(Note: Just got the morning lines. Everything held steady, but the NW/MSU O is 51.5. So that's what I have. Heading to Ann Arbor right now. Go Blue!!!!)
Here we at the verge of another Big 10 football weekend.
It's mid-October. The autumn air is crisp. The colors have changed. Football is in the air. And, like always, it's an October showdown at the Big House between Michigan and, uh, ah, ahem, Delaware State? Is that right? Are you sure?
Ok, scratch that. On a day with big games dotting the landscape, Michigan welcomes a school from the mighy MEAC where they will play in front of a single day crowd larger than the combined capacity of the rest of their season.
The real competition tomorrow will be between the MMB and DSU's band dubbed The Approaching Storm. This one is anybody's game, and I look forward to this halftime moreso than ever before. But, it's rare that the MMB is the underdog, so we're rolling with the local Bando's. Well, if I can hear them, that is.
We joked on the MGoPodcast about a hypothetical pointspread in this one. Make no mistake, there is a real spread. Michigan is favored by 35.5 points. I want be touching this one in the Diary or anywhere else.
Many folks are probably saying, "what are you talking about, they dont do lines for games with FCS schools?" You could not be more mistaken. Several offshores do indeed put lines out for game spitting FCS and Bowl Subdivision against each other, not to mention a full board of games within the FCS and Division III ranks. 5dimes.com is one such place, and that's where the -35.5 line for tomorrow's classic comes from. Place your bets accordingly. Actually, places like 5dimes are greeat come Decmember when those levels of football begin their playoffs. We're out of college football at the level we enjoy, but there are plenty of December weekends with small school playoffs going on. And, you can gamble on them all the way. It's 50/50 that the Just Cover Blog will be a part of that. We'll have to see how the rest of the season goes.
To that end, here's another installment of Big 10 Picks. Our season record is 21-14, which is not too bad, except we've been running in place for three weeks in a row. Last week, we were 3-4, with that Wisconsin side and over being swing results the wrong way. Down 18, with a 16.5 spread and needing just a two points for the Over to hit, Brett Bielema skipped a field goal to get his team to within two scores. Instead, he sent the offense back out there to convert a fourth and long. They did not. A made field goal there is the difference between 5-2 and 3-4 record last week. Sometimes the line between profits and losses can be depressingly thin. But, those are the breaks.
Let's get it on this weekend. Five league showdowns, some big spreads and inmportant games in Madison and Bloomington that will shake up the pecking orders at both the top and bottom of the standings. And, as always, blindly following my plays may be hazardous to your wallet.
Northwestern at Michigan State, noon, ESPN2. Lines, MSU -14, O/U 51.5
Michigan State seems to have steadied the ship after a three-game losing streak in September nearly derailed the season. Now comes the hard part for Sparty: maintaining consistency. Can they navigate the rest of their schedule without any of the lapses in concentration that have become the identity of the program? Mark Dantonio's teams have suffered those lapses at a lesser rate than past MSU regimes, so I give them a pretty good shot at getting through the rest of their slate without more disasters.
But, doesn't this game with Northwestern just smell of Sparty letdown? Two weeks removed from a season-saving win over bitter rival UM, coming off a big road win against Illinois, the Spartans now host little old Northwestern in the sleepy nooner slot on the schedule. They have a huge night game at home next week against Iowa. I wonder if the Cats have MSU's full attention.
Northwestern has looked ragged at times this season, but they're still 4-2 and likely headed to another bowl game. The defensive issues that plagued them in September seemed to have been fixed a bit in recent weeks, in large part to better health. MSU, with the top ranked passing attack in the league, will be a formidable test. Offensively, QB Mike Kafka has stepped up his game passing the football and also remains a top threat for Northwestern running the football.
Actually, both teams are good at moving the ball in the air and mediocre at best at stopping aerial attacks. The Cats struggled to stop Syracuse and did surrender yards in chunks the last two weeks despite giving up just a total of 27 points. MSU, meanwhile, got torched by ND and Wisconsin and nearly saw the Michigan game escape them thanks to fourth quarter passing downfield. I dont see either defense locking the other offense down.
Northwestern will hang around in this game. They might not be a brick wall on defense, but they are good ball hawkers and have forced 20 turnovers. MSU is a young team. They're vulnerable to the turnover, and the Cats are just potent enough to take advantage when they do snare a takeaway.
Frankly, I am not sure these programs, as they sit now, are two touchdowns apart as this spread suggests. In the last 50 Big 10 games, NW is 25-25, while MSU is 23-27 and the clubs have split their ten head-to-head meetings. MSU won in Evanston last year, continuing the trend in this series that has seen the road team win outright four straight times and earn covers in seven of the last eight meetings. The Wildcats have covered four straight in East Lansing with outright wins a double digits underdogs in each of their last two trips to the E.L.
