(Diarist Note: For the Pick-4 players out there, just a reminder to get your picks in. We’ve got you covered at the JCB for the college football and soccer weekend. My own picks post will be up by sunup. Cheers!)
Let's get into the question of the day. Why in the world are the Michigan Wolverines favored by three points against the Illini?Have people not been watching? What's the deal, allegedly sage--and very, very, very rich--oddsmakers? Somebody has asked this question in a forum thread almost every day this week. I wont pretend to know what's truly going on behind the scenes, but here are a few thoughts as to why Michigan remains chalk, despite a defense that gets as many stops as the Washington Generals.
**Professional bettors don't and never will trust Ron Zook. For an entire decade, the Florida Gators, especially in the Swamp, was their meal ticket. Ron Zook tore all that down. They love to fade him when he's a favorite. Flipping this line to Illinois +3 would bring way too much big money in on Michigan. Despite how bad Michigan has been in recent weeks, that's a risk they don't want to take. This line forces the anti-Zook wiseguys to lay chalk with something they equally loathe, a team with a bad defense. The oddsmakers don't have the best hand, but they're raised the stakes with Michigan as the favorite in hopes to split the anti-Zook crowd.
**Beware the team on a streak. In either direction. Want a pro tip? Look around for teams that have either lost or won four in a row against the number. If it's a 4-game winning streak, bet against them. Its hard to cover five weeks in a row. Conversely, if they've failed against the spot for 4-games in a row, bet on that team since its hard for a team to biff so much that they cant cover in five games in a row. Find any betting handbook or advice text and somewhere within the copy you will be instructed to follow this. I've seen books penned by fancy suit wiseguys whose faces are all over gambling shows like Pro-Line tout this as the cornerstone of your should-be profitable strategy. Make no mistake, there is a demographic of professional sports gambler that, regardless of circumstance, will follow this rule to the letter. Guess who has lost four games in a row to the spread? You probably don't need to many clues. Yep, our Meeeeechigan Wolverines. Oddsmakers aren't about to give those fools who put 10 grand or more per game on systems like this any sort of head start by giving them points and Denard Robinson.
**Speaking of Denard, you may have heard of him. The public loves him. That's driving the line, for sure. But the public also isn't blind. They've seen the Michigan offense turn somewhat clunky the last month and they know all about the bad defense. But Michigan is still a really good bet to outrush most teams they play. And that's a key factor in setting this line. Want another pro tip? Look for underdogs who stand an excellent chance at outrushing their opponent. Dogs who eventually do outrush the favorite cover a lot. It's something I wish I had numbers on. Maybe the JCB Research Team can get on that this offseason? But the numbers I saw years ago had this solidly in the mid-60 percent range, with the success rate escalating based on just how much said dog outrushed their favored foe. It's why Paul Johnson is an excellent underdog coach. I've heard people quip around here that Illinois should be favored by close to a touchdown. Hey, I don't disagree, but if the Book puts a number out there like Michigan +4 or +5, they would get flooded by sharp money out this underdog outrushing their opponent theory. So, they make them slight chalk to confuse the issue those fawking bastadges. By the way, three times this season the underdog in the Michigan game won the rushing battle. They were also 2-1 ATS.
**Vegas likes giving out free money. They win so much, sometimes they like to hand out gifts. For close-to-home examples, I present you Oregon +7 against Michigan in 2007 and last winter on the hardwood with Wisconsin as a pick 'em at Crisler Arena. Ok, obviously this isn't the case, but this does scream free money, right? A perusal of my two favorite all-purpose gambling forums doesn't reveal a ton of folks backing Michigan, the Illini are the best bet of the week for many and at least one offshore has 83-percent of the action on the Illini. Rum punches for everyone in Antigua, I guess, if Michigan covers the spread.
Count me in as one of those folks flipping for that bar bill if the Wolverines come through. I've never been one for the progressive fade plays. I do love hunting for outrushing underdogs, and, frankly, who is to say we don't have one in this game? The Illini are good at rushing and stop the rush. A mini-MSU. How did that go for the Maize and Blue? Mostly, I subscribe to my own theory, one that some of you mathletes may hate because it involves nothing more than the simple eye test: Don't bet chalk with sucky defenses. No sugarcoat. A team with a defense this bad cant be relied upon to win games, let alone cover them as chalk. Michigan's best days ahead the rest of the year against the number will be when they're getting points and another Denard or Tate led comeback comes back short on the scoreboard, but enough to nab the back door cover. So, I am taking Illinois +3. I might even invest in the Over 57. My official card for the day will be at the JCB before sun-up tomorrow. But, the Illini will be on it. There is literally no way Michigan covers this spread. Sorry.
