s not because we’re ducking collectors. We had a winning week last week, despite the UCF and Indiana picks losing in the final seconds. Just one of those things where time is a challenge. Here’s a quick, short list of mostly underdogs we are taking in national games.
Utah +7 over UCLA: There’s a good chance Utah is better team. There is a good chance that UCLA is secretly a bad team.
Arkansas +9.5 over Auburn: The Hogs got the cash for us last week, so we’re staying on one of our favorite underdogs. They’re 16-5 ATS as dogs since 2014, but just 2-2 this year. However, we skipped their Alabama game, so we’re 2-1 on them this year. Why not ride them?
North Carolina State +19.5 over Louisville: This smacks of jumping on the Wolfpack a week too late after their near upset of Clemson a week ago. We’re used to making bad decisions.
Colorado +2 over Stanford: I have an idea. Let’s keep betting Colorado until they fail to cover.
Texas A/M +19 over Alabama: I’m loathe to bet against Bama, but a good rule of thumb is to always bet the underdog when a pair of 5-0 or better teams meet in the regular season. File that away for November 26.
Ole Miss +7 over LSU: Did you know LSU is 6-16 ATS against SEC West since their national title game appearance in the 2011 season? Now you do.
Teaser, WVA –0.5/Washington St –1: Here’s what a teaser is. We’re mostly doing this in hope the Mountaineers come through in the first game so we can have some rooting action during Pac-12 After Dark. That’s not called strategy.
I usually end the post with those picks and more commentary. But I wanted to put the underdog picks at the top of page because, otherwise in the B1G, we’re playing, what has to be for us, a record amount of chalk. Adding it up, we’re laying more than 100 points in chalk this week in the conference games. That’s gross. We’re proud, but dirty chalk eating motherfawkers this week. It’s close to impossible to make a case for most of the underdogs this week that goes beyond ‘but, hey that’s a lot of points.’
Follow the JCB Twitter for more picks and commentary through the weekend. Our record is a decidedly mediocre 28-28-1, but at least we’re 13-9-1 in B1G games. Speaking of which…..
Michigan State –2.5 over Maryland: Michigan State is favored over Maryland? Is it basketball season already?
Most sportsbooks offer 'Double Result' bets, where bettors pick a separate result for the first half and second half of a game. It's like a parlay, but on the same game. I wish we could do Double Result bets on the Michigan State quarterback situation. Not only have they had two different starters in as many weeks, but they've finished three of their last four last games with three different quarterbacks. Against Wisconsin, Tyler O'Connor was benched for Brian Lewerke. Two weeks later against BYU, he was benched for Damien Terry. Last week in the loss to Northwestern, Lewerke started, but benched in favor of O'Connor for the second half. In 2016, Spartans Will change quarterbacks.
Of course, they're changing their lineup everywhere these days in East Lansing, thanks to a robust brew of poor play and injuries. It’s been a staggering decline. They're playing a bunch of 2015 and 2016 defensive recruits in the secondary, due to poor play from the incumbents, and on the defensive line, because they literally don't have anybody else. Five defensive linemen have left the program early since their loss to Alabama in the playoffs. The young players have talent and eventually could form the core of MSU's next good defense. But they're overmatched right now and taking significant lumps in their first rodeos. On the other side of the ball, they're paying for bringing in just one offensive line recruit in the 2013 class and not following up with a good OL class the following year. That probably sounds familiar to Michigan fans, and as we saw first hand, this kind of OL situation can take a couple years to claw out of. As for quarterback, it’s more than a little odd to still be preparing three quarterbacks to play this late in the season. If nobody emerges down the second half, expect Messiah DeWeaver, redshirting this fall, to become the fan favorite in the 2017 QB Derby. For this week, our Double Result QB bet is Lewerke-Lewerke. If Michigan State can't play a clean game and avoid lineup panic against the Terrapins, then an Eastern Michigan-MSU Quick Lane Bowl has no chance of happening.
Michigan –36.5 over Illinois: The only question is will Michigan enter MSU Week for the second straight year with a shutout streak going. A year ago, they went into that game on a 3-game shutout streak. It's only at five quarters right now, but, unless something goofy happens, there's a strong chance this gets extended to nine quarters by the time the Wolverines are done with the Illini. It won't matter which QB the Illini start, it will be a long day. They've been shaky on passing downs in conference play (only a 13-percent success rate against Rutgers). There's no way they move the ball well enough on Michigan's defense otherwise to avoid a lot snaps on passing downs. On defense, the Illini have allowed better than a 50-percent success rate in all three B10 games. And they're last in the conference in yards per pass. The Illini have a lot of disruptive defenders like Carroll Phillips, Dawuane Smoot and Hardy Nickerson Jr. But they'll probably be defending short fields the whole day as most of the game will be played in Illini territory regardless who has the ball. The last time these two teams played was Homecoming 2012 in Ann Arbor. It's Homecoming this week. Michigan won 45-0 then. They'll be close to that score again.
Minnesota –17 over Rutgers: Despite starting 1-2 in league play, the Gophers pulse still beats strong in the B1G West chase. A lot of it is driven by who they and the main contenders play over the next three weeks. On their end, the Gophers play at Rutgers, Illinois, at Purdue the next three Saturdays. After that, in Week 11 on November 12, the Gophers play at Nebraska. Here's all that needs to happen to ensure a share of first place is on the line for the winner: Minnesota needs to take care of business and beat the three worst teams in the league; Wisconsin beats Iowa this week; Nebraska losses at least once to Wisconsin or Ohio State; and Michigan beats Iowa. To put it another way, Minnesota has the easiest three week run the league has to offer and they need the best teams in the league to help them on the out of town scoreboard. In 2014, the Gophers quietly managed to stay in the race and played for the B1G West Title in the finale against Wisconsin. That's still on the table this year. The Gophers are putting together an underrated defensive year. They're 4th across the board in the B10 in yards per play allowed, yards per rush, and yards per pass, as well as 19th nationally in defensive success rate. This side of the ball should be good enough to carry it past this easy stretch, although their offense can betray them at anytime and keep these games close. It should not matter against Rutgers so long as they keep giving it to Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, like they did a week ago against Maryland. Facing a Knight team that's allowed 6.91 yards per rush in conference play, the Gophers duo should flirt with 250 total yards for the second consecutive week.
Darrell Hazell went 3-24 vs. B1G
Nebraska –24 over Purdue: Purdue fired Darrell Hazell this week. It was inevitable. Count me in both of the two popular camps that I've seen form regarding this opening. Purdue should definitely look as outside the box as possible for a new coach. The more creative, the better. Go find a Joe Tiller Basketball On Grass 2.0, or something similarly creative and hard for defenses to figure out. Now is the time to be different. Don’t just hire a coach after a lucky season at a smaller school. The other school of thought I agree with revolves around the hot coach in our own backyard. If I'm Western Michigan's PJ Fleck, it's a job I'm not interested in. He should be able to find a better job than this. He probably would be better off returning to Kalamazoo for another season--there's enough there for another big season--than taking the Purdue job right now. Regardless, I hope the early coaching carousel chatter isn't distracting him from this weekend and the most important Western Michigan-Eastern Michigan game ever played. Meanwhile, as to this game, the Boilers embarrassed Nebraska a year ago, lighting the Huskers up to the tune of 55 points. We've said before that so far the opposite of last year is happening to Nebraska this year. The jokes will be on Purdue in this one. Nebraska wins by four touchdowns, covering for the eighth time in their last 11 games and fifth game this season.
Indiana +2 over Northwestern: Clayton Thorson might be the league's most improved in season player. The Northwestern quarterback stunk in the season's early weeks, but he's a completely different player entering October's back half. After non conference play, Thorson was 14th in the B1G in completion percentage and 13th in passer rating. In conference games, however, he's first in the league in both. Eye test wise, he's standing taller and looks so much more confident. Watching their Iowa game a couple weeks ago at our UM tailgate, I assumed it was a different QB passing all over the Hawkeyes. A week ago against Michigan State, he came out hot in the second half, passing for 130 yards on their first two drives and opening up a 16-point lead over the Spartans. A month ago, QB play and the passing game was a weakness. Now it's a strength. The Wildcats are 32nd nationally in passing success rate. It helps having Austin Carr, whose leading the league in catches. He's grabbed eight touchdowns this year, has at least six catches in five straight games and has gone over the century mark in three of the Wildcats last four games. Toss in Justin Jackson, whose rushed for 359 yards the last two game, and the Wildcats, shocking as it sounds, have a viable Triplets situation going on.
[Sam Riche/AP Photos]
I might have just set all that up so I could ask how this improved offense will play when they take on a good defense, like Indiana, instead of the sieve like unit at MSU. I don't know what's more shocking. That I wrote that sentence. Or that it's true. The Hoosiers defense is in the top-half of the B1G and climbing. The early season numerical improvements on the defensive end survived consecutive weeks against powerful Ohio State and Nebraska's offenses. The defense was downright impressive for long stretches of Saturday's loss. After falling behind 17-0 in the first quarter thanks to turnovers by the offense, the Indiana defense allowed just 85 yards on Nebraska's next nine drives. They forced seven punts, picked off two passes and set up a safety as their play allowed Indiana to slowly chip away at the lead and get back into the game. They came so close to beating a top-10 team with a four quarter defensive effort. I think that side of the ball continues to make news and pulls them to a win against Northwestern. Despite the Wildcats improved passing offense, they're still an inefficient offense. The Hoosiers, meanwhile, have one the most efficient defenses in the country, ranking in the top third nationally in all five defense success rate categories. Their offense has sputtered, but I expect the running game to regain some form going up against the Northwestern defense that's 84th in rushing defensive success rate and 123rd in standard down defensive success rate. The Cats are also 6-13 ATS when favored. In the past, I would hope Indiana would win a game in the 30s. In the new reality, I'm somehow expecting them to win a game in the 20s. So bizarre.
Ohio State –19 over Penn State: Another week, another chance to compare how Michigan and Ohio State do against a common opponent. The Penn State comparison lacks the sex appeal of UM and OSU playing Wisconsin in consecutive weeks, but it's still evidence to throw into the mix. And it'll be more interesting than comparing Rutgers results. Michigan darn near threw a perfect game defensively against Penn State, so expect the box score comparison to favor the Wolverines after this one, like it did against Wisconsin.
Penn State scored 10 points against Michigan. They have averaged 34.4 points per game in their other five contests. Saquan Barkley had 59 rushing yards and averaged less than 4 yards per carry against Michigan. Does he have a game against the Buckeyes like Corey Clement did a week ago? Trace McSorley has been an explosive QB so far, averaging 8.1 yards per pass. But he only threw for 4.1 yards per pass against Michigan. How does he do against the elite, but young talent in the OSU secondary. Explosive plays have been a big part of the Nittany Lions game this season. They've had 35 plays of at least 20 yards, second in the conference, with 18 of those plays traveling more than 30 yards. Michigan removed that from their arsenal. They only had two plays that hit for over 15 yards were a 30-yard Barkley run and 33-yard Barkley run and catch. The Buckeyes have only allowed 20 plays of more than 20 yards, but five came a week ago against Wisconsin, including the Badgers longest run in 20 games. Against Michigan, Penn State averaged just 4 plays per possession and 21.8 yards per drive. We'll see how they do against the Buckeyes. Keep in mind, Ohio State allowed 2.5 more plays and 25 more yards per possession against Wisconsin than Michigan did.