Also, the Spartans have been money burners at home, going just 9-19 ATS as home in recent seasons.
The Pick: Northwestern +14, Over 51.5...........MSU wins, but closeer than the experts think. I think NW will continue getting turnovers, which could set up scores, and that Kafka will be just enough of a running threat to keep the Spartans pass rush honest. As for the Over 53, the last seven games between these teams has averaged 65 points with the loser averaging 25 points. We're sticking with our theory that when certain teams take the field in the Big 10, the Over is the play. Here goes another one as I like both of these offenses to outperform the defenses.
Ohio State at Purdue, noon, BTN. Lines, OSU -13.5, O/U 46
This game will be blowout city. A Purdue team that specializes in inventing ways to lose now faces the premier progran in the leage. Look out, cub scout.
When the Boilers aren't handing the ball over (they have 20 giveaway this year), they're committing killer penalities. There is no way you can endorse such a sloppy team, even at home, against the league's most dominant defense. The Buckeyes will plant Purdue QB Joey Elliot into the ground enough to shatter his confidence. And, a playmaking pass defense will score points for the second week in a row.
Offensively, the Buckeyes are less than ideal. They won this matchup last year without scoring an offensive touchdown. Terrelle Pyror is confounding fans with his lack of progress. The running game is struggling to find a home run threat in the post Beanie Wells era. But, you know what? All those ills are at ease in this one. Purdue is just the right defense to get it going against. The Boilers rank in the bottom half of the country in nearly every defensive category. They are 100th in points allowed, giving up more than 30 points a game.
Here's the deal: I dont think Purdue can get more than two scores in this game. While the Bucks lack a dominant spark running the football, they have enough horses in the stable to march through a Boilers defnese that's 87th in rushing yards allowed. The Bucks O averages just under 30 points per game, while the PU D gives up a smidge more than 30 a game. I am pretty confident OSU gets more than 30 in this one.
Is it worth mentioning that Ohio State is 16-4 ATS in their last 20 stabs as a road favorite? I think so. There's something about this Buckeye program right now, where they take no prisoners and play more loose and free away from the judgemental eye of a home crowd that demands perfection.
The Pick: OSU -13.5.......The Buckeyes win this by more than to touchdowns, with the final being in the 31-14, 34-10 ballpark. Purdue has yet to be blown out this year. They wont be able to say that when the sun sets on Saturday.
Minnesota at Penn State, 3:30, ABC. Lines, PSU -17.5, O/U 46.5
I made my feelings known about Penn State in this week's MGoPodcast with Brian and Tim. Penn State boosters, send me your hate mail, but.......this might be the most overrated team in the country right now. Just E-pinion. With a little dash of No Sugarcoat.
They have piled up some guady numbers, but against who exactly? Nobody, that's who. It says something about the slate you've worked against when a home game with Minnesota is your second hardest foe by the middle of the season. The one team with a pulse that they have played from a BCS league, they lost at home to Iowa 21-10. They could not move the ball across the street after the first quarter. Could not protect their QB. Turned it over a lot. And the alleged premier defense could not stop the Arron Robinson/Brandon Wegher combo running the football. I'm not so sure this team is worthy of being ranked. I make the case that at least four (Iowa, OSU, MSU and Wisco) league teams are better than PSU this season.
We'll see if they show me up tomorrow. I think they have a hard time shaking the Gophers. I talked last week about hisotric bugaboos for UM and OSU. Minnesota has played that sort of foil to the Nittany Lions. They've won four of the last six matchups outright. and are 5-2-1 ATS against PSU the last decade.
Minnesota is a decidedly average team. But, here is what I like. The defense bends and even breaks a few times. But, they are very physical at the line of scrimmage, are good at getting QB pressure and are ballhawkers. This is one of the best in the Big 10 at generating turnovers and when they do, they are excellent at turning the D into offense and scoring on INTs and fumbles. I dont trust Dayrrl Clark. I see him throwing a few mistakes, with one of them being returned for direct points.
On offense, I like the Weber to Decker combination to do damage in this one. Illinois is a bad team and yet they almost thrw for 300 yards on PSU and Arrellious Benn nearly had 100 yards in receiving. As explosive as he is, there has not been a more consistent, smooth or tough combination in the league than Decker to Weber the last few seasons. I see 120 yards and a score for Decker against an untested secondary that's less talented than past years.
None of this is to say that PSU wont win. Hardly. They get it done in the end, but Minnesota will play just well enough and the PSU flaws, which have been masked on account of poor competition, will be exposed enough to make this a close game.
The Pick: Minnesota +17......the Gophers are 9-4 ATS the last couple years in Big 10 play. The Gophers keep this within two touchdowns and if they do maintain their usual ID as a ballhawking, scoring D, then the game will be decided by single digits. Want a real best bet, however? Get down on UM +5.5 over PSU. That's the line right now for next week. You wont need the points, but Book It anyway.
