It's historic bugaboo week in the Big 10 this week. While the composite slate of games might not swoon the casual fan to tune into the league's action, I am more than intrigued by at the sight of two matchups: Wisconsin at Ohio State and Michigan at Iowa. These are two of the more underrated series across the college football landscape and both the Hawkeyes and Badgers have proven to be thorns in the sides of these two pillar power programs of the Big 10.
I came of age as a fan during the 1980s. My memories of college football start just as the Big 2, Little 8 dynamic of the Big 10 began to crumble. By the time I started going to games at Michigan Stadium, it was 1979 . Woody Hayes was no longer the coach down in Columbus. A new era had started across the league. Parity set in. Programs like Michigan State, Iowa and Illinois qualified for a combined 4 Rose Bowls during the decade. Wisconsin then emerged in the 1990s under Barry Alvarez.
As these upstarts developed into threats, Iowa and Wisconsin became consistent foils for the Wolverines and Buckeyes respectively. We all know the history of the Iowa series in the 1980s. The Hawkeyes beat Michigan three times and notched a tie. Most were seismic results. The 9-7 Iowa win in 1981 was Hayden Fry's first bigtime win and helped knock Michigan out of the Rose Bowl. The 1985 contest came in the famous #1 vs #2 matchup the schools played and Iowa killed Michigan's National Title hopes without scoring a TD en route to a 12-10 win. In 1984, Iowa handed Michigan its first shutout and worst loss in years in a 26-0 whitewashing. They added a one-point win in 1990 that also helped kill the Wolverine's travel plans to Pasadena. While Iowa has not really kept up their role as foil since then (they passed the baton to Northwestern in 1995), they did get consecutive wins over Michigan in 2002 and 2003, both of which scarred the program to some extent. Six of Iowa's 10 total wins over Michigan have come since 1981 and the beginning of the Little 8 crashing of the gates.
During this time, Ohio State did not have too many problems with the Iowa Hawkeyes. In fact, they famously upset the Hawks while Iowa rested on the top spot a few weeks after the epic win over Michigan in 1985. Their foil rested a bit further up north with the Wisconsin Badgers. And, in many ways, the Badgers developing into an historic bugaboo for OSU was a lot more damning. Wisconsin was one of the last gate crashers to arrive to the party. While they had a couple of nice seasons in the early 1980s, they pretty much spent the decade as a league bottom feeder until Alvarez arrived in 1990. Regardless of their stature, they have given Ohio State more fits than just about any other league team over the last 30 years.
Their 10-15-1 record against Ohio State equals the most wins against the Buckeyes in that time span by any school not named Michigan. The beat the Bucks fives times in the 1980s. In the 1990s, they notched two wins and tie. This decade, they are the only Big 10 team to beat Ohio State at least three times. That sentence actually broke my heart to write, despite it being a ding on the Bucks.
Let's go back to the 1980s for a second. The Wisconsin Badgers, for the most part, were a Michigan fan's ally. I can picture a young Brian Cook pounding out a This Week in Schaedenfruede on his Fisher Price Pica typewriter while humming 'On Wisconsin.' Badger wins over OSU in 1981 and 1982, the later by an amazing 6-0, score knocked the Buckeyes out of the Rose Bowl. Art Schlichter started that 1981 game, so maybe he had money on the Badgers, I dont know?
Wisco beat the Bucks in consecutive years again in 1984 and 1985. Those were some powerful OSU squads featuring Chris Carter, Vince Workman, Keith Byars and MIke Tomczak with young studs Chris Spielman and Eric Kumerow leading the defense. That 1985 outfit had just toppled top-ranked Iowa a few weeks earlier and I remember serious discussions (Read: Arguments and occasional playground fights) about the Buckeyes deserving the top ranking after that win. Thankfully, the Badgers took care of that issue, although John Kolesar was laying in the weeds just in case they didnt.
The legend of three-loss Earle was penned in part by the Wisconsin Badgers. Bruce left Columbus with a losing record against Wisconsin. His fifth loss to them in 1987 started a late season tailspin that eventually cost him his job. As Nelson Munz would say, 'Ha ha.' Sometimes you gotta love those spunky Badgers.
Getting back to the current day, should the Badgers and Hawkeyes both add more to their resumes as foils for these powers programs, then an unexpected and compelling storyline will be written. Both clubs would move to 6-0 and are deck for each next week in Madison. Both would become BCS Bowl contenders.Since Wisconsin hosts Iowa, they likely will be favored to win the rest of their games. After the Hawks, they host Purdue, go to Bloomington, host Michigan and then close on the road at Northwestern and Hawaii. Iowa, meanwhile, is expected to beat Michigan. If they follow through on that promise and win in Madison, they are a road win in Columbus away from a perfect season, barring a significant upset somewhere else on the way.
Both of these clubs have positioned themselves to do no worse than the Outback/Capital One slots at this point. Should they maintain their historic sway over the big boys of the league this weekend, then both will have thrown their hats into the ring for more serious prizes. And to think, you didnt think tomorrow's league slate was all that impressive.