Home field emotion should help the Nittany Lions at the start and, unlike against Michigan, the game might be cosmetically closer deeper into the game. This matchup stinks in the trenches for Penn State. On defense, they've allowed 5.58 yards per rush against Power-5 foes. Now they go up against an OSU team that rushes for 6.3 yards per carry and is first nationally in rushing success rate. It's not any better on the other side of the ball. Ohio State's defensive line has the 9th best havoc rate in the nation. How do you that will work out against the perpetual leaky Penn State offensive line? Penn State is the 107th worst team in TFLs allowed per game, and they're trying to block an athletic, talented OSU front that's snared 24 TFLs in the last three games. With the way Nick Bosa, Sam Hubbard, Jerome Baker and Robert Landers have advanced this fall around MLB Raekwon McMillan, I don't see how Penn State's offensive front keeps them at bay. PSU QB Trace McSorley might not end up under complete siege the way he was against Michigan, but it will be close. A second half defensive score breaks this game open and Ohio State wins 38-16.
Wisconsin –4 over Iowa: I was a little surprised to see PFF rate Iowa's offensive line as the top performing unit in the nation. That's a little odd for a team that's 96th in standard down sack and 103rd in passing down sack rate and 8th in the B1G in TFLs allowed. They lost to Northwestern literally because the line could not protect CJ Beathard when it mattered. Minnesota seemed to harass him all day. North Dakota State and Northwestern totally stoned their running games. I guess what I'm trying to say is feels like things should be going smoother for such an elite line. I can't argue with the film watchers. And I do agree the individual talent is there in spots. But those rankings will need to be revised after this week. The Badgers defensive pressure eats up the Iowa line all day. Wisconsin pushed Ohio State around to the tun of 7 TFLs after the Buckeyes had allowed only nine all season and held their powerful tailback tandem to just just 4 yards per rush. My feeling is after playing Michigan and Ohio State in consecutive games and their roster of elite, next-level players, Wisconsin rolls through Iowa and the step down in competition. The Hawkeyes have been in some dogfights this season with some average teams. Not to mention Rutgers. This is their first time in the ring with a high end club. I don't think they're playing well enough to handle it. The Badgers defense breaks Iowa's offense all day. They slowly pull away and win this by double digits.
Summer Odds, 8/31
Current Odds, 10/13
Ohio St. at Penn St.
Ohio St. -10
Ohio St. -21
Wisky at Iowa
Nebraska at Wisky
Michigan at MSU
Nebraska at OSU
Ohio St. -15
Ohio St. –20.5
Iowa at Penn St.
Penn St. -1
Michigan at Iowa
Ohio St. at MSU
Ohio St. -6
Ohio St. –18.5
Nebraska at Iowa
Michigan at Ohio St
Ohio St. –5.5
Ohio St. –8.5
Alright, so a lot of the luster has worn off plenty of the games above. Juicy storylines have been reduced to simply ‘How much will Michigan and Ohio State win by?’ and ‘How bad will Michigan State look today?’
Every line has shifted at least two points.
Two games list a different favorite compared to the summer line: Wisconsin at Iowa and Iowa at Penn State. In both cases, the Hawkeyes fell from the favorite to the underdog. The defending West Champions aren’t even favored to beat Penn State anymore. But it makes sense considering the S&P only projects wins against Purdue and Illinois the rest of the way.
The odds aren’t any better for Iowa’s counterpart in last year’s B1G Title Game. Michigan State has seen the biggest line movement against a team in the remaining listed conference games with that 12.5-point swing in the Ohio State game. The 10-point swing in the Michigan game in two weeks is the third biggest swing on the above list. It’s not going well for the Spartans.
Chalk won’t sweep against the spread. That’s a good bet. But which underdogs will cover? I like the two Thanksgiving weekend with Nebraska over Iowa and Michigan over Ohio State. I also think the Huskers ought to be improved enough to stay within three touchdowns of the Buckeyes.
The smallest line swings are in the two games most now figure to settle both division titles: Nebraska at Wisconsin and Michigan at Ohio State.
Of course, the stakes are expected to be higher than a possible division title game for The Game next month. It’s shaping up to be a playoff elimination game. And the Heisman Trophy could be up for the grabs. Over at 5Dimes, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers and OSU’s JT Barrett are the third and fourth shortest odds on the board at 8/1 and 10/1 respectively. They’re both chasing the still-as-of-now two team race between Lamar Jackson and DeShaun Watson, who check this week in at –170 and +300 for the award. But it’s worth pointing out that Jackson at one point was –550 to win, so the Louisville quarterback at least is coming back to the betting pack
However, if it breaks right over the next six weeks, Michigan-Ohio State could not only be between the two top ranked teams in the country, but it could also be between the two leading Heisman candidates with the added unique twist of one of the candidates trying to tackle the other.
But we have a long way to go until then. Including this weekend. Here are this week’s B1G picks and more…..
Indiana +3 over Nebraska: Richard Lagow and Tommy Armstrong are 1-2 in the B1G in yards per pass. This unlikely quarterback duel will likely turn on which improved secondary holds up better. Nebraska and Indiana are 4th and 6th in the B10 in yards per pass allowed, a year after being 12th and 10th respectively. The Hoosiers are 19th in passing success rate against and 44th in passing down success rate against. They were 87th and 109th in those categories a year ago. Nebraska has nine interceptions after just 10 swipes a year ago and their 11.3% defensive back havoc rate is third best in the country.
Many though Indiana’s Kevin Wilson was too conservative against Ohio State in his play calling in the red zone and relied way too heavily overall on the running game. Twenty five of Indiana's first 35 plays against OSU were rushes. But Wilson has said this season he's doing something he's never done at Indiana before and that's coaching to allow his improved defense to win the Hoosiers the game. So he was fine pounding the rock, shortening the game, and trying to avoid that big mistake to open the game up. Past Indiana teams would have zero shot if they could not score on every possession. For long stretches of the game, this strategy worked. Ohio State had 15 possessions and nine of them went nowhere, totaling 31 plays before a punt or a turnover ended it. The Bucks averaged just 4.0 yards per play over their first six drives. And in the second half, they could not shake the Hoosiers thanks to a four drive stretch when Indiana allowed just 41 yards. The plan unraveled thanks to a Lagow turnover and a 91-yard kickoff return that set OSU up with first half touchdown drives of six and nine yards. Despite that, the game was still in the winnable category well into the fourth quarter thanks to a defense that held the Buckeyes 1.88 yards per play before their season average.
Both teams should feast on the ground. The Hoosier D remains vulnerable against the run. That will be a problem against Armstrong's dual threat abilities and his two feature backs Terrell Newby and Devine Ozigbo. But look for Indiana's running game to finally get going some against a Nebraska defense that's 80th in standard down defensive success rate and 102nd in yards per rush. Don’t be surprised if Devine Redding goes over 100 yards for the fourth time this season. Indiana's passing game will have more success against Nebraska's improved pass defense than the other way around. Nebraska has some improved numbers, but they're still 87th nationally in defensive pass success rate. The Hoosiers passing success rate was above 50% for three straight games before facing the Buckeyes. But that's an elite defense with elite athletes. Nebraska's defense is improved, but not the same. All of Nebraska's games this season have been undecided in the fourth quarter. So will this one. I'll take the home dog, expecting the Hoosiers and their healthier receiving corps to make the big plays in the second half putting them over the top.
Rutgers +6 over Illinois: Do we have records for how teams do the week after losing as double digit favorites to Purdue? What about teams coming off a 78-point loss? There really couldn't be any better momentum for this game than the combination of Illinois coming off a loss to Purdue and Rutgers coming off an 11-touchdown thrashing. It's a critical game in the race to the bottom. Rutgers has fallen below Kansas and is now the worst ranked Power-5 team in the S&P Rankings. You always have to pick against the team falling below Kansas in any rankings. Those are the rules, right? But we’re breaking the rules here. Illinois would probably be below Kansas too if they had just played Ohio State and Michigan in consecutive weeks. There is a real storyline activated if Illinois officially makes a quarterback switch. Besides, as long as Rutgers isn’t playing a top-10 team, they’re outscoring their FBS opponents this year and own covers against New Mexico and Iowa. Is this really that much harder?
Iowa –11.5 over Purdue: I actually looked up how Purdue does the week after a win. It took two minutes. Since it's Purdue, the numbers aren't pretty. They've lost eight straight the week after a win, covering the spread in just two of those games. Since 2008, the Boilers are just 5-23 SU, 8-19-1 ATS the week after a win. They have not won consecutive games since the final two games of the 2012 season. They should be just the tonic Iowa's struggling offense needs. The Hawkeyes haven't been able to sustain drives for weeks. Twenty of their last 53 drives dating back to the North Dakota State game have been a three and out or worse. If they can't get anything going against a Boiler defense that's in the bottom third of the country in every defensive success rate category, including 104th in overall efficiency, then it's only going to get uglier with some bigger tests ahead in conference play.
Minnesota +7 over Maryland: Here's the Conor Rhoda dossier. He takes over as quarterback for the Gophers with Mitch Leidner out with a concussion. It'll break a streak of 27 straight starts for Leidner, but will Minnesota really be worse for wear passing the ball with the backup? In two close losses to start conference play, Leidner's play has been a problem for the Gophers. On third down passes in those losses, he was 5-for-18, 49 yards and two interceptions. For some reason the Gophers put the game in his hands last week against Iowa. After taking a 7-6 lead early in the third quarter, the Gophers couldn't generate any offense the rest of the way. Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith combined for only four carries after that, while Leidner went through a stretch of 14 dropbacks or runs gaining just 26 yards and tossing an interception. He hit some throws on the Gophers last ditch drive, but eventually threw four straight incompletions ending Minnesota's final hope. All of this is to say that Maryland is nearly a full touchdown chalk here because of the Gophers' QB situation, but I am not afraid of it. Playing Rhoda might force the Gophers strategy back to what they do best: pound the rock with their stable of tailbacks. And they shouldn't have much of a problem doing that against a Maryland defense that allowed a 53% rushing success rate and 6.0 yards per carry against Penn State a week ago. The Terps looked shaky on both sides of the ball in their first test against FBS bowl caliber competition. I can't back them as a favorite so soon after that, especially when the best side in this game is probably going to be the Gophers defense.
Northwestern +7 over Michigan State: A year after combining for a 22-5 record, Northwestern and Michigan State meet with disappointing 2-3 mark. They’ve lost five games between them as a favorite. The S&P projects that each team has at least a 70% chance of finishing 5-7 or worse. The loser of this game faces a hard road back to bowl game, making this a critical swing game in the chase for the league’s Quick Lane bowl bid. As we approach midseason, the Spartans know who their tailbacks and wide receivers are, but not much else. Name the positional unit and they are shuffling it in East Lansing. Injuries have forced their hand way too much at linebacker and offensive line. They've had three different starting offensive lines in five games with a trio of different starters already at each guard spot. Does anybody on the staff even know the quarterback depth chart? After Malik McDowell, their best defensive lineman are probably the freshmen backups. A fourth freshman might join that mix if they burn Auston Robertson’s this weekend. The secondary is a total mess, allowing FBS foes to pass for over eight yards an attempt. If ever a team needed a bye week to take a step back and sort things out it's MSU. Too bad they had their bye week a month ago. It's been a mediocre start for State. It's also been a mediocre year also for our picks. We're basically fighting for bowl eligibility too. Picking against the Spartans is the one thing that's worked in our favor almost every week. Why change now?
