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The Week That Will Be In The Big Ten
by ASA - 09/26/2007
Wisconsin extended its nation-long winning streak to 13 games, albeit in ugly fashion. Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State joined the Badgers as the only undefeated teams left in the conference. Illinois finally cracked the three-win barrier. And Joe Pa still canâ€™t solve the riddle that is Michigan.
Hereâ€™s a look back at the week that was and a look forward to the week that will be in the Big Ten.
The Illini have now rebounded from a season-opening loss to Missouri, which itself is undefeated, to win three straight games by an average of 18.3 points. Illinois ran roughshod over an Indiana team that was previously unbeaten last week and will host a suddenly beatable Penn State team this weekend as 3-point dogs.
The Illini have built their winning streak around a dominating running attack that is fifth in the country with 265.5 yards per game. Theyâ€™ll face their toughest test to date, though, in Penn State, which is sixth in the nation with fewer than 55 rushing yards allowed per game.
Illinois has fared well as an underdog recently, going 5-1 ATS in its last six games in that role and 6-1 ATS in its last seven games against a team with a winning record. Additionally, the Illini are just 4-7 ATS since 1980 as home dogs of three points or less but three of those wins came with revenge on their side. They lost 26-12 to Penn State in last yearâ€™s meeting and will look to flip the script in this meeting.
Indianaâ€™s soft non-conference schedule didnâ€™t do it any favors in its Big Ten opener. The Hoosiers looked completely unprepared for the start of conference play as they were physically beaten up by Illinois last week. Theyâ€™ll look to get back on track against an equally physical Iowa team as 11-point road dogs.
The Hoosiers boasted a strong ground game through three games but ran into a wall last week, rushing for just 134 yards after averaging 259 yards in the first three games. Indianaâ€™s running game could again struggle against Iowaâ€™s 22nd-ranked rush defense but that could open things up for James Hardy. The 6-foot-7 wideout has torn up the Hawkeye secondary, totaling 20 catches for 307 yards and five scores in the last two meetings.
Indiana upset Iowa as 20-point home dogs last year to end a three-game losing streak to the Hawkeyes. The Hoosiers have struggled on the road, though, going just 7-27 SU and 10-22-2 ATS since the start of the 2001 season. Additionally, there are just 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games as a double-digit dog.
Iowaâ€™s downfall began last year following its 31-28 upset loss to Indiana, dropping the then-No. 15 Hawkeyes out of the top 25. Theyâ€™ll get their chance to exact some revenge this weekend when they host the Hoosiers as 11-point home favorites.
The Hawkeyes have dropped consecutive games but the defense certainly isnâ€™t to blame. The Iowa defense went more than 15 quarters before allowing a touchdown and is currently fifth in the country in scoring defense and sixth in total defense. The Hawkeyes offense must start doing its part if Iowa is to turn around recent struggles that have seen it go 2-7 in its last nine conference games.
Iowaâ€™s Kinnick Stadium, home of the pink visitorâ€™s locker room was once one of the toughest places for opposing teams to play. The Hawkeyes were 29-3 SU and 26-5-1 AST from the start of the 2001 season to the conclusion of the 2005 season. Last year was a different story, though, as Iowa went just 4-3 SU and 1-5 ATS at home. The Hawkeyes are just 15-14 SU since 2005 and a return to their previous home domination would go a long way toward reversing that trend.
The Wolverines continued their domination of Joe Paterno and Penn State with a 14-9 win over the Nittany Lions. This is the Michigan team that most experts expected to see as it has now impressively won back-to-back games after brutally dropping back-to-back games to start the season. The Wolverines have a chance to make it three straight this weekend as 16.5-point favorites at Northwestern.
Freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett admirably subbed for Chad Henne for the second consecutive game but running back Mike Hart was the real story. He carried the ball a career-high 44 times, which led to many sustained drives that kept the Michigan defense fresh. Hart is now second in the nation with nearly 164 rushing yards per game and heâ€™ll need to continue his strong production as Henneâ€™s status remains uncertain.
Michigan has won four straight outright over Northwestern and is 3-1 ATS in those contests. But the Wolverines received a much better battle than they expected in last yearâ€™s meeting, winning just 17-3 at home as 30-point favorites. They have fared well under this scenario in the past, going 29-1 SU and 17-12-1 ATS since 1980 as road favorites of 15 or more points. Michigan is 9-5 ATS in the last 14 instances.
The notoriously fast-starting Spartans are again off to a strong start with four consecutive wins to kick off the season. History suggests that Michigan State will quickly come back down to the Earth and that could very well happen this weekend at Wisconsin as 7.5-point dogs.
Michigan Stateâ€™s four wins have come against teams that are a combined 5-9 on the season with neither team boasting much of an offense. The Spartansâ€™ four foes have an average ranking of 99th in rush offense and 86th in scoring offense. Theyâ€™ll have their work cut out for them against a Wisconsin team that is capable of putting up big yardage on the ground and big points on the scoreboard.