Now that I have convinced you otherwise, let's move quickly through this week's round of Big 10 Picks. Last week, we got back on the winning track and through four weeks stand with a shiny, profitable 18-10 ATS record. Let's keep the good times rolling.
Michigan State at Illinois, noon, BTN. Lines, MSU -4, O/U 55
Illinois, to be blunt, blows donkey. I cant come up with any excuse to take them here. The only thing I can think of is a hangover on the part of MSU after their rivalry win last week. Eh, I dont buy that. Even before Illinois became the most disappointing team in the nation, I thought Sparty had the better team. I like this offense with Kirk Cousins pulling the trigger, and if last week was any indication the personnel changes they've made in recent weeks on defense have helped shore up that side of the football. Meanwhile, Illinois can't run, can't pass, can't play defense, have benched Juice Williams and still have Ron Zook as their coach.
The Pick: MSU -4......I hate road chalk, especially in league play, but this is a short number. MSU should be favored by a TD, but I think their inconsisent play combined with the public expecting a UM hangover has given us a bit of a bargain here. Illinois has not scored double digits against the Bowl Subdisivsion team this year, not to mention notching any wins over those teams either. I think they show some more offense, but it wont be enough. MSU muscles their way to a 27-13 win.
Purdue at Minnesota, noon, ESPN. Lines, Minny -3, O.U 51.5
Interesting game up in Minneapolis this weekend. A win is a reuirement for either club if they want to go bowling. Purdue is 1-4, in desperate need of a win. But, with a little more luck and ball security, their record could be reversed. Minnesota, meanwhile, is 3-2, but, despite the excitement of a brand new stadium, have been completely outclassed by Cal and Wisconsin, in their two big showdowns already this season in their new digs. If you take Purdue, you risk your money on a team that has been inventing new ways to shoot themselves in the foot each week. If you take the Gophers, you risk your money on a one-dimensional team, that isnt really good at any one thing and that also has its fair share of turnoveritis. Ah, the choices we have to make in life.
The Pick: Purdue +3........overall, despite the difference in record, I think Purdue has played better against better competition. If the turnover battle is neutralized, then I really like Purdue's balance on offense more than Minnesota's one trick pony offense of Weber to Decker and the shrug your shoulders. Plus, Danny Hope > Tim Brewster. Just E-pinion. Also, the Boilers are 7-2-1 ATS against the LOLphers in their last 10 meetings.
Wisconsin at Ohio State, 3:30, ABC. Lines, OSU -16, O/U 47.5
Sometimes it is as easy as getting the ball to Jonathan Clay. I think the Badger's Clay is the best running back in the Big 10. Unfortunately, during his career, Bielema and company have bouts where they lose track of him in favor of some of the other backs they've had. Well, not in the last two weeks, during which Clay ripped off 142 and 182 yard games in leading the Badgers to a 2-0 Big 10 start. In the only other game this season where he was the clear featured back for Wisco, he ripped off 143 yards against Fresno, including a game changing 72-yard dash to paydirt. He is primed for a Shon Greene-type of season.
I think he is the difference maker tomorrow. If Wisco gives him two dozen carries, I can guarantee that at least two of those runs will be bigtime gains that goes to the House or sets up the Badgers for points. And, unlike the last couple of seasons, the Badgers are dangerous and can get points out of their passing game. Scott Tolzien is every bit an upgrade at QB for Wisco that Tate Forcier has been for Michigan. A year after seeing their QBs tosss more picks than scores, Tolzien has a TD/INT ratio of 9 to 3. Al Toon, Isaac Anderson and Garret Graham give him arguably the best group of targets in the Big 10. Once they get rediscover David Gilreath in the offense, it will only take another step forward.
All of that means is that I think they can move the football against the Buckeyes and put up points. On the other hand, the Buckeyes will more than respond. Even though the Badgers defense is improved from a year ago, the Buckeyes will probably do enough damage to ultimately win this game. But they seem to have mastered the art of winning, but not covering at the Horseshoe in recent seasons. Since the Troy Smith era ended, the Bucks are just 5-9 ATS as home favorites.
The Pick: Wisconsin +16.5.......Look for Clay to have a big day against Ohio State. That will keep the Badgers into this game in the end. Dont forget, the Badgers had the Buckeyes on the ropes in both 2007 and 2008 before letting it slip away in the fourth quarter. This Wisco team is better than those units. I dont know if 2009 OSU is as good as 2007 or 2008. The Badgers have a big cushion here to come in under the number. I think they have the offense to make this happen.
Michigan at Iowa, 8:00, ABC. Lines, Iowa -8, O/U 47.5
Since 1985, Michigan is 26-13 ATS when catching points against anyone other than OSU (who they are 5-5 ATS against in that role). They did not cover as pups last week.......so......we're playing the percentages here and taking the Wolverines plus the TD and 2-point conversion. Iowa always seems to play close games, regardless of their foe. While I think this is a strong club, I dont think the win in Happy Valley a couple weeks ago makes this some sort of monster team that is impossible to beat. Tate Forcier could possibly be the better QB in this game. Forcier does not kill his team, the way Hawk QB Rick Stanzi does. Stanzi has pick-6's in two of his last three games and is worth a blow up or two in a game that would make Mike Matusow proud. I think Iowa's defensive front can outplay Michigan O-Line, but if Michigan can contain ends Clayborn and Ballard, then Forcier will have time to do his magic. I love Michigan's wideouts against the Iowa secondary, and I feel the Hawks are a much better matchup across the board for UM's defense than the Spartans were last week. All Iowa does is play close games. In the three viable games UM played this year, all went deep into the fourth quarter (or beyond) to decide. I dont see why those trends won't continue tomorrow.