Wisconsin +11 over Ohio State: Wisconsin has covered the spread as double digit underdogs this season against LSU, MSU, and Michigan, winning those first two games outright. The Badgers are now 14-6-1 ATS when catching points since the beginning of the 2008 season. Can they conjure up that underdog magic again against the Buckeyes? Unlike those previous showdowns earlier this season, this one is one their home turf at Camp Randall Stadium. But the Buckeyes won’t mind. There is not a better road football team in the country than Ohio State. Under Urban Meyer, the Bucks are 19-0 in true road games, going 13-6-1 against the spread. Here’s the tale of the tape for a game that could be a B1G Championship Game preview.
When Wisconsin has the ball, the Badgers will be going against the 12th ranked team nationally in defensive success rate. It will be the third top-15 team in defensive success rate the Badgers will have faced, after playing 8th ranked LSU and top ranked Michigan. How did Wisconsin do in those games? Alright against LSU. They came out hot, Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbawale combined for 130 rushing yards, and Troy Fumagali had seven big catches. It was a disaster against Michigan. The Badgers averaged just 11.2 yards per possession, gained 2.91 yards per play, and ended the game with less than 100 yards rushing and passing. QB Alex Hornibrook was under siege all day by the Wolverines, but if there was a silver lining to his game, it’s that he never coughed up a killer a turnover, helping the Badgers to stay with Michigan the whole game. He’ll need to at least find a way to repeat that against a Buckeye defense that’s already forced 13 turnovers this year. If the Badgers can somehow squeak out enough offense and resemble that LSU box score, they’ll have a chance to win the game.
The real show will be when the Buckeyes offense collides with the Badgers defense. Ohio State is ranked second nationally in offensive success rate while the Badgers are ranked 22nd or better in all five defensive success rate categories. A week ago, OSU was held in check by a decent Indiana defense. This will be a major step up. Indiana was able to get OSU off the field enough to stay in the game and limited them to just 6-of-17 on 3rd down. A week ago against Indiana’s improved pass defense, JT Barrett had his most inaccurate day in over two years and averaged almost four yards less per pass than his season average. The Badgers pass defense is better than Indiana’s. Their run defense will prove a lot sturdier. And they bring a lot more pressure with a deep set of athletic, disruptive linebackers. That group will be key in keeping Barrett’s running game contained, something the Hoosiers were unable to do.
I believe in Wisconsin’s defense. It’s been one of the stories of the season. I like them in this matchup against Barrett. At least enough to cover this spread.
National Games: Kansas State +14 over Oklahoma: Never shy betting against the Sooners these days, especially against a Wildcat team that’s 27-17 ATS as an underdog during Bill Snyder’s second tenure at the school, including covers and outright wins their last two trips to Norman……..Arkansas +7.5 over Ole Miss: Arkansas has been a great underdog play for a few seasons now, but some of the shine is off them after failing to grab the money the last two times out in this role against Texas A/M and Alabama. But those are top-10 teams. Earlier in the year, they covered and won outright as a dog against a good, but incomplete TCU team. Maybe that’s just their speed this year. We trust them in this spot against the Rebels…….Tulane +11 over Memphis (Friday): All of the Green Wave’s FBS games this year have been close, but more importantly do we have a double digit dog with the better defense? Tulane is allowing a half yard less per play than the Tigers and ranked 27 spots better than them in defensive success rate. I think so and I really like those. Texas Tech –1 over West Virginia: We’ll take the Tech offense to pull one out at home in a matchup between the B12’s best third down conversion team against it’s worst defense on that down…..Eastern Michigan +7.5 over Ohio. Not a typo. We’re on the Eagles. They’ve been hot lately and, frankly, there isn’t any proof that Ohio is better than them this year. Ohio lost to Texas State, the team currently ranked last in the S&P rankings. Sounds like a great team to bet against as touchdown chalk. Eastern is flirting with a bowl game. Whoever their coach is will look great in Purdue Black and Gold next fall……Tennessee +12 over Alabama: We hate betting against Bama, but we’ve always liked Butch Jones as an underdog. Lesser Vol teams have covered the number the last two years against the Tide…..UCF –3 over Temple: Did you know Michigan’s non conference foes are 14-2 ATS this year. And if you have a good memory, you know those two no covers came against the Wolverines. Not fans of CU –12.5 vs. Arizona St or Hawaii –9 vs. UNLV, but we like the Knights as short home chalk against a Temple that isn’t nearly as good as last year’s version…..UNC +7 over Miami: The Heels stunk up the joint for us a week ago, but we’re going to give them another show this week. The weather last week ensured their offense was going nowhere. With a dryer track, we’ll get a proper shootout this week and a much better showing out of Carolina against a Canes team that’s covered the spread twice in their last nine showings as chalk against an FBS team.
(Season Record: 18-21-1; B1G Games 9-7-1)
(Guess what? I published a book this offseason. It’s about baseball. The Cubs. The White Sox. And that one time they played each other in the World Series. Check it out. It’s only available via Amazon Kindle right now, but a paperback, print on demand option is in the works)
Week Six has arrived. We’re creeping towards the midpoint of the college football regular season.*Sheds small tear* It’s already been crazy, like all the seasons before it. Louisville, Washington, Houston, and Texas A/M are in the playoff hunt. Oregon, Michigan State, Florida State, and Oklahoma are not. Michigan is back. So is Tennessee, Miami, and Colorado. As for Alabama and Ohio State, well, they are still Alabama and Ohio State. And still the betting favorites to win all the marbles. The Tide and Buckeyes all but sit as betting co-favorites with +300 and +325 odds to win it all. Clemson, last year’s national runner-up, is next in line at +500. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In the B1G, all signs point to an Ohio State-Michigan game for the ages, but there are still seven Saturdays of football to play between now and then. One thing college football has taught us is, if you give it enough time, it will rain plenty of chaos. Where and when is anybody’s guess. So don’t break out those countdown clocks just yet. Well, except for the #RevengeOfHarbaugh one that now reads 22 Days.
But the pecking order is clear. At the top, it’s Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. At the bottom, it’s Illinois, Purdue, and Rutgers. As for 5-12, does anybody know? With the resurgences at Indiana and Maryland and the ongoing soap operas at Michigan St, Penn St, and Iowa, I’m interested in seeing how it shapes up and if any of them can get going in a strong enough direction to threaten the current contenders.
Onto our picks for the B1G and national games of the week.
(Season Record: 13-14-1. Big 10 Games: 6-4-1. The difference between a winning and losing record is a goal line stand by Cal--of all teams--against Utah a week ago. We had the Utes.)
Indiana +30 over Ohio State: Indiana's Defense is good......
Wait. No lightning, fire, or brimstone coming from above? Let me check my feet? Nope. Not frozen. Let's try that again.
Indiana's Defense is good.....
Maybe good is still a streeeeeetttttttch, despite the lack of earth imploding reaction. Let's go with 'excitedly improved' and move on. I have always said the Hoosiers don't need to be good on defense. With their offense and Team Chaos identity, they just need a decent defense, instead of one that's always one of the worst in the country, to develop into a consistent winning, bowl program. So far, so good in that department in 2016. It's just four games in, but some of the statistical improvements need to be shared. That's why we have charts. (Refer to this for success rate explanations.)
|Rush Success Rate||33.3%/17th||44.4%/86th|
|Pass Success Rate||35.5%/28th||42.7%/87th|
|Yards Per Play||5.13/37th||6.38/112th|
|Yards Per Rush||3.72/43rd||5.22/113rd|
|Yards Per Pass||6.6/40th||7.4/81st|
How good are those numbers for Indiana? So good that Kevin Wilson is now coaching like his defense can win games, an unheard of philosophy at Indiana. Urban Meyer says the Hoosiers are the best defense they will have faced so far this year. They’re in the top third nationally in all those categories, a year after being in the bottom third, in some cases the depths of that bottom third, in all of them. What's at play with the better play so far? Here's four quick reasons.
1.) First year defensive coordinator Tom Allen is proving to be one of the more underrated hires of the offseason. His previous experience included three years as linebackers coach at Ole Miss during a time when the Rebels' defense improved and last year as the defensive coordinator at USF, where he had the Bulls in the top third in several AAC defensive categories. His hiring was significant because Indiana usually ends up hiring whatever poor soul--usually somebody whose just been fired from a job--they can convince to run the Hoosier D. Not this go around. They hired one of the game's young, up-and-coming names. The pursuit of Allen was so important that Wilson cashed in an important recruiting day to go to Tampa to woo Allen to IU. As for now, Indiana's defensive unit is playing with a level of confidence that we've haven't seen much of in Bloomington. That's a reflection of their coach.
2.) It's also reflection of their experience. Indiana threw a bunch of freshmen and first year starters to the wolves in 2014. They did the same a year ago. The result in 2016 is a an experienced defense with players who have turned into decent college defenders as their upperclassmen years arrive. Tegray Scales and Marcus Oliver (who were great against MSU) are solid B1G linebackers. Jonathan Crawford and Tony Fields are a solid B1G safety duo. Rashard Fant is a solid B1G cornerback. All five of those players have played since Day 1 of their eligibility.
[Marc Lebryk/USA Sports]
3.) The emergence of Marcelino Ball. Allen plays a 4-2-5 defensive system with that fifth DB playing a more hybrid DB/LB role. A lot of teams do this and, in Indiana's case, they have dubbed the position 'Husky.' The Hoosiers may have discovered a star at Husky in Marcelino Ball, a true freshmen from Georgia. Hyped as a game changer for the defense when the season began, he’s lived up to that billing in the first four games. He's third in the team in tackles, athletic in pass coverage, and, from an eye test standpoint, already looks like a good defensive piece for IU. His defensive stats aren't otherwise gaudy, but he sure seems to be involved in a lot of plays. They've also added another freshman defensive back into the mix in A'Shon Riggins, who broke up a pair of passes against MSU. Those two players added to Crawford, Fields, Fant, and Chase Dutra and all of a sudden the Indiana Hoosiers have a secondary (Back 7, really) that could crack the top-half of the B1G. We've come a long way since the 2013 Michigan-Indiana, Jeremy Gallon Game.
4.) More players from football states. Speaking of that game, here is the breakdown of IU's top-20 defenders that day and season and where they played their high school ball: Indiana, 6; Ohio, 5; Florida, 3; Georgia, 2, Texas, 1; Wisconsin, 1, Illinois, 1; Kentucky, 1. Here's a similar breakdown for the current top-20 defenders on the team: Ohio, 9; Florida, 5, Georgia, 2, Illinois, 2, Indiana, 2, South Carolina, 1; Texas, 1. Which one would you take?
The improved numbers will be put to a serious test this week at Ohio State and next week against Nebraska. They will have more than their hands full just knocking Curtis Samuel off his historic pace. If the numbers above stay in the top half of the national rankings after playing all the weapons the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers have, then the defensive improvements will have a louder ring of authenticity to it, even if the Hoosiers lose both those contests.
