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Big 10 Weekly Preview

   by ASA - 10/16/2007

Ohio State will attempt to set a school record for consecutive conference wins and stay atop the national rankings. Penn State will aim to win its first road contest of the year. Michigan will try to continue to climb back up the polls. Purdue will look to get its once potent offensive attack back on track against Iowa’s stout defense. And Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin will all step out of conference.

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

Illinois’ stay in the top 25 was short-lived as the Illini fell 10-6 on the road at Iowa last week. They’ll look to reenter the top 25 this week but will have their hands full against a Michigan team that has won five straight. Illinois will be home dogs for the second time this season, receiving 2.5 points from the Wolverines.

The Illini hasn’t squared off against Michigan since 2004, dropping a 30-19 decision in that contest. Illinois’ bread and butter all season has been its running game but it failed miserably last week at Iowa, totaling just 137 yards, its lowest total since its season-opening loss to Missouri. Rashard Mendenhall and the offensive line will need to get back on track if the Illini are to upset Michigan.

Illinois has been underdogs to Michigan in the last 15 meetings dating back to 1985 but game marks the fewest points it is receiving since 1989 when it received the same 2.5 points it’s getting this weekend. The Illini have fared very well as underdogs recently, going 6-1 ATS in the last seven occurrences. Additionally, the home team is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings between the programs.

The Hoosiers played their worst game of the year in their 52-27 loss at Michigan State last week. Indiana will try to get back on track and eclipse its 2006 win total this weekend as 7.5-point home dogs to Penn State.

Indiana has never beaten the Nittany Lions, going 0-10 (3-7 ATS) dating back to 1993. The last meeting came in 2004 with the Hoosiers narrowly losing 22-18, its closest margin of defeat since the 2000 season. The normally potent Indiana offense had its worst outing of the season last week and will need a better performance this week. It won’t be easy against Penn State’s fifth-ranked defense.

The Hoosiers have not fared well in this situation in the past, going just 12-24 ATS in their last 36 games as home dogs of a touchdown or less. Within those games, they are just 6-17 ATS when coming off a loss. This Indiana team isn’t the same as years past though. It is 5-2 ATS on the season and is 4-1 ATS in its last five games following both a SU and ATS loss.

Iowa snapped its eight-game conference losing streak by upsetting 18th-ranked Illinois at home 10-6. The Hawkeyes will look to start up their first conference winning streak since the 2005 season when they travel to Purdue as touchdown underdogs.

The Hawkeyes destroyed Purdue 47-17 in last year’s meeting, jumping out to a 20-0 lead and never looking back. They controlled the game with a dominating running attack and will look to do the same this year against Purdue’s 52nd-ranked rush defense. Iowa ran for 141 yards against a stout Illinois defense and will need another solid effort to keep up with Purdue’s high-scoring offense. A strong defensive showing will also be needed if Iowa wants to pull off the road upset. The Hawkeyes are ninth in the country in scoring defense while Purdue is 21st in scoring offense.

Iowa has won three straight over Purdue both SU and ATS, winning by an average of 16.3 points and covering by an average of 14.7 points a contest. Additionally, the Hawkeyes have fared well as heavy underdogs, going 12-4 ATS in their last 16 games as dogs of 3.5-10 points. They are just 6-14 ATS in their last 20 games overall, though, including a 2-7 ATS mark in their last nine conference games.

Now this is the Michigan team that everyone expected to see throughout the year. The Wolverines have now won five straight games following their 48-21 dismantling of Purdue last week. They’ll look to make it six straight at Illinois as 2.5-point favorites, but might have to do so without Heisman candidate Mike Hart.

Hart suffered an ankle injury in the Purdue game and is currently listed as probable. Michigan is very thin at running back behind Hart so if he can’t go that’ll leave the offense without much of a running game. Hart had a huge game the last time these two teams met, running for 234 yards in leading the Wolverines to a 30-19 win in 2004.

The Wolverines have dominated this series over the years, going 18-3-2 SU since 1980 and winning by an average of 20.1 points a game. They’ve gone only 12-11 ATS in those games but are 3-1 ATS in the last four meetings, covering by 13.8 points per game. Also, Michigan is 8-2 ATS in both its last 10 conference games and its last 10 road contests.

Michigan State
The Spartans rebounded from a two-game losing streak in a big way, downing Indiana 52-27 at home. The win gave them their fifth win of the year, surpassing last year’s total with five games to play. Michigan State will look to make it two in a row on the road at top-ranked Ohio State as 17.5-point underdogs.

Michigan State was pounded at home by the Buckeyes last year, giving up the game’s first 38 points before getting a garbage-time touchdown. The offense couldn’t move the ball and the defense couldn’t stop the ball so the Spartans will look to reverse their fortunes this time around. The focus of the Spartans offense has been its ninth-ranked rushing attack but they’ll have a hard time running against Ohio State’s second-ranked rush defense.

This is not an unusual spot for Michigan State as it has played 17 top-ranked teams in its history, winning three of those games. Two of those wins came against these same Buckeyes, most recently in 1998 in a 28-24 win at Ohio State. The Spartans are just 4-15 SU against Ohio State since 1980 but are 10-9 ATS in those games. None of those covers have come recently, though, as they have lost the four meetings ATS.