ON THAT UPLIFTING NOTE I AM SURE YOU WANT SOME FAKE OVER/UNDER PROPS TO TRACK TOMORROW AND YOU'RE IN LUCK BECAUSE HERE THEY ARE, YIPEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wait, I really owe you a little candy after saying mean things and picking against Michigan. How about a fun trip down memory lane. I’ve linked, courtesy of course from Wolverine Historian, highlights from the classic 1989 Michigan-Illinois game. The programs had a tense relationship in the 1980s in the wake of the Gary Moeller hiring and firing three years later by Illinois. I don’t know if Bo ever forgave the institution for that. He took it out on them in 1981 with a 70-21 curb stomping at Michigan Stadium. Michigan was throwing touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. The clubs played bitter, heavy hitting, and chirpy affairs in 1982 and 1983 with each team winning once. The 1985 game ended in a 3-3 tie and Schembechler believed he and his staff failed the team in preparation for the day and gave an impassioned speech to the team, breaking down in tears telling them how much he loved them. Michigan was a buzz saw the rest of the year after that. Phil Webb scored a TD in the final minute for a Michigan win in 1987, the Wolverines ran up the score again in 1988’s 69-13 and sewed up the 1988 Big 10 Title with a decisive rout over the Illini in 1988. The 1989 clash again proved to be a major swing in the Big 10 race. Illinois literally poured their season into beating Michigan and getting the Rose Bowl berth denied to them by the Wolverines the year before. I wonder if Bo knew this would be his last game against Illinois because he was especially feisty. Vada Murray (name drop) told me that Bo actually had the team charge right through the Illini’s warm-ups as they took the field, nearly causing a riot on the field. That Bo! Anyway, enjoy the highlights.
Rushing Yards: Michigan -35.5 over Illinois
This is a great matchup of Big 10 rushing attacks. It's the 8th ranked Michigan rushing offense, the best in the Big 10, and Illinois 24th ranked rushing offense, 4rth overall in the league. The Wolverines are powered by budding All-American Denard Robinson. The Illini counter with Mikel Leshoure. Robinson is the nation's second leading rusher with 160 yards per game. Leshoure cracks the top 25 at 97.25 yards per game. Denard is off back to back 100-yard games, but Leshoure has been bottled up recently, having only topped the 86-yard mark once in his last five games, averaging "just" 4.03 yards a carry in those contests. You would think this line would be higher, but we have to adjust for the fact that Michigan's better rushing numbers will be tested against the 26th rushing defense in the land. Illinois allows just 117 yards a game on the ground. While Michigan counters defensively with a respectable 57th in the country against the run, it's hard to wash the memories of last week when Evan Royster dominated the Wolverines. Like Leshoure, he came in struggling a bit and the Wolverines defense proved the correct tonic. Then there is last year's nightmare against the Illini when the Orange and Blue flattened Michigan to the tune of 377 rushing yards. Leshoure tallied 150 of those yards and was one of two tailbacks to go over the century mark. Michigan's pass defense has everyone salivating, but don't expect Illinois to stray to far from their running identity. Nobody on the edge for Michigan can contain Leshoure. Expect chunks and chunks of yards to be gained just on quick pitches to him while he outraces everyone in pursuit to the corner.
As a Michigan fan, I fear this kid going berserk more than I do Scheelhase and the passing game. Leshoure is a third-year back, a three-star recruit and the 28th overall rated running back, per Rivals in the 2008 class. He went to high school in Champaign and chose the hometown school over scholarship offers from Wisconsin, Missouri and Boston College, among others. He, along with Scheelhase who is coming off his own 100-yard a week ago against Purdue, have helped the Illini outrush seven of eight foes this year to the tune of 76.9 yards per game. Only Ohio State has outrushed the Illini this season. Michigan is going to need a healthy Mike Martin, the continued development of Kenny Demens as a run stuffing LB and somehow figure out how to keep Leshoure from getting to the corner and flat outracing everybody to prevent being gashed in this one.
As for the other side of the ball, Michigan has also outrushed seven of eight foes (only MSU outgained them on the ground), but their margin has been over 125 yards. Denard Robinson’s lowest output of the season has been 99 yards. The Wolverines have to deal with the load upfront that is Corey Liuget. With 7.5 TFLS and 3 sacks, he's bucking for some all-conference honors, but so too are the three interior offensive linemen from Michigan-David Molk, Patrick Omammeh and Steve Schilling--who will assigned at various times throughout the game to block him. Then, there are the linebackers. The Illini starting trio of Marquez Wilson, Ian Thomas and Nate Bussey might be the best starting LB unit the Wolverines have faced this year outside of MSU. That's a 5-star, 3-star and 2-star recruit from the 2007 recruiting class. All are multi-year starters, but Wilson, who seems ticketed for the NFL draft in the spring despite one year left, sat out all of last year with a neck injury. He was the 5-star of this group and his return to the lineup has been the driving force behind the improved play this year from the Illini D. So, Illinois has a high performing LB unit, anchoring one of the league's better defenses, all brought in during the 2007 recruiting cycle. Michigan? The defensive recruits from that class still on team include Ryan Van Bergen, Troy Woolfolk, Micheal Williams, Brandon Herron and, I suppose, James Rogers. Edge: Illinois. Of course, that has little to do with this rushing prop. Keep tabs on this. Underdogs chances of covering the spread skyrocket when they outrush the favorite. As long as Michigan is ahead in this statistical battle, I wont be super nervous about our chances. Both teams have won the rushing battle in almost every game they've played. Cue the something's got to give cliché.
