(Diarist Note: I should have some takes, opinions and picks on the rest of Saturday's action on the Just Cover Blog by tomorrow morning. We're leaving for Ann Arbor before 10:00 tomorrow, so thats my deadline. Also: Big time props to Mazie4Blue, the genius behind the site's redesign.)
Well, it's here. Penn State comes to town tomorrow. We're about 24 hours out from kickoff. It's time for the money to meet the mouth.
I have been chirping for two weeks now that Michigan takes this game. Let me formally lay out my case.
1.) This just in, but Michigan is a good team. I know we want to wail on defensive breakdowns, question our merits after those road losses, gripe that a walk on plays a lot of minutes on D and moan that since freshmen aren't instant impact players that they're probably busts. But, get over it people. September 2007 isnt walking through that door. Nor is 2008. This club is better team than those. You'll see tomorrow.
2.) Michigan dominated PSU for a half last year. Michigan is leaps and bounds better this season, Penn State is not as good as last year. The fatal flaw for Michigan in this game last year, and in a lot of their season in 2008, was an inability to turn to second, third and fourth wrinkles once the original gameplan wore out. No such issues this season. Michigan will put up 17 first half points again, but instead of getting shutout, will match that in the second half.
3.) I love the matchup of Michigan's defensive line versus Penn State's offensive line. While everyone else touted the PSU Oline this summer, I kept writing that no team in the league lost as much talent on the line from last year as Penn State did. As it turns out, the line has been 'meh' at best. They could not block Iowa a few weeks ago. Michigan is just a shade behind them as far as DLine quality. Brandon Graham will take over the game. Van Bergen's steady rise will continue. Michigan will stone the running game.
4.) Dayrl Clark is overrated. And perhaps not even that good. We'll see. He is in his second year behind center and he has yet to complete a big pass in a big spot to lead his team to a win. He compiles stats against mediocrity, but often struggles in the bigger games. Fact is, this team misses and has yet to replace the presence of do-everything Derek Williams. He has been the hardest player in the league to replace (with Beanie Wells in columbus a close second). He made more big throws last year than Clark in the money games. Big drives on the biggest stages last year were spearheaded by Williams who caught the ball, ran it out of wildcats and reverses and threw it out of direct snap formations. The defenses no longer have to guess what he is doing. The Lions have not been as explosive as they were last year as a result. They dont look like a team you need to plant at least 30 on to win, like they did at times last year. Remember how mediocre PSU became compared to the top of the league after Michael Robinson departed after the 2005 season? Williams had as much an impact on last year's Rose Bowl drive, even if he was not statistically as potent as Robinson, and I've been expecting a step backwards from PSU all season. The first step back happened last month against Iowa. A second step back happens tomorrow.
5.) Special teams. Big advantage for Michigan. Zolton wins the field position game for Michigan. Stounum can set Michigan up with field position. The Penn State return team (again, there's no Derek Williams back there) can not.
6.) This will be the best offense PSU has faced all year. Their brand new secondary has not been tested like it will in this game. Spread out, with a speed disadvantgae, this will be a bigger chore than thwarting Paulus and Syracuse and Weber and Minnesota. Night and day. The Lions will have their hands full trying to matchup. Michigan had little trouble running the football on PSU last year. Michigan is much better at that this season. The power of Minor and speed of Brown will be the story. The fact is, Penn State has not been forced to really play a full four quarters in most of their games. Tomorrow they will have to. Michigan's offense will put a lot of pressure on this defense. They will score points. The burden is on PSU to keep up. I dont think they can. They scored 21 fourth quarter points to finally shake Illinois, the league's worst team, earlier this month. Otherwise, they have scored just 36 points in their other six second halves. That wont do it against Michigan. Even last week, in their alleged best game of the season, they struggled to finish drives, only found paydirt twice and scored in the single digits during the second half.
Ok, I've said a lot. It's getting repetitive as I have been beating this drum for two weeks about this game. I didnt drop any analysis in the above screed that I have not laid out in piece meal fashion throughout various threads here the last several days. The Revolution takes a big step tomorrow, comrades.
The Pick: Michigan +5......I wont lie. I feel very confident here. I am getting the same vibe about this game as I did heading into the matchup twelve years ago. We all know how that turned out. Translation: Take the points, but you wont need them.
Illinois at Purdue, noon, BTN. Lines: Purdue -10, O/U 55.5
When was the last time a 2-5 team was a double digit favorite in a Big 10 game? Thanks to the 2009 Illinois Illini, we might be breaking new ground here.
Purdue is on letdown alert, playing at home a week after a monumental upset over Ohio State. I'd worry, except they're playing a team that's probably mostly quit. If you take Illinois here, you must be banking on one of two things: Hoping that this is the week that they will finally look prepared, interested and talented enough to compete in a legit football game. Or, that Purdue is still awash in morning glory apres Ohio State. The latter is a distinct possibility. The former, I will bet against. In fact, its enough for me to make a call here.
The Pick: Purdue -10........there is no reason to stop betting against Illinois. The Boilers are a few plays away from probably reversing their current 2-5 record. The Illini, meanwhile, are a few plays away from at least being in the game at the half in all their games. Yeah, I'll give the head start and take my chances with the suddenly PurDOIN' It Boilermakers.
Indiana at Northwestern, noon, BTN. Lines, NW -5, O/U 53.5
Critical Motor City Bowl positioning is on the line when Northwestern Wildcats host the Indiana Hoosiers this weekend in Evanston. The winner could be in the driver's seat for a post-Christmas weekend of skirting team rules while trying to secretly play blackjack or cross the border for the Windsor clubs. Oh, yeah, and a football game where they will likely be shredded by Central Michigan, one of the best teams in the nation. Arguably.