The spread in this game is huge. In each of the last two years, the Hoosiers gave the Buckeyes all they can handle, losing by 14 and 7 in games that weren't decided until the fourth quarter. But in both of those games, IU had to rely a lot on Zander Diamont at QB. With Richard Lagow running the show instead, the Hoosiers ought to be able to keep this game also somewhat interesting and cover the spread.
Michigan -28 over Rutgers: This line is about two touchdowns too low. This will be a controlled scrimmage for the Wolverines. The last time we saw Coach Harbaugh tinkering with his controlled scrimmage machine, he had it set at 49-10 with special focus on breaking the quarterback. This week, Dad has it locked into a 40-0 score, mostly so Michigan can work on field goal kicking. Last week, I joked the real bet would be the combined total margin of defeat Rutgers would face against OSU and UM in consecutive weeks. I said it would go over 90. After OSU's 58-0 win a week ago, we're well on our way here. We need some more creative props to make this game interesting:
Rutgers Total Incomplete Passes –3.5 vs. Michigan Total Complete Passes
Rutgers Total Gained Yards Rushing –14.5 vs. Rutgers Total Lost Yards Rushing
Rutgers Total Points –6.5 vs. Michigan’s Sacks
Total Michigan Players Scoring TDs, Over/Under 4.5
Wilton Speight Yards Per Pass –3 vs. Chris Laviano Yards Per Pass
BYU +6 over Michigan State: BYU's season so far: Win over Arizona by 2, Loss to Utah by 1, Loss to UCLA by 3, Loss to West Virginia by 3, Win over Toledo by 2. News Flash: BYU plays a lot of close games. In fact, 18 of their last 31 games have been decided by a touchdown or less. I'll ride that against a reeling MSU team looking less and less Dantonio Vintage each week. They’re calling player only meetings. They can't keep any linebackers healthy. They're allowing 9 yards per pass attempt against FBS teams. The offense is broken. They converted just 8 of 28 third down attempts in their 0-2 B1G start.They've been constantly tinkering with their offensive line. And then there is a QB situation. Tyler O'Connor's honeymoon is over, at least judging by the fanbase's temperament. He has not been good when they've needed him the last two weeks. State's Passing Down Success Rate has tumbled from a year ago. O'Connor hit a bomb to RJ Shelton on State's second drive against the Hoosiers. However, toss that play out and MSU has gained just 130 yards in the air on 30 O'Connor drop backs in passing down situations the last two weeks. Faced with a pair of such downs in overtime against the Hoosiers, they allowed back to back sacks. A year ago, getting the Spartans in a passing situation meant dealing with Connor Cook and Aaron Burbridge, an elite collegiate QB-WR battery. This year, so far, where are the threats? In its first four games, BYU held their opponents to below their current season average for total yards. Then Toledo blew up on them last week. But the Rockets offense is excellent and probably better than Michigan State's and most of the B1G. State is not doomed. Never count Dantonio out. But it's looking more like a transition season than a championship one in East Lansing. I expect the Cougars to hit an MSU team that's still licking its wounds with some early points. Maybe the early punch might wakes MSU, but it will be enough at least to keep the Cougs in the game until the very end.
Minnesota +2 over Iowa: In less than one month, Iowa has gone from playoff contender to a team projected to only beat Purdue and Illinois the rest of the way. Ouch. The funny thing is they are still 3-2. You'd think sinking to where only the Boilers and Illini are your projected wins would have a disastrous 1-4-type start anchored to it. What you don't know is most computers have a 'you were outplayed by Rutgers' override that plunges your numbers a few more degrees.
So does having an offense that can’t walk across the street. Over the last three games, Iowa has averaged just 21.8 yards per drive. That covers 35 total drives, 14 of which lasted three plays or less before a punt or a turnover and another six that couldn't exceed five plays before a similar fate. Punting is not winning for Iowa. It's a given. They punted on four of their final five possessions in the North Dakota State loss. They began the Rutgers game with punts on their first three possessions. They had a streak later in that game during the second half of four possessions in a row with punts. Against Northwestern, the Hawks punted on consecutive possessions three different times. They cant protect the passer. Five of their 14 drives against Northwestern ended with a thud on a third down sack, with a sixth ending on an interception forced by a pressure, and seventh ending on a hopeless incompletion with Northwestern's Anthony Walker burying Iowa QB CJ Beathard as he threw it. If not for Desmond King and Riley McCarron's kick returns and a critical Northwestern turnover, Iowa losses to the Wildcats decisively.
Iowa looks like a listless, low energy football team right now. It's always dangerous to make those judgments while watching games on TV, but it looks like they've been sleeping walking since the game against The Bison. I worry about them in a heated rivalry game at a hostile road environment. Remember, they lost 55-7 on this field in 2014. In their two losses, they haven’t been able to run the football, gaining just 2.98 per carry. They're vulnerable against the run, ranking 87th and 66th in yards per game and carry respectively. They're in the bottom third of the conference in those marks. Now they’re on the road against a team that is pretty good at running and stopping the run. Minnesota let one get away a week ago at Penn State, mostly due to a back breaking red zone pick in the fourth quarter and a late scramble by PSU QB Trace McSorley. Back home, they wont let Iowa off the mat.
Maryland -1 over Penn State: These clubs have played a pair of tight, exciting games since the Terps joined the league with Maryland winning 20-19 in 2014 and Penn State returning the favor in a 31-30 game last year. Look for more of the same in a game ripe with local implications. In the end, I like the Terps and their 11th ranked pass defense in yards per attempt to contain the big pass plays of Trace McSorley. And until the Nits show they can stop the run, I will pick against them facing a good running team. The Terps are second in the conference so far in rushing yards per game, yards per carry, and rushing scores. Penn State's defense ranks 103rd in yards per carry against. Each of Maryland's top four rushers averages at least 6.5 yards per pop.
Illinois -10.5 over Purdue.....The loser of this game should have to play Rutgers the afternoon of the B1G Championship Game with relegation to the AAC or MAC on the line. The Boilers actually covered the spread as underdogs in all four of the B1G home games a year ago. Color me not convinced. Illinois hung around with UNC and Nebraska, two good offenses, before both games got out of hand late. That's enough to get them the check here.
Cincinnati -3 over UConn: Remember in 2010 when UConn somehow streaked to the Orange Bowl? Ever since, the Huskies have been one of the worst investments in sports, let alone college football. They're just 20-43-3 ATS since that season. Cincinnati does not scream reliability either, but they've been 13-9 ATS as road chalk the last four years, including 7-2 when laying only single digits. Earlier in the year, they won at Purdue 38-20 as 3-point favorites. Today's bar is not harder. Expect a similar score.
Colorado +5 over USC: We're all on the Colorado Bandwagon already. They’ve been taking care of business. This week, we're finally investing in it. I know, it's probably a sure fire way to careen this thing off the tracks. However, we have USC in a situation that's traditionally been a good spot to bet against them. USC rolled Arizona State a week ago. But ever since the Pete Carroll Dynasty began to wane, the Trojans have trouble handling success. They are only 8-25 ATS the week after a win. How about another 'cant handle success' stat: Since the beginning of the 2008 season, they're just 13-23 ATS the week after covering as a favorite, including a mere 4-15 ATS if they're conference chalk in the week after game. I like Colorado’s big play ability against a Trojan team that’s been vulnerable to that so far this year. The Buffs have been fast starters this year. They get off to another one, allowing them at least cover this number in the end.
Texas +11 over Oklahoma: It's Red River Shootout Weekend. And Texas showed up in the same outfit again. For the fourth year in a row, the Horns come into the game led by a beleaguered coach as double digit underdogs to their biggest rival. But the Horns circled the wagons to win two of those three games and cover the spread in all of them. The Texas defensive issues are real. But the Sooners are not great shakes on defense either. They have allowed 33, 45, and 46 points to the three Power-5 teams it's played, allowing over 6.0 yards per play to each. Texas is averaging 6.6 yards per play against Power-5 teams this year. Offensively, the Horns are 19th in overall success rate, 7th in standard down success rate, and are one the fastest starting teams in the nation. They've averaged almost 25 points per half this year. Oklahoma allowed 26.3 first half points to Houston, Ohio State, and TCU. Obviously, I could come up with a string a numbers showing how good Oklahoma's offense will be in this matchup. I am not ignoring those. However, I am always a sucker for big underdogs who I think can score all day on the team whose favored. And that's what we have here. Besides, Oklahoma is just 6-8 ATS as double digit chalk, but four of those covers came at the expense of lowly Kansas and Iowa State. Do those event count? Both teams land in the 30s in an exciting one possession game.
Tennessee +7 over Texas A/M: Don’t we all just feel more comfortable with the Vols when they’re an underdog? I know I do. They’ve covered five of their last six games when catching points during this Butch Kelly Renaissance. They’ve also covered six of their last eight SEC games overall. Speaking of comfort levels, we feel the same way when we see the Aggies laying chalk. Kevin Sumlin’s Aggies are just 4-10-1 when laying points in SEC play and are just 8-18 ATS overall in conference games. There’s an element of Rich Rod’s Michigan floating around the A/M program too. This is the third year in a row they’ve started the year off 5-0. But they followed those starts up the last two seasons with a combined 6-10 SU, 3-13 ATS record, including 1-6 ATS as a favorite.
North Carolina -2.5 over Virginia Tech: It's North Carolina and their 7th best offensive success rate against Virginia Tech and their 4th best defensive success rate in a key ACC Coastal Division swing game. Per PFF, it's a match between their 2nd best pass offense and 2nd best pass defense. I am siding with the offense in this game. I can't shake Virginia Tech's one game this year against a decent team, a 45-28 loss to Tennessee. The Vols' offense controlled long stretches of the game with a 51% success rate on standard downs and gaining 5.18 yards per play, a full yard more than Tech's current season average on defense. The Hokies hung around because of their dominance on passing downs. That will not happen here. UNC QB Mitch Trubisky and his deep, talented band of targets will be too much. North Carolina has been the play in ACC play for awhile now. They're 14-3 SU, 11-6 ATS in conference games, including wins in seven of their eight home games in that run. I'll back them as small chalk.
Washington -2/Stanford E (Teaser. Here's what a teaser isj): Is Oregon's dynasty over? They're on a 3-game losing streak and headed towards their worst season in years. Let's check in on Brady Hoke's defense, shall we? The Ducks are 118th in defensive success rate, 109th in points per game, and 125th in plays or 10 or more yards allowed. In their 0-2 start to Pac-12 play, they allowed 6.87 and 7.16 yards per play to Colorado and Washington State and allowed a better than 50% offensive success rate in seven of eight quarters. They've allowed scores on 15 of their last 23 drives, including 12 touchdowns. I am so disappointed there is not an Arizona-Oregon on the schedule this year. Thanks for nothing, Pac-12. The Ducks might still be ranked 23rd in the S&P, but they've playing one of the most balanced teams in the country this week. And their defense can't stop anybody. Washington has a lot of demons to exercise in this series, but they did not look like a team worried about historic bugaboos a week ago in their dismantling of Stanford last week. As for the second game, the Cougars are hot. Since the disastrous 3-9 SU, 4-8 ATS 2014 season in the third year of Mike Leach's tenure, Washington State is 11-6 SU, 13-4 ATS. And two of those losses have been defeats to FCS teams. Under Leach, the Cougars are 18-12 ATS as an underdog in league play. That said, I like Stanford's 9-1 SU, 8-2 ATS mark after a loss more. At least enough to put them in this teaser. We won a teaser in last week's column. We're obviously teaser experts.
