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Weekly Big 10 Preview

   by ASA - 10/11/2007

Illinois looks to hold down its spot in the top 25 against Iowa. Michigan State aims to avoid another midseason swoon. Michigan attempts to continue its domination over Purdue. Northwestern looks to capitalize on Minnesota’s secondary woes. And Wisconsin tries to rebound from its first loss of the season against Penn State.

Here’s a look forward to the week that will be in the Big Ten.

Illinois

The Illini joined the top 25 for the first time since the 2001 season when they ended Wisconsin’s 14-game winning streak with a 36-21 victory last weekend. A national ranking automatically puts a bulls-eye on Illinois with Iowa getting the first crack at sending the Illini back out of the top 25. Illinois, which is riding its first five-game winning streak since that 2001 season, will be 3.5-point road favorites.

The Illinois offense was unable to get anything going in last year’s meeting with Iowa with Juice Williams throwing three interceptions and the running game averaging just 3.5 yards per carry in a 24-7 home loss. The Illini are currently fifth in the country with 261.2 rushing yards per game and will need a bettor effort this time around if they are to take out an Iowa team desperate for a win.

Illinois has dropped four straight decisions to Iowa but has covered two of the last three meetings. This is rarely ventured territory for the Illini, though, as they’ve been favorites at Iowa just three times since 1982. They have won the last two occurrences but those games came in 1989 and 1999. The favorite is 7-2 ATS in the last nine meetings between the programs, though, which bodes well for Illinois.

Indiana

The Hoosiers matched last season’s win total when they improved to 5-1 SU and 4-1 ATS on the season last week following their 40-20 win over Minnesota. Indiana will try to reach six wins for the first time since 1993 when it travels to Michigan State as 5-point dogs.

Indiana snapped a four-game losing streak to Michigan State last year with a convincing 46-21 win over the Spartans. The Hoosiers fell behind 7-0 in that game but then proceeded to run off 46 straight points behind five Kellen Lewis touchdown passes, four of which went to James Hardy.

Last year’s 25-point win as 7-point dogs marked the first ATS win for Indiana over Michigan State since 2001. The Hoosiers are just 6-18 SU and 9-15 ATS versus the Spartans since 1981 but are 4-1 ATS in their last five games overall. Indiana has been underdogs in East Lansing in every meeting since 1981 but the five-point spread in this game marks the fewest amount of points it has ever received.

Iowa

Iowa’s struggles continued when it lost 27-7 to Penn State, marking its eighth straight Big Ten contest. The Hawkeyes’ overall losing streak is now at four and they’ll look to snap it this weekend when they host 18th-ranked Illinois as 3.5-point underdogs.

The Hawkeyes took out Illinois last year 24-7 in their conference opener but this is a very different Illini team. They’ll need to get their defense, which has allowed 65 points the last two games, back on track after it allowed just 35 points in their first four games. Iowa will have to especially tighten up its rush defense, which surrendered 256 rushing yards to Penn State last week and now must face Illinois’s fifth-ranked rushing attack.

Iowa has won its last two home games against the Illini by an average of 29.5 points, easily covering both contests. The home team is 5-0 ATS in the last five meetings overall and the Hawkeyes will attempt to keep that record perfect. Iowa put together a home record of 23-3 SU and 22-4 ATS from 2002 to 2005 but have gone just 3-6 ATS since.

Michigan

The Wolverines once again got a scare from a far inferior team but this time pulled away in picking up a 33-22 win over Mid-American Conference foe Eastern Michigan. Their win improved their SU record to 4-2 and extended their winning streak to four straight. They’ll look to make if five straight this weekend when they host Purdue as 5.5-point favorites.

This year’s meeting marks the first time Michigan has played Purdue since the 2004 season. The Wolverines won that contest to extend their winning streak within the series to four games. They have dominated their series with the Boilermakers, going 18-3 SU since 1981 and 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings.

Within those games, Michigan is 9-1 ATS when Purdue owns a record of .500 or better and 11-0 SU and 8-3 ATS at home. And the Wolverines haven’t just beaten the Boilermakers at home, they have dominated them. Those 11 straight home wins have come by an average of 25.5 points per game with only one coming by single digits.

Michigan State

The Spartans did not rebound from their loss to Wisconsin the way head coach Mark Dantonio had hoped, falling 48-41 at home to Northwestern last week. The loss evoked flashbacks of the John L. Smith regime as Michigan State again started a season strong only to flounder once the leaves started to turn. The Spartans will look to reverse that trend Saturday when they host Indiana as 5-point favorites.

Michigan State lost an embarrassing 46-21 decision to the Hoosiers last week and will look to exact some revenge this year. Its running attack will have to play a large role if that revenge is to be exacted. Indiana has proven susceptible to a strong running game so the 14th-ranked Spartans running game, which tallied 287 yards on just 32 carries last week, should find some holes.

Prior to last season’s loss to Indiana, the Spartans had owned the Hoosiers. Overall, Michigan State is 9-2 SU in the last 11 meetings and 7-3 ATS in the last 10 games and 18-6 SU and 15-9 ATS in the last 24. The Spartans have struggled mightily at home, though, going just 3-13 ATS in their last 16 homes contests.

Minnesota

Minnesota allowed at least 30 points for the sixth time in six games in losing 40-20 to Indiana to extend its losing streak to four straight. The Gophers currently sit at the bottom of the Big Ten standings with an 0-3 conference record and a 1-5 (1-4-1 ATS) mark overall. Minnesota will try to stop the bleeding on the road at Northwestern this weekend as a touchdown underdog.