Illinois Passing Yards: O/U 230.5 yards.
Man, this number seems low, doesn't it? I am a bettor, not a bookmaker. However, this is where I would set the number. This is way more of a pillow fight between the Illini passing offense and the Michigan passing defense than the PSU match was supposed to be. Damn, at least I hope so. But it truly is. We have the 111th ranked Illini passing offense versus the 117th ranked Michigan passing defense. Throw the records out when these unit clash, please. At least Penn State's passing offense was ranked in the second third of the nation, albeit towards the bottom in that category and goes for over 200 yards a game. Illinois only averages 143.1 yards per game through the air. Of course, we know that number isn't safe or in play when going up against the Wolverines who yield 290.5 a game. Here's why I think this might be a better matchup for Michigan than last weekend, or, frankly, most of other games this year. We focus way too much sometimes on who the QB is they're going up against. If an alleged walk-on can light up Michigan, then so can Scheelhase for Illinois, who actually has 4-star bonafides, per Rivals. Sometimes we miss out on the fact that its as important to judge to receivers running all over the field matching up with the secondary. In this regard, I don't know if Scheelhaase has weapons to use. I know the Illini's wideouts do not compare to most of the sets Michigan's had to guard in Big 10 play. Penn State, Iowa, MSU and Indiana all have at least five guys in their pass catching rotation that go for over 11 yards per catch. Illinois? They only have one, AJ Jenkins. He has a nice 13.2 yard per catch average, but more than one quarter of his production came from the second game of the season against FCS foe Southern Illinois. Surely Michigan has a pass defense better than the Salukis, right? Wait, don't answer that. Regardless, nobody outside of Jenkins who averages at least one catch per game goes for double digit yards per catch. This might be just the right group of wideouts to keep from going bonkers. Everyone else Michigan has played in the Big 10 has had at least one, if not two, players in the top-100 in the country in receiving yards per game. Illinois does not. This total is right at the midpoint between their two yardage numbers, then I added a little because, well, the original number look obscenely low. Whoever wins this taffy pull, may win this game.
Second Quarter Score: Illinois -5.5 over Michigan
Forget wondering why Michigan is favored to win this game, why are they even favored to win the first half? They are -0.5 (meaning a tie goes to the Illini) for the first 30 minutes of the game. It's screaming for Orange and Blue money. After all, the Wolverines haven't had an intermission lead against any of their Big 10 foes. They were tied against Indiana, but down 7, 14 and 18 points respectively to MSU, Iowa and Penn State. The culprit? Try a dismal second quarter, where the Wolverines have been outscored 92-57. Good grief. Michigan actually has outscored its opponents in the three other quarters, but their second quarter sputtering's have really come back to haunt them. A year ago, they won the second quarter 101-86, but struggled putting up points in the second half. The latter hasn't been a problem this season, but the wheezing towards the halftime break, combined with the defense giving up touchdowns like its job, has really put the team in a hole. They've only scored 3 points in their last two second quarters, have been outscored by at least a touchdown in the second stanza of every Big 10 game and have lost 5 second quarters in a row. In fact, the only second quarter they have won this season was against Notre Dame, by a 7-0 score and needed a run-of-the-century from Shoelace to manage that. How about Illinois? They've outscored teams in the second quarter 74-29. Gulp.
Total MGoForum Threads About Jim Harbaugh: O/U 6.5
For the purpose of this play, we start the clock at 12:01 am Saturday and will run in through the following midnight. A 24-hour cycle. Stanford's Fighting Jim Harbaughs play the ABC primetime game this week. He's already on the minds of just about every Michigan fan. And we all love to talk in the MGoForum. This is actually a serious thing to count. Back in MGoBlog's Haloscan days we didn't have an MGoForum, but in 2007 you could not go a Saturday during the season without scrolling through dozens upon dozens of comments on how every possible future UM coach was doing that day. I figure if the Michigan game goes south, that ought to generate at least a couple Harbaugh threads. Who knows how many will sprout up during the Cardinal's game? In the first quarter, he'll run a zone read with Luck to pick up a first down, and Dahblue will start a thread. In the second quarter, his team will get stuffed on a third and short, and Bouje will start a thread. Harbaugh was one of my favorites growing up, so I might just start a thread for the hell of it because I remain a fan. Who knows, maybe we'll talk about how he's Tom Crean's brother-in-law and the bizarre circumstances that might put both in charges of programs I love. When the Cardinal begin taking over the game, a couple threads will pop up wondering how come lowly Stanford is so good and powerful Michigan is so bad. If the Cardinal choke the game in the end, we'll have at least three threads demanding that he be taken off our 'want' list. It's going to get ridiculous. There will be repetition. Threads will get deleted. But those count towards this total, so mods, please keep track even as you take threads down. Accuracy and wagered MGoPoints are at stake.
With that, I'll sign off. I have dinner plans for the night and somehow have to get my picks post up on the blog. Enjoy the weekend, folks.