That’s all I have. For any predictions, insights, and entertainment the rest of the weekend, check out the JCB Twitter Feed.
As always, good luck out there. Be careful if you’re anywhere near the hurricane. And in light of that, it’s probably a good weekend to help out a neighbor whether you’re near the hurricane area or not.
(Guess what? I published a book this offseason. It’s about baseball. The Cubs. The White Sox. And that one time they played each other in the World Series. Check it out. It’s only available via Amazon Kindle right now, but a paperback, print on demand option is in the works)
Good morning, everyone! Tomorrow is the first day of October. Or should I say Chalktober?
I’m beginning the middle month of the regular season by making it rain chalk dust. It’s a full slate of conference games in the B1G for the first time this season. And I’m picking heavy chalk in five of them. Those who have been following all along know I am not much of a chalk player. I am an Underdog Whore. I don’t care who knows. But there are a couple major drop offs in quality down the B1G pecking order, that a lot of games require you to side with the favorite because there is absolutely nothing to hang your hat on with the underdog. The favorite is just significantly better. Or the underdog is significantly worse. Looking at you, Northwestern. Later in the post, we go a bit coast to coast and find our underdog groove. But locally, we’re dining on chalk. Let’s roll through the picks. And if you like a game not shown below, don’t hesitate to shout it out in the comments section. We’re all here to help each other.
(Season Record, 8-8-1. B1G Conference Games, 3-1. Picks are in bold with team selected listed first.)
Maryland -10.5 over Purdue: Maryland has put together a solid start to their season. They've been efficient, but not explosive with solid run blocking. There's not much to say on this game, so instead I'm going to call out a Pick To Click. It'll be one of my new favorite players: Lorenzo Harrison. The freshman has already emerged as Maryland's top tailback, leading the team in carries and averaging 6.5 yards per rush in non conference play. He's a player to watch as conference play begins. If he becomes a 20-carry back for Maryland this fall, then they've discovered a nice weapon. He'll get those carries against the Boilermakers. He'll go over the 100-yard mark for the first time and score two touchdowns. His second score will clinch the win and cover for the Terrapins. Obligatory Perry Hills Interception Watch: Since the Terps did not play a week ago, Hills is still at zero. And a team that led the nation with 29 picks a year ago, including nine games with at least two interceptions and six with at least three, still has not thrown the ball to the other team in 2016.
Indiana +7.5 over Michigan State: OG Anunoby flirts with a triple double, Thomas Bryant owns the paint, and James Blackmon hits key 3s down the stretch. The defending league champion Hoosiers, finally getting MSU on their home court, run the Spartans off the fl---Wait. This is a football game? Crap. The Hoosiers have no chance.
Or do they? They're ranked two spots ahead of MSU in the latest S&P. Those projections actually give the Hoosiers a 56-percent chance at winning. What in the name of KenPom is going on in that computer? Here's what: An Indiana pass offense that's 8th in yards per attempt and 24th in passer rating should have their way with an MSU pass defense that's 70th in yards per attempt allowed and has struggled so far on passing downs this year. At least in a perfect world that's what happens.
The winner of this game will be decided by which quarterback bounces back from a shaky outing in a loss a week ago. Hoosier QB Richard Lagow's bad outing included a school record 496 passing yards against Wake Forest. But five back breaking interceptions undid it all. His first two picks resulted in at least a 10-point swing against Indiana. The Hoosiers chased those points the rest of the game and never back caught up. As for Michigan State's Tyler O'Connor, his shaky day included 4.86 yards per pass, four sacks and three picks, giving the Spartans their own turnover problems. On paper, the Hoosiers secondary (and maybe their overall defense) is performing better than State's. I cant believe I just wrote that sentence. It's probably not true. But some of the early numbers on the Hoosiers defense are pretty good (for them) and is a huge leap forward from all the previous years in, well, pretty much the history of time. If those numbers even hold up a bit after playing an alleged B1G heavyweight, you can bet you'll see a chart in next week's column showing the improvement. I like Indiana to stay within a touchdown and if Lagow averages less than one pick per half, they might just pull off the upset and finally bring home the Old Brass Spittoon.
Ohio State -38.5 over Rutgers: It's time to put at least one rivalry aside. #GoRutgers #BeatOhio #ShockTheWorld. What a rotten two week stretch for the Knights. After Ohio State this week, they play Michigan next Saturday. The real betting for this game should be on Over/Under props for the combined margin of defeat the next two weeks for Rutgers. Last year, it added up to 75 points. The Knights enter this stretch-and the rest of their season--without their best weapon Janarion Grant who tore his ACL last week. That seems bad. I'm betting the combined margin the next two weeks goes over 90 points. And the Buckeyes will provide half of that this week in a 45-0 shutout.
Iowa -13.5 over Northwestern: Here are two offenses that succeed on just a couple of drives and basically stink the rest of the game. Eleven of Iowa's last 21 real drives have ended with a punt or turnover after five plays or less. Against lowly Rutgers, they had two nice drives at the end of the first half, but moved the ball only 3.75 yards per play on their other nine possessions. As for Northwestern, they don't have good drives. They just hit 2-3 plays a game and pray their defense can make it stand. Guess what? It is not working. After a 10-win campaign a year ago, they're headed towards a 3-win season unless something changes fast. I suggest beginning with the offensive coordinator. The Wildcats are 111th in yards per play and 102nd in offensive success rate. Neither team is living up to their defensive hype either. Northwestern could not get off the field in losses against Western Michigan and Nebraska. The Wildcats are 74th in yards per play allowed, a year after ranking 7th in the country. Iowa has been pushed around trying to defend the run and rank 86th nationally in yards allowed. Over the last two weeks, Iowa has faced 112 rushing attempts as North Dakota State and Rutgers controlled pace and the ball. Northwestern could probably run Justin Jackson for 30 carries and 103 yards, shorten the game and try to win it in the end like the Bison did and the Scarlet Knights almost did. Both teams are near the top of the charts in defensive field position, so look for long fields that neither offense will be able to traverse competently. In the event either offense marches deep into opposing territories, both teams are pretty solid at red zone defense. Either way, this will be an ugly game to watch. The Hawkeyes will be without their best wide receiver Matt Vandeberg, whose caught more balls this year than the rest of his positional group has combined. But a return home peaks the Hawkeyes interest after sleep walking in New Jersey a week ago. Northwestern could run like the last two teams did against Iowa, but they wont. Their offensive line is a disaster. And it’s always been a little sneaky how bad the Cats rushing offense is despite Jackson’s eventual yardage number. It’ll be like every game so far for Northwestern: A fight to get to double digits. CJ Beathard will hit tight end George Kittle on two big pass plays that put the distance between the Hawkeyes and the Wildcats. Iowa wins 25-9.
Minnesota +3 over Penn State: How does Penn State's football season go off the rails? Coming home and losing to the Golden Gophers in front of a restless Happy Valley crowd days after James Franklin received the dreaded vote of confidence from his AD. You know what? I think that's going to happen. The Gophers are in the top-20 in both offensive and defensive success rate and are in the top-10 in success rate on both sides of the ball on standard downs. Penn State, meanwhile, is not efficient at anything, except ensuring their quarterback is under constant siege. Meanwhile, on defense, they're 103rd in yards per rush allowed. In their two games against Power-5 foes, they've given up 6.35 yards per carry. Now they play a Gopher team with a hot stable of backs and a decent running quarterback. Tailbacks Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks and Kobe McCrary combined for 197 yards on the ground a week ago and are averaging 6.1 yards per carry on the season as a trio. Watching Penn State live last week, only two positives really stood out. The brilliance of Saquan Barkley and punter Blake Gilliken. But the Gophers are holding foes to just 3.1 yards per carry and they have a great punter in their own right in Ryan Santosa. Besides, I have a rule. If you just watched a team in person lose by 39 points, bet against them the next week as a favorite. Alright, I just made that rule up. But it's bucking for formal approval this weekend. While only catching a field goal in this match, it's worth pointing out Minnesota is 14-6 ATS in their last 20 stabs as an underdog. Prediction: James Franklin tapes 49-10 on the lockers of his players next year during Michigan-Penn State week. Unfortunately, his players at Florida International won’t understand the message.
Nebraska -21 over Illinois: Nebraska is looking like Nebraska again. That's not a statement that their 4-0 start means Nebraska is back. It's just their style of play and identity looks familiar: A fanatical devotion to the running game. Their standard down run rate is 70.7%, 15th highest nationally and eleven points above the national average. A year ago in Nebraska's 6-7 season, they only ran the ball on standard downs 60% of time. So far this added determination to the run the football is working. Their 51% success rate running the football is 13th annually and 9.5 points better than the national average. They're back to running their quarterback. Tommy Armstrong has had at least 11 carries in every game this year, after only two such games a year ago. He's coming off his best back-to back-starts of his career, averaging 7.4 yards per pass or rush, en route to 673 total yards in wins and covers as chalk against Oregon and Northwestern. Devine Ozigbo has emerged as the lead back. His stats aren't eye popping, but he's given the Huskers a physical presence running between the tackles. He and Terrell Newby are a solid 1-2 punch to go with Armstrong's legs, pacing Nebraska to 5.15 yards per rush and 242 yards on the ground a game.
The Cornhuskers start has pushed them into contention for the B1G West crown. The oddsmakers at Sportsbook.com have Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa all at 7/1 to win the B1G, so it's basically a betting dead heat. Nebraska's schedule does set up for a run in October. After this game against Illinois, they travel to Indiana and host Purdue. They should be 7-0 and entrenched in the top-15 of the national polls heading into a showdown in Madison in Week 9. But considering the Badgers play Michigan and Ohio State these next two weeks and how shaky Iowa has looked so far, the Cornhuskers will probably enter November controlling their own fate in the division even if they lose to the Badgers later this month. But here's something else to consider. Does any team in the West have an offensive weapon like Tommy Armstrong? Some might say that's a back handed compliment. But consider me another buyer on Armstrong’s conference player of the year candidacy. The often maligned senior is well on his way to authoring a special season. And at this point, it would not be a surprise to see them in the B1G Championship Game.
So far the opposite of what happened last year is happening to Nebraska. They are Team Regression To The Mean, but in their favor. All those close losses a year ago? They're 1-0 in tight games this year with that big win over Oregon. They were -12 in turnover margin last year. They're +6 so far this year. Last year, Northwestern's Clayton Thorson nearly outgained the whole Nebraska team in a Wildcat win. Last week, it was Armstrong who almost outpaced Northwestern's 388 yards with 378 yards on his own as Nebraska cruised to a win. How does that impact this week? Last October, Nebraska blew a 13-0 fourth quarter lead in a loss to the Illini and Armstrong had one of the worst games of his career. This October? Armstrong continues to put himself in B1G Offensive Player Of The Year talk with another game of over 300 yards in offense. One of Ozigbo and Newby goes over 100 yards. And the fourth quarter lead will be beyond insurmountable. Nebraska wins 45-16.