Pass defense has been a problem for the Gophers all season and their secondary will receive yet another test this weekend from the Wildcats. Minnesota is last in the country with 345.8 passing yards allowed per game and must take on a Northwestern passing game that has climbed to 18th in the nation following a 520-yard showing last week.

The Gophers have won three straight games over the Wildcats but haven’t faced them since the 2004 campaign. Minnesota is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games with Northwestern and is a perfect 4-0 ATS in the last four meetings in Evanston. But the Gophers have been plagued by poor coverage and an awful turnover ratio, two key ingredients to a losing recipe.

Northwestern

The Wildcats snapped their three-game slide and climbed back to .500 with their 48-41 overtime win at Michigan State Saturday. Northwestern has a chance to move over .500 when it hosts Big Ten cellar-dweller Minnesota this weekend as 7-point favorites.

A big part of Northwestern’s success last week was quarterback C.J. Bacher limited mistakes. Bacher has a solid year in his first full season as the starter but has been plagued by inconsistency, throwing four touchdowns and no interceptions in the first two games and zero touchdowns and seven interceptions in his next three. He responded this week with five touchdowns and no interceptions to go along with 520 passing yards.

Bacher has a great chance to build on that performance against a Minnesota defense that can neither stop the pass nor force turnovers. A win would snap Northwestern’s three-game losing streak to the Gophers but the Wildcats haven’t fared well as the favorite in this series and overall. They have been favored just four times against Minnesota since 1980 and is just 1-3 ATS in those games and are just 7-21 ATS in their last 28 games as a home favorite overall.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes continued their ascent up the rankings with another dominating defensive performance in their 23-7 win over previously unbeaten Purdue. The win extended Ohio State’s regular-season winning streak to 24 and its conference winning streak to 17. The Buckeyes can extend their regular-season streak this weekend when they host Kent State as 30-point favorites.

Ohio State is now in the top 3 in four major defensive statistical categories: first in scoring defense, second in rushing and total defense and third in pass efficiency defense. That doesn’t bode well for a Kent State team that is 77th in the country in scoring offense. If the Buckeyes can hold Purdue’s previously eighth-ranked offense to just seven points, the Golden Flashes will have little chance of moving the ball.

The Buckeyes are a perfect 13-0 SU against MAC schools since 1992 but are just 4-7 ATS in those contests, including an earlier ATS loss this season to Akron. Ohio State was favored by 30 or more points in three of those games and went 1-2 ATS. It has been favored by 30 or more points 22 times since 1980 and has gone 12-10 ATS in those contests.

Penn State

Penn State rebounded from its 0-2 road trip with a 27-7 home win over Iowa Saturday for its first win in conference action. It was a dominating performance by the Nittany Lions as they outgained the Hawkeyes by nearly 300 yards. They are now 4-0 at home this year and will look to keep that record unblemished when they host Wisconsin this weekend as 6.5-point favorites.

The Lions dropped an ugly 13-3 decision in their battle with the Badgers last year, totaling just 36 rushing yards on less than two yards per carry. This year could be a different story. Penn State tallied 256 rushing yards on 50 carries last week and are facing a Wisconsin stop unit that has struggled to stop the run this year.

Penn State is just 3-7 ATS versus the Badgers since joining the Big Ten in 1995. The Lions haven’t fared well against good competition this year, going 0-2 against Michigan and Illinois but 4-0 against teams with a combined record of 5-19 SU. The favorite in this series is 4-0 ATS in the last four meetings, though, while Penn State is 11-5 ATS in its last 16 home games.

Purdue

The Boilermakers faced their first true test Saturday and failed miserably, getting completely dominated in a 23-7 home loss to Ohio State. They’ll look to get back on track this weekend but it won’t come easy against a rejuvenated Michigan team at home and riding a four-game winning streak.

Purdue started the 2006 campaign with four straight wins only to lose four of its next five games. It started this season with five straight wins and will look to avoid the same fate it suffered a year ago. Another similarity could be the production of the offense. The Boilermakers’ offense was among the nation’s best through four games last year but averaged just 15.8 points per game over a six-game stretch in conference action. They proved last week that their offense couldn’t hang with Ohio State’s defense and must face an improving Michigan defense this week.

The Boilermakers have historically struggled against the Wolverines, going just 3-18 SU and 9-12 ATS since 1980. Additionally, they have lost three straight games ATS in Ann Arbor and are 1-4-1 ATS in the last six meetings overall.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s first loss was bound to happen eventually as it was flirting with disaster for weeks. It finally came in a 31-26 road loss to Illinois in which Wisconsin couldn’t stop the Illini running attack. The Badgers will continue their road trip this weekend when they travel to Penn State as 6.5-point dogs.

The Badgers won last year’s battle with the Lions 13-3 by controlling the clock with their dominating running attack and stout run defense. P.J. Hill churned out 148 yards on the ground in giving Wisconsin a plus-15 minute time of possession advantage. The Badgers will need another workmanlike effort from Hill in this meeting in order to keep a suddenly struggling Wisconsin defense off the field.

Wisconsin is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 meetings with Penn State, including a 3-2 mark in Happy Valley. This has traditionally been a good spot for the Badgers as they are 7-2-1 ATS in their last 10 road games and 19-7-2 ATS in their last 28 games as the underdog. This year has been a little different, though, as they have dropped four straight contests ATS.

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