The Pick: Michigan +8.....the last time an unranked UM team played a ranked Iowa squad, the 26-0 1984 disaster happened. This is not 1984. This UM outfit has a playmaker at QB and is playing with a lot more confidence. I think Tate will have a chance to win this one late.
Hold on, aren't you forgetting something? There are three non conference games. You promised a pick for every Big 10 game. Pay up, you gypsie!
Ok, well, prepare be to be disappointed. One of those games is Eastern Illinois at Penn State and even though I could easily seek out on online that actually carries a line on this (according to 5dimes, the Nits are 37-point chalk), there is no way I would play this game. You can't take the team in a obvious talent mismatch, but, on the other hand, Penn State has not been scoring any second half points this season. Never a good recipe for heavy chalk. Pass.
Same goes for the Miami (NTM)-Northwestern game. By all accounts, this should be a blowout and oddsmakers have made the Cats a 20-point favorite. This is not Terry Hoepnner's Miami (NTM), let alone Bo, Ara or Sid Gillman's. But Northwestern is one of those programs that is hard to stomach as a heavy favorite. Case in point: their game with Eastern last month. Besides, the defense has not really stopped too many folks this season. I'm just going to ignore this game is even on the board. Pass.
That leaves us with Indiana at Virginia. I have one message for e-friends Other Chris and MaizeNBlueWahoo: Eat it, bitches. I know you are all high on Grohmentum after last week's win and are dreaming of another October turnaround to save the season. Well, good luck with Darius Willis and Tandon Doss. Good luck with Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. Good luck with the Repogle family. You will need it. I've washed myself of my initial trepidation on the MGoPodcast, and I am now calling for the outright win for the Cream and Crimson as they make a statement that they indeed are Motor City Bowl contenders. They go into the city that has the unfortunate history of spawning the Dave Matthews Band and trounce those ghey and gueer looking Musketeer-looking people. But just in case, I'm putting Indiana +7 (-120) in my pocket. Oh, and I'll see you guys at high 3:30 on ESPNU. Well, when I'm not watching Wisco-OSU. Or Alabama-Ole Miss. Not to mention Oregon-UCLA. Oh yeah, and Sam Bradford's return to the Sooner lineup. But, otherwise I'll be there. Join me. If you dare.
Fine. You are ripping us off by not making picks on all games. But, what about your cracker jack theory about underdogs and overs in the Big 10. What, no mention of that? The AM radio was right in telling me scientists were stupid and not to be trusted.
Whoa, there big fella. No need to get all righteous on me. Besides, I've got something to feed that beast. Of course, I have totals.
A review of the hypothesis: When Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern play always make sure to at least check out the over as a possible play. Also take a look at the underdog as these teams might be the right combination of not enough defense to be a poor favorites, but potent enough offenses to be valuable underdogs. When they play each other, dont worry about thinking too much. Lock and load the Underdog, the Over and then wrap it up in a parlay. So, far in these head to heads, you would have an 8-4 record with three (that's half, if you're counting) parlays paying out. If you play the standard one unit of play on each side and half that unit on each parlay, you would be up 6.05 units. If a unit is $100, that's $605 in profit. In two weeks and six total games.
Now that I have your attention, let's point out the obvious: We have one of those games with Purdue and Minnesota. So, gimme gimme gimme the Over 51.5. It will be the seventh stab at this whole three-pronged strategy. Let's hope its a lucky number.
As for the other games that at least involve one of those teams, I am ignorning the Northwestern-Miami(NTM) even though the 54 total looks enticing. The over machine that has been the Rodriguez program at Michigan is in Iowa this week, which prohibits the Over in that one. All Iowa games have to end somewhere between 17-13 and 23-20. It's a college football rule. So, no dice on the 47.5. I cant trust Illinois to contribute even a plug nuckel to the cause in their game. And, while I feel Indiana can and should score some points, Virginia specializes in low scoring, ugly, are-they-scoring-by-one's sort of game. These teams might be to contrasting to count on a total bet either way to be a reliable play, but I may revisist this later tomorrow.
But, I do love the Over 47 in the Wisconsin-Ohio State game. I know, expecting points in an OSU game does not sound like afun experience. But, this game will be a lot more explosive than people think. I see big plays out of Clay, Toon, Pryor and Sansebauer. This game will have at least a half dozen touchdowns. And, what's a day with Jim Tressel without a couple of field goals. That's 48 points right there.
So, a seven pack: Purdue +3, Purdue/Minny Over 51.5, MSU -4, Wisconsin +16, Wisco/OSU Over 47, IU +7 and Michigan +8. Have a fun day watching college football. Good luck. Go Blue. Be safe.