Michigan –10.5 over Wisconsin: Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Nebraska are a combined 12-2-1 against the spread this year. The rest of the conference? Try 11-23 ATS. Can you say Big 4, Little 10? The first of at least five games between the Big 4 sees Michigan installed as a whopping 11-point favorite over the Badgers. Since the Badgers already own big wins over LSU and MSU, most people who I've bumped into express amazement the line is so large in UM's favor. I mostly nod in agreement. The reality, however, is this number is the exact number Books hung in the summer when they released their Games Of The Year lines. So not much has changed. Well, except for everything. The Badgers are suddenly playoff contenders. And Michigan's cake early season schedule has a major speed bump in front of it.
Look for the defenses to dominate the game. Michigan is the most disruptive team in the nation, ranking first in havoc rate and second overall in defensive success rate. That Badgers aren't too shabby themselves, ranking 12th and 13th in those categories against a harder schedule. They have a zillion linebackers all automatically programmed on a simple, yet lethal high motor, tackles for loss setting. They’ll need to pluck a clone off the bench to replace injured star Vince Biegel. Michigan at least has the offensive weaponry to challenge Wisconsin. Their offensive line against Wisconsin's front is a much better match than it is for the Badgers when their offensive line goes against the Michigan D. The Wolverines have DeVeon Smith, whose been a stud in pass protection. Their top three pass catching targets will be playing in the NFL next fall. I will not lie. I am not convinced Wilton Speight can handle the Badger D. The clunkiness against Colorado lingers in my thoughts. Please don't tell Dad. But at least he has a supporting cast.
What does Wisconsin have? Keep in mind this is the 90th ranked team in yards per play going against the 13th ranked defense in yards per play allowed. The Badgers are rushing for just 3.94 per attempt. They have not been able to run the football in 17 games. It's the new normal. And it's not changing against Michigan. Troy Fumagali will be a thorn. Most of his catches have moved the chains for the Badgers. But I'll believe Wisconsin quarterbacks not committing killer turnovers when I see it. Remarkably, the Badgers have possessed the football for 50:16 of a possible 60 first quarter minutes this season. They have had at least 10:44 minutes of possession in every opening frame so far.
If Michigan is able to run enough offense early in this game, they might end up playing with a comfortable lead the rest of the way. Otherwise, it'll be a rock fight. DeVeon Smith's generally aces his blitz pickups. An assortment of Wolverine defensive ends finally expose Ryan Ramczyk, the Badgers transfer from UW-Stevens Point at right tackle whose been stellar so far through the first four games. And Michigan dials up some well timed big plays en route to a 24-10 win.
Before getting deeper into this post, let's point something out. Check out some of Saturday's Big-12 games: Oklahoma (-3.5) at TCU, Kansas State at West Virginia (-3.5), Texas at Oklahoma State (-3). Those are three pretty good games. And nobody is talking about them. But when you've seemingly fallen out of the playoff chase--save for one team that never, ever plays any interesting games this early in the season and is a total disgrace off the field--you get lost in the shuffle. Most of the Big-12 chatter the last couple of weeks has centered around crazy expansion talk. It might as well be May. It'll probably be a crazy chase for their league title. But who knows how to factor it or the games this weekend? I'm pulling for Oklahoma and Texas to win this week, but only so there is at least some positive buzz and excitement for next Saturday's Red River Shootout.
Now the rest of the post and more picks.
Stanford +3.5 over Washington: Tune in to see what a Christian McCaffrey "slump" looks like. It features ranking second nationally in rushing yards per game and being on pace to rush for over 2,000 yards if Stanford at least reaches the Pac-12 Title Game like a year ago. He's been more workhorse than explosive runner in the early going. He only had five games of 26 or more carries in 14 games a year ago. He's already done that twice in three games this year in conference wins over USC and UCLA. But he has not had the impact in the receiving or return game yet. He's averaging almost 5 yards less per catch this season. If you take out his longest--a 56 yard catch and run against USC--he's going for less than six yards a reception. He returned his first punt of the season back for a touchdown against Kansas State, but it was nullified by a penalty. Since then, he's only had two punt returns. And his kickoff return yards are down from 28.9 per return to 21.3. Getting back to those decreased receiving numbers, it's probably not a good sign McCaffrey leads the team in catches and yards. First year starter Ryan Burns is throwing for 2.5 yards less per attempt than the departed Kevin Hogan did a year ago. Somebody in the Cardinal wide receiver group needs to step up.
Washington has come out of the gates like gangbusters, averaging 45.8 points per game and ranking 3rd nationally in offensive success rate. Sophomore QB Jake Browning and his band of tiny receivers have been torching teams. They have weapons in the backfield with Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman. And while McCaffrey has been struggling to get his return game going, the Huskies are in the top-20 nationally in punt return and kickoff return average thanks to Dante Pettis and John Ross. The Huskies are rolling, but they've played, per the S/P rankings, 95th ranked Rutgers, 111th ranked Idaho, 62nd ranked Arizona and FCS team Portland State. They needed overtime, albeit on the road, to defeat that 62nd ranked team. Stanford is way more battle tested with all three of their opponents this year ranked 34th or higher. This Washington program has been hunting a breakthrough win for years. Do they finally bag one? Stanford's defense is 15th nationally in havoc rate causing a disruptive play on 21.1% of defensive snaps. That could come into play after Washington gave up four sacks a week ago to Arizona, one of the least disruptive defenses in the nation.
What will happen? Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips pick up where they left off a week ago against UCLA and take over the game up front. It's enough to keep the Huskies' offense at bay. The Cardinal are without a couple corners, but it's a deep spot on Stanford's depth chart. Christian will be Christian. That's enough to keep Stanford in any game. This will be a fun game. Somebody will win by a field goal, but I don’t know exactly who. So we're taking the field goal and the hook with the underdog Cardinal.
One other quick Pac-12 note. All of us here are #TeamBuffs after Colorado upset Oregon last week. What an unexpected SOS boost for Michigan. Hopefully, it's the gift that keeps on giving all fall. This week, Colorado is favored over Oregon State. It's only the third time the Buffs have been chalk in a Pac-12 game since joining the league. And what a favorite they are! Right now, it's by 19.5 points. Or, more points than Michigan was favored over them 2 weeks ago. The last time Colorado was double digit chalk? Try Week 10 of the 2008 season against Iowa State when they were still in the Big 12. In other Pac-12 games, Arizona State is at USC (-10), Oregon (-2.5), on a 2-game losing streak, travels to Washington State, Arizona is at UCLA (No Line Yet) in the Pac-12 After Dark Game on ESPN, and Utah goes to Cal.
Wait. How about a second Pac-12 pick....
Utah +2 over Cal: The Utes have historically been one of the game’s best underdog programs. And that tradition has carried over to its new league. Since joining the Pac-12, the Utes are 17-9 ATS as an underdog. In this game, you get a team catching points that's 22 spots ahead of it's opponent in the S&P Rankings. Cal has showed a lot of offense in the early going, but they face their first real, physical defense of the season. Utah is 4th in sacks per game, 24th in tackles for loss per game, and 5th in havoc rate. Cal is 110th in yards per play allowed. They Bears do not play much defense, unless missed tackles count. Utah's power run game should own this contest.
Clemson +2.5 over Louisville: Bettors love Louisville. Do you recall their Week 3 beatdown of Florida State? The line opened that week at FSU -3, was steadily bet down to -1, and on the morning of the game swung all the way to Louisville -1. Everyone jumping on the bandwagon won easily. This week against Clemson? The same thing happened, but swifter with a heavier swing. Most books posted an early line favoring Clemson by 3 or even 3.5 points. By Tuesday, every book had done a 180 and listed Louisville a 2-point favorites. That's a 5-point line swing in less than 48 hours four full days before kickoff. And for good measure, the line has sprouted a hook since then. Louisville is everybody's team this year. And the momentum has made the Clemson Tigers and DeShaun Watson a home dog in at night in Death Valley. We’ll take the Tigers, almost on principle. It promises to be one of the best QB duels of the season. It's the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite in Watson going up against the current, overwhelming betting chalk to take the trophy in Lamar Jackson. Jackson started this race as a 50/1 shot, but is now -300 (must bet $300 to win $100). The next shortest odds are Christian McCaffrey at 8/1, while Watson is 10/1. All four of Louisville's games this year have gone over the total. All four of Clemson's games have gone under the total. Cue the Something's Got To Give sound effects. And good luck making heads or tails of it if you play the total.
Elsewhere in the ACC: Florida State (-11) plays North Carolina in a game between the 121st and 82nd defenses in yards per play allowed. And Notre Dame (-11) hooks up with Syracuse featuring the 104th and 112th defenses in yards per play allowed. That's probably why the totals have been set at 70.5 and 73.5 in those games. Did the Big-12 expand already?
This is your Official Hurricane Warning: Check out Miami. Don't look now, but the Canes are projected to go undefeated in the regular season. Brad Kaya has been solid. They're running the ball with so many different backs like it's 1999. Unlike a lot of teams in the league this year, at least they have good looking defensive numbers. But are they for real? They've rolled up numbers against nobody. We'll see them take on Georgia Tech this week in their first game of the season against a Power-5 club. The Canes are 7.5-point road chalk.
Navy +7.5 over Air Force: Most folks probably don't know that Navy and Air Force play this weekend, beginning this year's Commander In Chief Round Robin. But rest assured Over/Under players are well aware. I have stated before that I do not play totals, especially unders. But if you like playing them, it is hard to overlook recent history when the Services Academies play each other head to head. Over the last 11 seasons, the under has cashed at a 25-7-1 rate when Air Force, Navy, and Army meet in their rivalry games. And it makes sense, doesn't it? All three teams love to run, run, run, run the football. Then, they run it some more. The result being a constant running clock, limited possessions, and just not enough time to score the points needed to go over the total. This trend is not a secret. The total for this game had plunged four points from 51.5 to its current number of 47.5 since the opening of betting. But the same thing happened in two of the three games a year ago, and the unders still easily cashed. I've stated many times I dont play unders. I am the biggest Under jinx in the world. If I played this under, they would fly in Rich Rod and Mike Leach to be the honorary play callers. But I do like Navy catching these points. Navy as an underdog is my Jam. Like sexy red heads with glasses. Navy is 42-21 against the spread as an underdog since the start of the 2003 season. Giving them points against Air Force and you're just adding curves and swagger to that Ginger. Did you know the last seven times Navy has been an underdog against Air Force, they've won the game outright? My family knows. The Christmas presents were bigger those years. Anchors Away.
Teaser Toledo +11/Western Michigan +4: Here' what a teaser is. Don't judge me. It's a sucker bet, I know. But in my defense, I can be a degenerate at times and it's not as much as a sucker bet as a parlay. Whatever.
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Let's take a tour of the Mid American Conference!