Despite being the road team, I like the Hoosiers in this one, not only with the points, but straight up. Both teams are 4-3. But, I think Indiana has played better, against pretty comparable slates, than Northwestern to this point in the season. Northwestern will have trouble with the WR combo of Tandon Doss and Damario Belcher. Indiana ought to be able to play their game on offense without much trouble. On the other side of the ball, I think IU's active front seven, spearheaded by Kirlew, Middleton and Repogle will bottle up NW QB Mike Kafka. He's really been a one man show this season. He could carry the Cats to the win all by himself. But the Hoosiers appear to have better athleticsm and skill than the last couple years on defense and I think they will do a solid job of containing Kafka. Contain. Not stop. This could be a high scoring game, so grab some of the Over if thats your thing. It should be pretty close. The last five games between these two have been decided by 4, 6, 7, 3, and 2 points.
Here's a tidbit: In games with IU and northwestern this year, the underdog has gone 9-3 ATS, including 5-1 in the Big 10. I'd wager that oddsmkaers, and the betting public, still have not figured these teams and take my chances with the points. Frankly, I would not lay five points with either of these teams in a conference game. I'll take the points, please.
The Pick: Indiana +5.......this may sound simple, but through seven games the Hoosiers have been making more plays than Northwestern. That continues this weekend and the Hoosiers get the win. But, I am taking the 5 points anyway. Maybe it comes from seeing them play in person in that great game last month in Ann Arbor, but that team we did see should not have a problem winning at Northwestern.
Minnesota at Ohio State, noon, ESPN. Lines, OSU -16.5, O/U 42.5
After seeing Minnesota play Penn State last week, do we really think they can score any points against an OSU defense fired up to punish somebody after last week's debacle? The Gophers are a one trick pony. If Decker to Weber isn't rolling, they really have no answers. That's what happens when you rotate offensive coordinators every year during your tenure and you cant decide on offensive philosophy. But, hey, you did cajole Sentreal Henderson to at least visit your campus on an official recruiting visit. Just dont forget to buy ESPN Gameplan so you can watch him play at USC the next four years.
Of course, in the other corner is the equally disturbing offense from Ohio State. Talk about lacking an identity. The team has not been to pass the ball in two seasons. And boy do they miss the threat of Beanie Wells, one the league's best home run runners in the last 20 years. I've heard a few stories or two this week about a quarterback that likes to turn the ball over and looks lost at times trying to lead this offense. Can anyone confirm those stories? They have not allowed newspaper delivery or live radio here in Ohio since last Saturday night. In fact, I am writing this under candlelit with Shoelaces the Puppy Rot running on a treadmill chasing a stick giving the power generator enough juice to get the computer fired up. We havent had much Internet access this week either.
The Pick:Ohio State -16.5......When push comes to shove, I dont really want to lay 16.5 points with Ohio State. But, after that ridiculous effort and offensive strategy last weekend, I dont want to take 16.5 points with the Gophers either. The Buckeyes have struggled this year. But, they're an angry bunch. And the Gophers just look bad all of a sudden. They are walking into a hornet's nest in this one. The angry Buckeyes will pummel their offense. Pryor's bounce back game wont be half bad. I am seeing 31-10.
Iowa at Michigan State, 7:00, BTN. Lines, MSU -1.5, O/U 42
This begins and ends with something I said in yesterday's podcast. Iowa makes other QBs look awful and, as a result, they're able to keep points off the board, even if it doesnt look pretty in the box score. In fact, its not meant to be pretty. It's meant to win. And destroy QBs physically and mentally. In three weeks when they invade Columbus, take the Under in every prop stat for Buckeye quarterbacks. Just sayin'
Of course, you might want to do that with Kirk Cousins tomorrow as well. Check out some of these numbers. They're holding foes to a less than 50 percent completion rate. They've swiped 14 picks and allowed just five touchdowns. Completions that do get made, generally go nowhere as the Hawkeyes allow just 5.43 yards per pass attempt. The carnage include harassing Daryl Clark into his worst day, knocking around a potent Arizona to the point where the Cats tried three different signal callers and, sadly for us, swiping Tate Forcier's cnady.
There is no reason to think MSU can buck those numbers. The Spartans enter this game a bit one-dimensional. A year after Javon Ringer leaves, the Sparties are dangerously close to the bottom third of the country in running the football. Kirk Cousins has elevated the QB production, but Iowa will force them to pass even more tomorrow and that plays right into the Black and Gold's plan. This will be far and away the toughest defense Cousins has had to face in his 7-start career. He's going to go down. Hard. He'll be wearing Adam Clayburn's helmet paint before its all said and done.
Also, nobody has scored any points against Iowa in the second halves this season. They've allowed just 21 points in the second half against the five BCS foes they've faced this season. On the road at Penn State and Wisconsin, they shutout the Lions and badgers during the second stanza.
Iowa has the best side of football in the Big 10 with their defensive lineup from top to bottom. They also have the most dominant positional group in the conference with its defensive line, a collection of would-be pass rushing ends, all trained to move back and forth along the line until mismatches are found. This defense can carry the team to a surprise Big 10 title. At the least, it will push Cousins into his worst day of the season en route to another win.
The Pick: Iowa +1.5.........We know how this is going to play out. It will be tight at halftime. Tied, or a slight lead for either team. Iowa will dominate the second half. Nobody has really scored on them all year in the third and fourth quarters. They will slowly, but surely through field goals, sacks, batted passes and a long pass play to either Moeki or Johnson-Koulianis pull away in the final 30 minutes to a 23-13 win.