Here we are a deep in the home stretch and it's perhaps the most dramatic weekend of the Big 10 season. Three teams (Purdue, Indiana and Illinois) face bowl elimination games today. Three others (Michigan State, Michigan and Minnestoa) can clinch bowl eligibility, but a lose puts them in a make or break game in next week's finale. A seventh (Northwestern) wants more win because even though they already has the six required for a bowl they dont want to be part a 6-6 logjam and they'v been snubbed with that 6-6 record in the past. Oh, and, by the way, the Big 10 Championship will be decided when Iowa and Ohio State swap paint in Columbus. Rose are on the line and thats always a special day in the Big 10.
Anyway I like the matchups tomorrow. A natural rivalry with Northwestern/Illinois as both teams enter on the uptick. MSU/Purdue with bowl implications galore for both programs. Iowa's defensive line trying to take Pryor's head off. The ongoing drama that has been Michigan's season takes on Wisconsin in one of Big 10's most underrated sereis from a classic value. Here are the picks.
Indiana at Penn State, noon, BTN. Lines, PSU -25, O/U 55.5
The greatest moment in Indiana-Penn State history took place on November 5, 1994, during the Nittany Lions first visit to Bloomington as a member of the Big 10. The Lions were smoking hot back then, in fact they were the top-ranked team in the nation at the time. Kerry Collins, Kijana Carter, Bobby Engram, Kyle Brady, Joe Jurivicious, Brandon Noble, Kim Herring. And on and on and on. This team was stacked. They beat Michigan 31-24 in Ann Arbor and dropped 63 points on Ohio State. They should show that game more often on the classic networks.
And, they pretty much rolled the Hoosiers that afternoon. They were up 21 points with the clock winding down. Then, magic happened. IU hit a long bomb for a score. Recovered on on sides kick. Scored on another long bomb. All in the span of the game's final 30 seconds, with the last TD coming as time expired. They did, however, convert a two-point attempt after that score to make the final score 35-29, with 15 points coming in the final half minute, mostly through desperation heaves into the air.
The scores didnt impact bettors as the underdog Hoosiers had already covered the number before any of those scores. But, the game had a major impact on the polls. When the votes were counted the following day, the Nittany Lions had been knocked out of the top spot. Voters now favored Nebraska in both polls and Penn State never saw the top ranking again. In a clear case of voters doing nothing more than checking the final score, Penn State was punished by a freaky series of events that turned a dominant effort into something that looked close. I was at this game. It was not close. Not in the least bit. This was gift wrapped for Nebraska. Eff You Nebraska! Every corner of you, even you Omaha. Ghey Counting Crows song.
So, one of the best teams in Big 10 history ended up slighted in the final polls. And, for Indiana, its the most relevant thing the football program has done on the national scale in the last 20 years. For that, it stands as the top moment in this series' history. Well, until the Hoosiers pull off the win next year in their home away from home in Maryland, where they do crab cakes and IU football like nobody's business.
The Pick: IU +25......Look, I'm a realist. IU is not winning this game. But, the Hoosiers have been green with profit all season, logging a 7-2 ATS mark. They've largely outplayed their opponenets this season. And, while I dont think they stand a chance in heck hanging point for point with the Lions, they enter this game confident and expecting to do well. PSU might sleep walk a bit in the early going hungover still from last week's OSU game. I think the Hoosiers get at least three scores in this one and PSU has not shown an offense that runs up the score on anyone, so that will be more than enough to keep IU within this number. I think IU's active front might cause a turnover or two out of Clark who has never looked good against teams with active, athletic ends and OLBs, which the Hoosiers have. It wont be enough to win, but enough to keep this one competitive into the second half.
Northwestern at Illinois, noon, ESPN Classic. Lines, Illini -5, O/U 48
Illinois has seemingly turned their season around, but they still need to win out in order to get to a bowl game. The public must be convinced that Illinois is back enough to be counted on the win games. They're favored in this game. Northwestern, meanwhile, is coming off a physical win against Iowa. Two weeks ago, who would you guess to be favored in this game? What if we spilled the beans and granted a NW win over Iowa? Could you still forsee the Illini as chalk, even at home? I would not have.
That's not to say Northwestern is playing all that good. But, I like Mike Kafka's game. Illinois is still giving up a lot of passing yards and Kafka, despite playing a bit hurt, will still torch the Illini secondary and make plays with his arm. It does not look like Juice will play this game after being knocked out last late week. I think NW's steady defense will contain the RS Frosh Charest in his first start.
The Pick: Northwestern +5.......I am not ready to trust Illinois as a favorite. No way. And, I've always liked Northwestern as an underdog when they're playing fellow December bowl hopefuls. Neither team is perfect, but one is coached by Ron Zook, the other by Pat Fitzgerald. I like the Cats.