One of the best #RealRivals in the college game hits when Central Michigan and Western Michigan hook up tomorrow in Mount Pleasant. It's FIRE UP CHIPS! in one corner. And ROW THE BOAT! in the other. And if you can find a local book who'll let you take bets on blood alcohol content of random fans in Mount Pleasant, always roll with the over. This year, it's not just a party. The teams have three combined wins against Power 5 schools this season. They're led by two hot coaching commodities. And it's an early swing game in MAC title chase. The Broncos are skillful at the field position game and will spend all day giving the ball to Jamauri Bogan and Javarion Franklin. Their run success rate is almost seven points better than the season average. They are more than comfortable scratching and clawing their way to third or fourth down and shorts and pounding their way to a conversion. They're converting more than half of their third and fourth down attempts, with seven conversions on fourth down already on the year. The Chippewas lean on the talents of QB Cooper Rush and the explosiveness of his targets. Rush has 13 touchdown tosses, averages 9.2 yards per attempt and leads the conference in passing yards per game. They're fifth nationally with 28 plays of 20 or more yards, 25 of which have come off the arm of Rush. His top three receivers average over 15 yards a catch and a fourth goes for 14.3 yards a catch. Unfortunately, two of those targets are out of this game. Historically, the Mid American Conference turns with the hot quarterback, but Western will be too much here........Akron and Kent also hook up Saturday in another league rivalry game, but this would only interest me if the teams suddenly decided to play basketball against each other instead.....Is Northern Illinois suddenly the worst team in the MAC? The Huskies have won three of the last five conference championships, at least a share of six straight MAC West titles, and played in eight straight bowl games. But they have hit rock bottom. They're out of the 2016 gates with an 0-4 start, have the 121st ranked total defense and just lost to Western Illinois. They open league play as 4-point underdogs at Ball State. It's just the fifth time since the start of the 2011 season that the Huskies have been regular season dogs in conference play.......Bowling Green is suffering a similar fall. The Falcons have won two of the last three league crowns and are coming off one the program's best seasons in school history. But their swagger might have left along with Dino Babers. They're off to a 1-3 start, but they're coming off a 74-point loss to Memphis. They've allowed 77 points in a game twice. They're only win is a one point squeaker against North Dakota. What's worse is they're only 2.5-point favorites against Eastern Michigan. That's significant because the foe is, well, Eastern Michigan. It's the 35th straight league game the Eagles have been the underdog, only the seventh of less than five points and, as long as the line doesn’t increase, the first time of the less than a field goal. Pretty heady times over at Eastern. They're 3-1, defeated Charlotte two weeks ago as a road favorite and upset Mountain West Conference Wyoming at home a week ago. Was that the best 2-week stretch ever by Eastern? Pretty close. A win here matches last season's win total.......Meanwhile Toledo opens the weekend for the league on Friday night at BYU. What a great test for the Rockets, who enter the game averaging 563.7 yards and 42.7 points per game. The Cougars are already this year's hard luck team. After beating Arizona by 2 in the opener, they've lost by 1 point to Iowa, 3 points to UCLA, and 3 points to West Virginia, the latter ending with a BYU interception at the goal line. That's a challenging schedule for almost anyone. But Toledo isn't a breather for the Cougs. Not only are the Rockets ranked 11 spots higher in the S&P than BYU, but they are also ranked higher than any of BYU's four previous opponents. The Rockets are on a 15-4-2 run against the spread. Toledo does not typically see the physical type of play, let alone this kind of road atmosphere--in the MAC. It will be interesting to see how they can handle it. I think they’ll be alright, enough at least to cover the inflated line on the teaser card. If they win tonight and Western wins tomorrow, then the Rockets-Broncos match the day after Thanksgiving could not only be for the MAC West, but it could be a battle of 11-0 teams. If that happens, we'll all remember this teaser bet from 1,000 words ago that I didn't even attempt to give a rationale breakdown on.
Do we want to talk about the SEC? It is a bit of a snoozer this week in the Big 1, Little 13. League head to heads include Florida (-10.5) at Vanderbilt, Kentucky at Alabama (-35.5), Texas A/M (-18.5) at South Carolina, and Missouri at LSU (-13.5). I guess it’ll be interesting to see how LSU plays in their first game after the Les Miles firing. I mean, Ed Orgeron will feature heavily in this game. All bets are off. These games only become interesting if any the favorites find themselves on the ropes in the second half.
The Game Of The Week in the league is Tennessee (-3.5) traveling to Georgia. The Vols are playing their second straight rivalry game. It’s a question of how much they have left in the tank after last week’s emotional, breakthrough win over the Gators. If they win, they all but wrap up the SEC East crown. And they’ll play Alabama probably twice. What does that mean if Tennessee goes 11-2 with both losses to The Tide? Maybe a lot of stupid SEC arguments about the need for a third game between the schools. PAWWWWWWL THE VOLS LOST BY 21 IN THE FIRST GAME, 10 IN THE SECOND, THEY EARNED A THIRD TRY. I am already annoyed. And pulling for Georgia to pull this out and take that far fetched talking point off any eventual agenda.
That’s about all I have to say. I hope I have properly set enough of the table for the weekend. Our B1G picks are Maryland –10.5, IU +7.5, OSU –38.5, Penn St +3, Iowa –13.5, Nebraska –21, and Michigan –10.5. Nationally, we’ve got Stanford +3.5, Clemson +2.5, Navy +7.5, Utah +2 and a Toledo +11/WMU +3 teaser. Our national card is heavy on the BIG GAMES. We just can’t seem to find much else for this weekend.
Good Luck and Go Blue!
(I don't know if I should post this. But I had to write it. I promise content to come that is more in line with the Jamie Mac you have come to know and love, but humor me on this one......)
I don't remember anything about last year's Maryland game. I only remember leaving.
A few times this offseason, the game's details were brought up in conversation, but every play-by-play morsel was news to me. I do recall the substitute public address announcer for Carl Grapentine being 10 times more excited for every first down than anybody else in the crowd, but nothing else. It was the final home game of one of the most miserable Michigan seasons most of us can remember, and given some of our more recent times, that's actually saying something. Despite Michigan's losing season, we trekked up to Ann Arbor from Toledo for one more tailgate. Part out of duty, part out of respect for the players, and part out of the fact that that's just what fans do. Only half of us actually attended the game. I was part of that group. We spent most of the first half wondering around the sparse crowd and sitting in different seats throughout the stadium just to stay warm and entertained. How many times can you so openly seat jump at the Big House? Wait, let's not talk about that.
As halftime approached, we had had enough. The weather was cold. The football was miserable. Most of the rest of our crew was at a bar. It was time to join them. I was fine with that until we were actually about to leave the stadium grounds. While my friends hustled out to flag a cab on Stadium Boulevard, I froze, not wanting to pass through the exit gates the way Archie Moonlight Graham didn't want to cross over the first baseline in the movie Field Of Dreams. Moonlight knew he would not be able to play ball on the Field of Dreams anymore once he crossed over that baseline. And I was afraid that once I left Michigan Stadium, I would never return.
I've always had on again, off again migraine issues throughout my life, but in 2012, the headaches began to get bigger and more frequent. Blood pressure medication soothed the issue for awhile, but by the spring of 2013 the migraines were not only back, but they had found another gear and often came accompanied by violent nausea. Here is how a typical day would play out. I'd have a slight headache. I would get on the phone with a customer, and the headache would mushroom to the point where I couldn't talk anymore. When the call ended, I'd rush to the bathroom to puke. This is not normal behavior. Of course, I'm seeing a doctor through all of this, but the medications just weren't working and causing frustrating side effects (gout, puffed up extremities, even more severe headaches). Eventually the problem was identified. My kidneys were failing, partly through high blood pressure and partly through the fact that that is sometimes what happens to the body as we age. Shit happens and you just have to deal with it. I got myself a kidney specialist and rather quickly she was able to administer a proper medicinal routine that stopped the headaches and, while it didn't fix the kidney functions, it kept them from getting worse. As 2013 ended, I had dodged the dialysis bullet.
But the good health did not last. By spring, I was getting constant stomach aches that felt like somebody was always kicking me in the belly. At first, I thought it was just a changing-of-the-seasons sort of virus and did not think anything of it. But I couldn't shake it. And it was getting worse. I could not eat anything. Most days, a single bite of food disgusted me. At the same time, I was somehow always in the bathroom with differing degrees of diarrhea. The foods I could stomach were going straight through me. It was weird, scary and confusing. It was like I had a little bit of every possible eating disorder known. By August, I was not much of a functioning human being. Since I could not nourish my body, it was tough to get very far into the day without significant rest. I was regularly going to bed before sundown because I lacked the energy to do anything else. Of course, I was also up in the middle of night for endless hours in the bathroom. Months were spent going through rounds of specialists, tests, and proddings until finally they figured out all I had was Crohn's Disease. Very treatable stuff. By the middle of September, I had new medicinal regimen to take care of this and instantly began feeling better. So much better, that I might have partied a wee bit too hard during the Miami tailgate.
But those good times lasted shorter than the good health at the beginning of the year did. By the end of September, my body began inexplicably falling apart. This was not a slow devolution either. It happened overnight. And I don't know how to fully explain the conditions I felt without doubling the size of this post. Nobody wants that. I'll try to be brief. Major breathing issues, chest pains, sweats. I struggled walking to and from our tailgate to the stadium during the Minnesota game. I couldn't walk more than a couple of blocks without having to stop. As the next week went on basic household chores and walking up the stairs in my house proved too much. Is this what dying feels like? Unbeknownst to Brian and Ace, I almost didn't make it through our podcast the morning after the Rutgers game. I was scared. I spent the rest of the day with my phone in my hands, expecting to call 911 any second.
By Monday, I could not wait any longer. I checked myself into the emergency room, assuming I was having some sort of cardiac arrest. So did all the doctors, given my condition. As it turns out, that wasn't the case. We were back to that unfamiliar place of having something major wrong with me, but having no clue what it was. I stayed in the hospital that whole week, unable to walk down their hallways without passing out, complete basic breathing tests and baffling another new team of doctors. As it turns out, my body had rejected the medication they had put me on for the Crohn's. And by rejecting it, I mean the medications gave me a serious of strokes that were increasing in number and strength. I mean, come on universe. Really? So off that medication I went, new medications were prescribed and I was released the day before the Penn State game, which I obviously did not attend.
During all that, we also did a routine kidney ultrasound that uncovered a small spots on the left kidney. To find out more, we did MRIs and a very invasive procedure (for men) to find out more. And when that procedure struggled to identify it, we did it again. Eventually, the verdict was a tumor, albeit a tiny one, at least for the time being. The decision was to monitor it over the winter and see how it progresses, but phrases like renal cancer and organ removal all of sudden were on the table. Maybe it wouldn't grow and this was a false alarm? But I knew better based on the last couple of years that whatever the worst case situation was, that we were going to at least flirt with it.
So as we left the Maryland game last year, I had doubts about everything. Health issues had been piling up and the specter of something even worse loomed. I knew if things truly did go south over the next few months, I might not make it back here. While my friends hailed a cab, I just could not leave. I needed a moment. I gathered myself by the Victors Colonnade monument and took a deep breath just to level myself. I said a prayer and a thanks to my grandparents, who have long since passed, but who first brought me to the Stadium during Anthony Carter's freshman year. And I took another deep breath and let the memories of all the good times at this place and in this town wash over me. If I were to do a top-10 personal moments of every year type of retrospective, most years it would be hard to push at least one memory from the UM home schedule off the list. I just always have such a good time at tailgates and games. It was like that as a child. It was like that as a teen. It was like that in my 20s. It was like that in my 30s. And it is like that now in my 40s. But was this this final chapter? Eventually I noticed my friends piling into the cab and I hustled to join them. As we disappeared into the Ann Arbor night, I looked back a few times until the stadium lights could no longer be seen. While I wondered if I would ever return, I tried not to let my friends see how much I had been crying.