Illinois at Indiana, 7:00, BTN. Lines, Illini -3, O/U 54
Sometimes, it's not who you pick, but who you pick against.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 Illinois Fighting Illini.
I dont have enough space to diagnose all that ails the Zooker's Ship these days. But the offenses are many. And, not going away. They dont know who their QB is, have no offensive identity, cant stop a cab on defense and, well, ahem, they are still coached by Ron Zook. This has the look of a team that has quit.
Right now Illinois cant block up front. That's trouble against the Hoosier's active defensive ends and linebackers. The Hoosiers were embarassed by their performance at Virginia last week. They talked all week about making a statement at home to right the ship. They have a perfect foe to make that statement against. Indiana will kill Illinois all day with their midrange passing attack. Ben Chappelle and the Pistol O of Indiana ends up having its best day of the season.
The Pick: Indiana +3........I was burned by Illinois early in the season, but since have made that back by betting against them since the calendar turned October. I'll keep fading them until proven otherwise. I said two weeks ago, this was your last place team. Money meet mouth.
Iowa at Wisconsin, noon, ESPN. Lines, Wisco -2, O/U 46
The biggest game of the week in the Big 10 is both the hardest and most dangerous for me to handicap. I say dangerous because I remain bitter at the way the Wisconsin game went down last week and how both my bets on the Badgers and the Over went down in flames thanks to sloppy QB pla, porous blocking and questionable coaching moves as Wisco attempted to shave the deficit in the fourth quarter. It left such a bad taste in my mouth, that I remain a bit prejudiced against the boys in Madison.
Do I have to guts to take Bucky Badger again? Or do I recklessly fade them, even though they return home where they are always a tough out? In the end, it comes to this: Wisconsin is unranked. Iowa is not only ranked and undefeated. Yet, it's the Badgers who are favored. To quote famous Indiana Univeristy Coach Lee Corso, somebody knows something, and I am going with that somebody.
At the end of the day, the magic dries up for Iowa. Statistically, they dont look pretty. Heck, they dont even look like a winning ball club. But, they beat you up, never quit and find a way to get things done. Unlike Penn State, the Badgers have more offense to put the Hawks on their Heels. Unlike Michigan, the Badgers are playing this game at home, not Kinnick Stadium, and they have not been as prone to giving up the dagger play on D as the Wolverines. It all adds up to a big win in Madison and fifth quarter like no other.
I remain steadfast in my belief that Jonathan Clay is the best running back in the Big 10. Michigan's offensive line took over the game last week and Wisconsin's is as good, but bigger. They will lean on the Hawks and Clay will bust out big, with two long scoring runs. And, I am giving Scot Tolzien another chance. I've said numerous times that he has been as much an upgrade at the QB position as we've seen in the league. Then, he spit the bit in Columbus last week. I dont think the Iowa pass rush will swarm him the way the Scrlett and Gray did last weekend. I remain in love with this offense. It might be the best in the Big 10. They had little trouble scoring until last week. And even against the mighty Buckeyes, the Badgers moved up and down the field and were in rythmn most of the way until disaster struck. But, that was Tolzien's first road start. He will bounce back at home and help the Badgers outscore the Hawkeyes tomorrow.
On the other side of the ball, the Hawks dont do any one thing well. They had issues with the Michigan pass rush last week. Stnazi is an INT machine and has thrown a pick-six in three of the last four games. At times, he is in control of the offense, but no QB in the Big 10 is more prone to WTF moments than this kid. It's hard not to see a new round of Stanzi Ball rear its head tomorrow. The Badger D is a whole new unit from last year and despite the departure of star power seem to be a better unit than last year.
This will be a fun game. A rivalry game. For Iowa, an undefeated season is on the line. For Wisconsin, they will be favored in every game from here on out, so they're bucking towards a double digit win campaign. I expect this to be one of the best games of the day. It's an even matchup, but the Badger have better skill players and a QB that's playing a bit better.
Badgers hit the 30 mark for the fifth time this season. Iowa will put up points to. In the end, a final drive spurred by the legs of Clay and a big catch by All Toon will lead to the game winning points in a 31-28 win
The Pick: Wisco -2, O46.....Listeners of the Podcast are doing a double take now. I did say Iowa earlier in the week, but I also said I would revisit the game. We taped on Tuesday. The scars from Saturday were still open. Besides, Tim and Brian are pretty smart, right? I'll blame them if it goes awry. See, and you all thought I wasn't addict enough to point fingers and place blame elsewhere. You have no idea who you are dealing with.
There you go. To sum: NW +14, NW O 53, OSU -13.5, Minny +17.5, IU +3, Wisco -2, Wisco O47.