Michigan State at Purdue, noon, ESPN. Lines, MSU-3, O/U 53
Personally, I think Michigan State has had a disappointing season. This was supposed to be a 9-win team and a Big 10 sleeper, at least according to their fanbase and a lot of pundits, trying to sound smart by going off track when forecasting the league back in the summer. They just have not been able to close out games, furthering a Spartan tradition about as old as the program itself. I dont think they're guaranteed another win this season as this one will be a dog fight and they host Penn State next week.
Two weeks ago they were road favorites at Minnesota and gave up 42 points in a game that was out of control for them from the start. I once thought MSU could be primed for a late season run, but that game reminded me that MSU cant stop the big play on D and are vulnerable to good, balanced offenses. Right now, that's Purdue. I wont be shocked if the same thing happens in this one with Purdue seizing early momentum on offense. Sparty has not packed its defense for road trips this season, giving up over 30 points a game in their travelers. Purdue's offense has more than enough to continue those numbers.
I'm not sure where MSU is right now. They're neither playing their worst, nor their best ball of the season. They're kind of just average. Purdue, meanwhile, with one glaring exception, is playing their best ball of the year over the last month. At home, desperate for a win to stay alive for a bowl, I think they continue that upward trend. Bolden will outrush the Spartans and Elliot will outduel another first year QB for the second week in a row.
The Pick: Purdue +3........the home team is 9-2 ATS, Purdue is 5-2 ATS as an underdog, Sparty is 2-5 ATS against the Big 10 and 1-4 ATS in their last five trips to Ross-Ade Stadium. It's like a Harem of Trends. What could go wrong?
Iowa at Ohio State, 3:30, ABC. Lines, OSU -17, O/U 37.5
A lot of air leaked out of this game with the Ricky Stanzi injury. After watching the redshirt frosh Vandenburg struggle mightily and look lost trying to steer his team at home against Northwestern, how in the world is he going to get anything done on the road against the mighty Buckeyes? Its not hard to imagine the OSU D swarming this kid and turning this game into a rout on that side of the ball.
But I dont count the Hawkeyes totally out of this game. Nobody on their defense got hurt last week. They're still a nasty bunch. There DLine will dominate OSU's Oline. They make other teams QBs look bad and we finally get to see this defensive unit go up against Terrelle Pryor. While Pryor has played well of late, I stand by what I said weeks ago on the MGoPodcast that when these clubs play take the Under on all Pryor prop bets you could find. So, it was a little disappointing to find out this week that I could only find four prop bets geared on Pryor's performance. For laughs, lets take a look at them.
Completions, O/U 11.5
What will he throw first: Interception +170, TD -220
Rushing attempts, O/U 12.5
Will he rush for a TD: Yes -220, No +170
I could talk myself into the Under in completions. And, I didnt really take rushing stats into account on those words many weeks ago. He seems a lock to go over 12.5 rushes. I have never really done player props in the college. I dont see myself really starting here, but, who knows, in the wake of Michigan game I may do something rash.
The Pick: Iowa +17.......I like the Iowa D a lot, I like the Kirk Ferentz Game Management Plan, I love Tressel Ball to betray the heavy chalk, I think the Iowa DL mauls the OSU OL, I think the Iowa OL holds their own against the OSU front, and I think Iowa's receiving threats can get open enough where the new QB can lead a few scoring drives. I dont think OSU has the ability to score enough points to cover this suddenly huge number. For most of the season, this line as been OSU -9, but we saw the line skyrocket this week almost overnight in the wake of Iowa's loss and Stanzi's injury. I have a feeling the final ends up falling into between those numbers.
Michigan at Wisconsin, noon, BTN. Lines, Wisco -85, O/U 55
This game has also seen a big jump in the line from midseason to now. Pretty much the whole way from summer into early November, the line in this game hovered between -3 to -4 Wisco. We all know now that line actually opened this week at -10 before settling into the 9/8.5 numbers we're seeing everywhere now.
In this game, you have two of best young offenses in the league. So I dont see why you shouldnt expect the continuation of the total trend that has seen Michigan games in the Rodriguez tenure go Over the mark at a two out of every game clip. I know the Badgers have some good defensive numbers, but they've had a hard time matching up on their schedule at times with teams with a wide range of weapons in the passing game. Michigan may not be a fully functional Rodruguez offense yet, but it has those weapons. And, a good enough run game to keep the whole defense honest. If the tackles can hold up enough of the time, I dont see why Michigan cant put forth a good scoring effort.
Obviously, they're going to need it to hang around in this one. But this has traditionally been one of the closest series that Michigan has played. I dont see why these teams wont play another one. These teams arent as far apart as people are making it out to be.
The Pick: Michigan +8.5.......here's another reason. In all games between the 4-11 teams in the league ( a natural cutoff because of the amazing drop off from really good top 3 teams to the equally dazzling mediocre other eight), the underdog is 12-5 ATS. Considering I am just 9-8 ATS in those games, this is something I should have been doing all along. We have three of those dogs with Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue. I like my chances to get two out of three.