Obviously since I am writing this, there is a happy ending. But not before clearing more hurdles. The symptoms I was told to look out for began showing themselves by the end of March. We quickly moved up follow up appointments that weren't scheduled for another six weeks. The tumor had almost tripled in size and it was clear it wasn't benign. Life moved pretty quickly at that point. After coming up to Ann Arbor for a second opinion, I decided to have the surgery in mid-June at the University of Michigan Health System's Oncology Center. Before I knew it, the day of the surgery arrived. We removed the tumor and about half my kidney in the process. I am cancer free. But I still have stomach issues. And I'm now trying to fight suboptimal kidney performance with less than 2 kidneys. Its unclear what the long-term future holds on that front, but so far everything is holding up great.
It was a hard summer of post-op recovery. Truthfully, it's been a long, hard, lonely three years. Often, the depression encountered with these ups and downs have been as difficult as anything else to overcome. And I have plenty of days where I'm still fighting that off. What pushes me forward most days is realizing that life is a ride and that there are millions of people out there whose health struggles are much worse and more challenging to overcome than mine. I honestly don't know how people with more aggressive cancers manage it. In every waiting and recovery room that I've been in these recent years, I have found people with harder struggles, higher hurdles and scarier diagnoses. Inspirations, all of them. You all know or will know somebody who has to go through these kinds of struggles. Be there for them. Rework your schedule and make them a priority. They need your support and companionship, even if it looks like they're doing alright.
As I write this today, I feel as healthy, athletic and optimistic as I have in three years. Maybe there is another shoe out there ready to drop, but I don't care. All I want now is solid run of good health so I can reconnect with old friends, make new friends and just have some fun. I've been slowly making the social rounds and even gone on a couple dates. I've dusted off an old manuscript that I going to finally figure out how to publish and I'm going to start writing again. I actually went to a concert a few weeks back, an activity that seemed unheard of for most of the last several years. I feel like I am back. And tomorrow, I'm going back to Michigan Stadium.
It's not the return that's making the headlines this week. But it's been the only return I've cared about since last November.
Go Blue. Beat Oregon State.
I was going to spend my MGoTime this week addressing the shifting odds in the Big Ten after week one, but it's hard to focus when it's Notre Dame week. With all the semantic arguing about whether or not it's a real rivalry, I've found myself wandering down memory lane a lot. However it's couched, it's been a grand run of games over the years, and I am old enough to have memories of all of them, even the Rick Leach-Joe Montana duel that started the modern day series back in 1978. Of course, this is a rivalry, but pointing out the Irish's countdown clock to this game probably would make me an MSU fan, so I wont do that. Instead, how about I take you down Memory Lane with, of course, a point spread angle.
The underdog is 23-6 ATS in this series since the 1978 renewal. Can you name the six times that the chalk covered the spread? We played this game on twitter last night, and it didn't take very long for most of the correct answers to reveal themselves. So, you are under a bit of pressure to perform here, guys. While pondering, I will quickly list the spread changes on Michigan's future games this season. Odds per sportsbook.com:
At Penn State: Last week, UM -3; Today, UM -3
At Michigan St: Last week, MSU -2.5; Today, UM -2.5
Vs Nebraska: Last week, UM -4; Today, UM -3.5
at Northwestern. Last week, UM -3; Today, UM -6
Vs Ohio State. Last week, OSU -4; Today, OSU -3.5
I have no idea why the Nebraska line is shrinking. Also, it's worth noting that 5dimes had more future Michigan games on their preseason Games Of The Year board. However, that book apparently doesn't re-release new lines as the season goes on, so we're stuck analyzing only sportsbook.com's more limited action. I wanted to see how much the UM -12 line over UConn moved, but we'll have to wait until game week to find out.
Alright, had enough time on the trivia question? Hope so, because here comes the big reveal........
1981, Ann Arbor. Michigan 25, Notre Dame 7. Closing Line, UM -4...... One of the most bittersweet wins in program history. I don't know if anything could top the 2008 Outback Bowl on this list. Like that rousing victory over Florida, the Wolverines showcased everything that had made them such a highly touted team to begin the season. Butch Woolfolk rushed for 139 yards and as a team the Wolverines churned out 320 yards on the ground. Michigan just completed four passes on the day, but three went to Anthony Carter who took two of those to the house, including a 77-yard bomb to open the scoring. The Michigan D suffocated the Irish at every turn. It's just that they did it a week after losing 21-14 at Wisconsin, an inglorious season opener for the preseason #1 team in the nation. Seriously, how many preseason #1 teams lose their opener? FIRE BO ROD. The good news here is Michigan throttled the Irish, who had taken over the #1 ranking in the wake of Michigan's loss. The bad news is that other than this game, Michigan wasn't very sharp in their important games of the year. They lost to Iowa and Ohio State by uninspiring 9-7 and 14-9 scores. Had they split those games, they would have gone to the Rose Bowl. Instead, the Hawks went to Pasadena and Michigan played UCLA in something called the Bluebonnet Bowl at the Houston Astrodome.
1982,South Bend. Notre Dame 23, Michigan 17, Closing Line, ND -4.....Wait. Bo not only lost, but couldn't cover the spread against Gerry Faust? Honestly, I don't know why we kept that guy around for as long as we did. AC returned a punt for a score, but it wasn't enough. ND's Dave Duereson stripped Michigan flanker Vince Bean of the ball on the Wolverines final attempt to take the lead, and the game was over. This was Notre Dame's first home night game in program history. We waited nearly three decades for revenge over this moment and 2011 delivered. I love it when a plan comes together.
1991, Ann Arbor. Michigan 24, Notre Dame 14. Closing Line, UM -3.5....... This game speaks for itself. Desmond Howard's catch is the signature play of this series, launching a Heisman Trophy campaign and perhaps the most dominant single season individual performance in Michigan history. The game made Steve Lorenz (@TremendousUM) list of top-5 Michigan moments in series history. Hard to quibble with Tremendous here, but I will.
I would kick 1994, his top choice, off the list, move his other selections (2011, 1991, 2010, 2006) each up a notch and put the 1985 win over the Irish in the fifth and final spot. Admittedly, I am biased towards the '85 team. It's my favorite Michigan team of all-time, non national championship division. The run-up to the 1985 season was a down time for Michigan. They went an unheard of 6-6 the year before, had lost three of their last four to Ohio State and teams called Iowa and Illinois were going to Rose Bowls instead of them. Conventional wisdom said Bo had lost it and Michigan was a program in slow decay. The Irish were supposed to come into Ann Arbor in 1985 and extend the Wolverines misery. Instead Michigan kept the Irish out of the end zone all day en route to an inspiring 20-12 win. It was our first look at what would go down as one of program's best defensive units. Michigan capped the season with wins over Ohio State and then Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl, ended #2 in the nation and re-established itself as a national power. Michigan would win Big 10 titles in six of the next seven years with five Rose Bowl berths. That whole run started with the '85 upset over the Irish. Besides, you cant have a top-5 that includes outcomes from two seasons that ended with the coach getting fired. The 2010 win gets to stay on the list because OH MY GOD DENARD!!! The 1985 gets bonus points because of the drunk Irish fan sitting behind us at the game who kept yelling at Gerry Faust. PINKETT, PINKETT, PUNT GERRY!! WHY DONT YOU GIVE IT TO PINKETT AGAIN GERRY!! WE'RE ALREADY PUTTING FOR SALE SIGNS IN YOUR YARD GERRY!! Easily one of the funniest random fans I've ever sat near during a game. Right up there with Barfie at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium for Browns games, but that's a whole different story.
2003, Ann Arbor. Michigan 38, Notre Dame 0. Closing Line, UM -10...... The 'Houston Is Better Game.' Please tell me this is true. The students were chanting this comparing the Irish to the Cougar team the Wolverines whipped the week before, right? We had been waiting our whole life it seemed to see Michigan just annihilate Notre Dame for a game, rather than give us a typical heart attack inducing win or loss. We got it in this game. I didn't even mind that I lost $50 on the +10. What can I say, I don't analyze this game, I just take the underdog. Speaking of 38-0 scores.....
2007, Ann Arbor. Michigan 38, Notre Dame 0, Closing Line, Michigan -9.5........ The 0-2 vs 0-2 cripple fight. Let's not talk about the preceding events. Just focus on Jimmy Claussen vs Ryan Mallet. Installment II of this series' three part Yakety Sax run. High times, indeed. I actually did not bet this game. How could you? The Irish looked like they had just started their football program during their first two games. And Michigan? Woof. Let's just move on.......
2012, South Bend. Notre Dame 13, Michigan 6, Closing Line, ND -6......Last year. What did it take for Notre Dame to cover as chalk in the series for the first time in 30 years? How about Michigan throwing interceptions on five straight passes, the last four by previous Irish foil Denard Robinson. Let's talk about the first of that bunch, a halfback pass that Vincent Smith lobbed into the hands of an Irish defender on first and goal. I place it third on the list of worst Michigan picks in this rivalry, behind Elvis Grbac hitting a wide open Michael Stonebreaker in the end zone in 1990 and Chad Henne in 2005 chucking it across his body on a bootleg killing a critical third quarter scoring chance. But at least its ahead of Demetrious Brown's cumulative effort in the 1987 game.
That's the rundown of the six times the favorite covered the spread in this series since 1978. The most common incorrect answer was the 2008 clash. It's an obvious, albeit wrong, guess given how bad Michigan was that year. Believe it or not, they were favored on the closing line by -1. Twitter friend @DrewCHallett did point out to an archival link showing ND favored by -1, but cover.com lists UM -1 and my Phil Steele magazine lists UM -2. I'm keeping this in the underdog covered column. Otherwise, I really don't want to talk about the 2008 game because it wont take long before some Michigan fan chirps in and tries to explain how Michigan really was the better team that day and should have won, blah, blah, blah. Look, this was the first in a long line of Rich Rod turds, to pretend otherwise is as lame as clinging to the notion that all Rich needed was Jeff Casteel, and he'll still be here. La La Land, folks.
Other popular guesses included the 1987 season opener that Michigan lost by a dismal 26-7 score as 3.5-point chalk; the 1999 game when A-Train scored the game winning TD to give Michigan a 26-22 win, but failed to cover the -7.5 line; 2011, however Michigan was 3.5-point home dogs that evening; and even a few 1997 guesses. Michigan won that game by a 21-14 score, a rather large margin for the series, but the Wolverines were a whopping -14.5 coming into the game. It was the fourth game of the season and the Irish were a shaky 1-2 coming into Ann Arbor, fresh of 28-17 and 23-7 losses to Purdue and Michigan St respectively. Hey, how about a hearty shout out to the Irish's #RealRivals for softening up the Domers for us and helping Michigan out in their national title quest!
As for this year's game. The line has grown from UM -3 to -4.5. It's a classic look ahead game for the Irish, what with Purdue on deck, so maybe it makes sense that the line is growing towards Michigan. Given the history, it's hard to turn down those points. And I wouldn't. I think it's the play to make if you decide to go to the window on this one. After a six year run of high scoring games in this series, during which the winner averaged 36.5 points per game, the series returned to the defenses a year ago. I think it stays defensive centric tomorrow. Michigan wins 20-17, Devin Garden runs and passes for a touchdown and a late defensive stop, let's say a Blake Countess interception, seals the win, but not the cover, for the Wolverines.........Have fun, enjoy the day and if you're Ann Arbor, swing by Fingerlee Lumber for our tailgate. We're the ones with the Desmond Howard RV. Go Blue!