The Spartans and Badgers havenâ€™t met since 2004, a game in which Michigan State won 49-14 as, coincidentally, a 7.5-point underdog. Within this series, the Spartans are 5-1 ATS since 1980 when coming off a double-digit win. They have struggled away from home recently, though, going just 6-11 SU and 7-10 ATS since the start of the 2004 season.
The Gopher defense, which would probably struggle to stop a high school offense, was the culprit behind another Minnesota loss. That defense faces another tough test this weekend when the Gophers host No. 8 Ohio State this weekend as 24-point underdogs.
The Gophers fell to 1-3 on the season following a 45-31 loss to Purdue and are now last in three major statistical categories. Minnesota is last with 407.8 passing yards allowed per game, 543.3 total yards allowed per game and a minus-3.0 turnover margin.
Minnesota pulled one of the biggest upsets in program history when it beat the fifth-ranked Buckeyes in 2000. Itâ€™s been all downhill since then as the Gophers have lost the last four meetings by an average of 23 points per game, including a 44-point beatdown in last yearâ€™s meeting. Minnesota has been home dogs of more than 20 points just nine times since 1983. It is 0-9 SU and 2-6-1 ATS in those games.
While Northwesternâ€™s 58-7 loss at Ohio State may not have been as embarrassing as its 20-14 home loss to Duke the previous week, it sure didnâ€™t help restore confidence among the team. That confidence could continue to fade when the Wildcats host a seemingly rejuvenated Michigan team as 16.5-point dogs.
Some of that confidence could be restored if running back Tyrell Sutton returns to the lineup. Sutton has sat out the last two games, both losses, and most of the previous game with a sprained ankle. He was expected to return last week but was scratched at game time and is currently listed as questionable.
The Wildcats have responded well to loss recently, going 4-1 ATS in their last five games following a SU loss. Also, they are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games as a home underdog. Only one of those 10 games came as a dog of more than this gameâ€™s current 16.5-point spread and that resulted in a 54-10 loss to Ohio State as 23.5-point dogs.
The Buckeyes won their school-record 22nd consecutive regular season game with their blowout win over Northwestern last week. That streak should extend to 23 straight when Ohio State visits Minnesota as 24-point favorites this weekend.
This yearâ€™s Ohio State edition is showing similarities to last yearâ€™s in that one of the units is far exceeding expectations. The Buckeye defense was expected to struggle last year with a bevy of new starters replacing departed stars but instead turned in a great season. This year itâ€™s the offenseâ€™s turn as several first-time starters are replacing the likes of Troy Smith, Antonio Pittman and Ted Ginn Jr. and doing an admirable job. After a sluggish start, Ohio State has averaged 45.5 points and 438.5 yards per game in its last two outings.
The Buckeyes had an incredible stretch of 12 consecutive covers last year and are 26-8 in their last 34 games overall. Within those games, Ohio State is 8-1 ATS in its last nine September outings and last nine road games, 7-1 ATS in its last eight games as a road favorite and 18-4 in its last 22 Big Ten contests.
Anthony Morelli, for all of the hype that has surrounded him since his arrival in Happy Valley, just canâ€™t seem to get it done in the big games. Morelli turned in another stinker at Michigan and must start producing if the Penn State offense is to keep pace with its defense. Illinois has shown it can put up points so Morelli will have to turn up a notch when the Nittany Lions play the Illini as 3-point road favorites.
A big matchup to watch in this game will be Penn State linebacker Dan Connor, who is caring on the outstanding tradition at Linebacker U, going up against up-and-coming Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall is eighth in the country with 134 rushing yards per game while Connor has developed a reputation as one of the nationâ€™s top â€˜backers.
Penn State is 9-1 lifetime against the Illini, winning by an average of 21.3 points per game. The Nittany Lions are 6-4 ATS in those games but, among those contests, own a 4-1 ATS record on the road, coving by an average of 13.3 points a game. Penn State has struggled within the conference recently, though, going just 1-5 ATS in its last six Big Ten games.
The undefeated Boilermakers take a brief break from Big Ten action when they host winless Notre Dame as 22-point favorites. Purdue is one of just four undefeated teams left in the conference and that record should remain unblemished against one of the worst all-around Notre Dame teams in history.
Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter made cutting down on mistakes his primary goal in the offseason after leading the nation with 19 interceptions a year ago. So far, so good as Painter has thrown 16 touchdowns compared to just one interception through four games this season. He threw for 398 yards and two scores last year against the Irish and could come close to matching that total in this yearâ€™s meeting.
The Boilermakers have been favorites over Notre Dame just six times in 22 meetings since 1980 and are 3-3 ATS in those contests. Theyâ€™ve been double-digit favorites just once and came away with a 23-10 win as 10.5-point favorites. The underdog has fared much better in this series, though, going 7-3 ATS in the last 10 meetings.
The Badgers may be an undefeated 4-0 this year but theyâ€™ve been far from impressive in doing so. They have failed to cover their last two games and wouldnâ€™t have covered its game against the Citadel if a spread had been given. Thatâ€™s probably the reason that Wisconsin has fallen in the polls despite being undefeated. The Badgers can regain a bit of respect this weekend when they host Michigan State, also undefeated, as 7.5-point favorites.