(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.