And the beat, or is the beating, goes on. Minnesota’s losing streak reached five games when the Gophers fell 49-48 in overtime after building a 35-14 lead. The defense was once again to blame as it allowed 589 total yards, including 470 through the air. Minnesota might actually be able to stop somebody this weekend when it hosts North Dakota State.

Minnesota’s 119th-ranked defense may get a week off against Division I-AA North Dakota State but that doesn’t guarantee the losing streak will stop. The Gophers narrowly beat the Bison 10-9 last year at home, actually getting outgained by 131 yards. The way the Gophers are playing right now, there’s a good argument to be made that North Dakota State, if there was a line on the game, should actually be favored.

The Gophers are just 2-4-1 ATS this year and have surrendered at least 30 points in every game this year. They are last in the nation in passing and total defense, 118th in turnover margin and 114th in scoring defense.

The Wildcats staged a remarkable three-touchdown comeback to pick up a 49-48 overtime win over Minnesota. The win was their second straight Big Ten win, marking their first conference winning streak since 2005. Northwestern won’t get a chance to extend that streak this weekend as it steps out of conference to play Eastern Michigan as 10-point road favorites.

Quarterback C.J. Bacher had his second straight standout game, throwing for 470 yards and four touchdowns. That improves his two-game totals to 990 yards on a 75 percent completion rate with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. He should have another strong outing against Eastern Michigan’s 83rd-ranked pass efficiency defense.

Northwestern narrowly downed Eastern Michigan 14-6 last year but it has a much more potent offense this year. The Wildcats have won four straight games over MAC foes but are just 4-5 ATS versus the conference dating back to 1999.

Ohio State
The Buckeyes climbed back to the top spot in the AP polls courtesy of losses from LSU and Cal and a lackluster effort by Kent State. Ohio State has yet to really be challenged by a good team this year but could get a solid effort from Michigan State this week. The Buckeyes will host the Spartans 18-point favorites.

Ohio State dominated Michigan State in a 38-7 win last year behind an efficient offense and a stout defensive effort. The Buckeyes have used that same formula in going 7-0 this year, led by the nation’s best defense. They have now won 17 straight Big Ten contests, matching the school record. They should set the record if they can stifle Michigan State’s ninth-ranked rushing offense.

The Buckeyes have won five straight over the Spartans, 10 of the last 12 meetings and 15 of 19 meetings dating back to 1980. The 18-point spread is the most Ohio State has been favored by over Michigan State since 1998 when it was favored by 27.5 points, only to lose 28-24 outright. Within the series, the Buckeyes are just 2-7 ATS at home and 2-6 ATS as double-digit favorites.

Penn State
Penn State put together its second consecutive dominating home performance with its 38-7 win over Wisconsin to even its conference record at 2-2. Now the Nittany Lions must head back out on the road, where they are 0-2 on the season, to take on Indiana as 7.5-point favorites.

This game marks the first meeting between the programs since 2004, a game that Penn State won 22-18. The Nittany Lions have never lost to the Hoosiers since joining the Big Ten, going 10-0 SU and 7-3 ATS, including five straight ATS wins. If they are to keep that record perfect they must play better on the road.

The Nittany Lions are a perfect 5-0 at home this year but have lost both of their road contests this year, falling by five at Michigan and by a touchdown at Illinois. Dating back to 2003, Penn State is just 6-13-1 ATS in its last 20 road games, losing 14 of those games outright. Anthony Morelli has exemplified the team’s road struggles, completing just 52 percent of his passes with three interceptions and just one touchdown compared to a 61 percent completion rate with 10 touchdowns and just three picks.

The Boilermakers are looking less and less like they belong with the big boys, dropping their second consecutive game in a 48-21 loss at Michigan. They’ll look to even their conference record at 2-2 when they host Iowa this weekend as 7-point favorites.

Much like last year, Purdue is showing chinks in the armor following a strong start to the season. The Boilermakers won their first five games before dropping their last two this year and won their first four last year before losing four of their next five games. One of those losses came in a 47-7 defeat at the hands of the same Iowa team they play this week.

Purdue has now lost three straight, both SU and ATS, to the Hawkeyes. The Boilermakers were one of the countries best offenses through five games, averaging 45.4 points on 495.8 yards per game. Since then, they have averaged just 14 points on 282 yards per game. Purdue has to get its offense back on track if it wants to get back in the win column but that could be difficult against Iowa’s ninth-ranked scoring defense.

A week after seeing its 14-game winning streak snapped Wisconsin now has a two-game losing streak following a 38-7 drubbing at the hands of Penn State. The Badgers will attempt to regain their winning magic this week and should have no problem doing so against MAC member Northern Illinois. Wisconsin is 23.5-point favorites over the 1-6 (2-4 ATS) Huskies.

Wisconsin has played Northern Illinois seven times since 1983, going 6-1 in those contests. The only lined contest came in the last meeting in 2004 when the Badgers won 24-21 as 22-point home favorites.

The Badgers are 19-1 SU over the Mid-American Conference since 1981, going 6-4 ATS overall and 4-1 ATS in the last five contests. Wisconsin has been favored by 23 or more points 14 times since 1981, going 13-1 SU and 8-6 ATS in those contests. It has dropped its last two games under that scenario, beating MAC member Buffalo by just 32 points as 39-point favorites last year and UNLV by just a touchdown as 25-point favorites earlier this season.

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