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Weekly Big 10 Preview

   by ASA - 10/25/2007

Penn State aims to end Ohio State’s undefeated season and stay atop the polls. Michigan looks for its seventh straight win with a struggling Minnesota team coming to Ann Arbor. Northwestern attempts to win its fourth straight games for the first time since 1996 against Purdue. And Wisconsin tries to contain Kellen Lewis and the explosive Indiana offense.

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

The book is officially out on the Illini as they have now dropped two straight following their 27-17 home loss to Michigan. Illinois climbed into the top 25 following its win over Wisconsin three weeks ago but has lost the two games following. The Illini will look to get back on the winning track when they host Ball State in a non-conference battle as 13.5-point favorites.

Illinois has relied heavily on Rashard Mendenhall and its running game this year. This reliance has been due in large part to the inability of quarterbacks Juice Williams and Eddie McGee to get anything going in the passing game. The Illini may be 10th in the nation in rushing offense but they are also 114th in passing offense. One-dimensional offenses are easy to stop and that has been the case the last two weeks with Illinois averaging just 11.5 points and 270 yards per game.

Lucky for the Illini their opponent this week, Ball State, is awful against the run, allowing 214.9 yards per game on the ground. On the other hand, though, Ball State owns one of the nation’s best passing offenses and could take advantage of Illinois’s 87th-ranked pass defense. The Illini are 0-3 ATS in their last three games against Mid-American Conference competition, including a 20-17 SU home loss to Ohio last year. It’s been a rare occurrence for Illinois to be double-digit home favorites recently as it has happened just 10 times since the 200 season. The Illini have gone just 4-6 ATS in those contests.

The Hoosiers gave Penn State everything they had last week, matching the Nittany Lions yard for yard. Four fumbles were their undoing, though, in a 36-31 home loss. Indiana has now lost two straight and now must play Wisconsin on the road as 7.5-point dogs.

Indiana was slaughtered 52-17 at home by the Badgers last year and will look to exact some revenge in this year’s meeting. The Hoosier offense failed to get anything going in that game, getting nearly doubled up in total yardage. Kellen Lewis struggled mightily in that game but Lewis is a different player this year. He’s a dual threat with his arm and his legs and could cause problems for a struggling Wisconsin stop unit.

The Hoosiers have lost two straight to the Badgers and are 2-8 SU in the last 10 meetings overall. They’ve been double-digit dogs in nine of those meetings making this game just the second time in 11 meetings that they’ve been single-digit dogs. Indiana has gone 3-1 ATS in the last four meetings, covering by an average of 20.5 points per game.

The Hawkeyes snapped their Big Ten losing streak two weeks ago with a win over Illinois but started up a new losing streak with an ugly 31-6 road loss at Purdue Saturday. Iowa will return home with hopes of stopping this streak at one this weekend when it hosts Michigan State as 3-point dogs.

The Iowa stop unit has been strong all season but the offense has reached new lows. The Hawkeyes have fallen to 109th in the country in total offense and 117th in scoring offense, out of 119 teams, and have been held to 16 or fewer points in six of eight games. One of their biggest problems has been protecting the quarterback as they’ve allowed four sacks per game this year, 116th in the nation. That doesn’t bode well when going up against a ferocious Michigan State pass rush, which is fourth in the country with 31 sacks this year.

This game marks the first meeting between the programs since the 2004 season when Iowa won 38-16. The Hawkeyes have owned the Spartans over the years, going 10-3 ATS in the last 13 meetings. Within those games, Iowa is 5-1 ATS at home. Additionally, dating back to 1980, the Hawkeyes are 9-1 ATS as the underdog within the series and 7-1 ATS when coming off a loss.

The turnaround in Ann Arbor continued as the Wolverines picked up their sixth straight win with a 27-17 road victory over Illinois. Michigan has now climbed back up to 19th in the AP Poll and will look to continue its ascent when it hosts Minnesota as 23-point favorites.

The Wolverines picked up their win over the Illini despite Heisman candidate Mike Hart being sidelined with an injury and quarterback Chad Henne nursing a hand injury. Henne shook off his injury while running back Carlos Brown stepped in admirably for Hart. Henne should be able to go this week but Hart may not be needed against a Minnesota team that is winless in conference action.

Michigan has absolutely dominated the Gophers over the years, going 23-2 SU and 16-9 ATS since 1980. Within the series, the Wolverines are 8-2-1 ATS when Minnesota is coming off a SU ATS loss and 8-3 ATS when the Gophers are under .500. They have been favorites of 20 or more points in amazing 12 times in those 25 games, going 11-1 SU and 7-5 ATS and winning by an average of 31.3 points per game.

Michigan State
The Spartans hung with the top-ranked Buckeyes last week, easily covering the 17-point spread in a 24-17 loss at the Horseshoe. In the end, though, they just weren’t able to compete with a superior Ohio State team. Michigan State will remain on the road this week but will have a much easier game against Iowa as 3-point road favorites.

Michigan State last played Iowa in 2004, falling 38-16 on the road. That game was much closer than the final score indicates so the Spartans will be looking to exact a measure of revenge in this year’s meeting. Jonal Saint-Dic, who is fifth in the nation with ninth sacks, leads an aggressive Spartan defense that is third in the country in tackles for loss and fourth in sacks per game. The Hawkeyes have had trouble keeping opponents out of the backfield all season so the Michigan State defense should have a field day.

The Spartans have traditionally struggled against Iowa but the Hawkeyes aren’t the same team they’ve been in the past. Iowa is 2-8 ATS in its last 10 conference games while Michigan State is 4-1 ATS in its last five conference outings. The Spartans have been favorites at Iowa just three times since 1980, going 0-3 ATS in those contests and losing two of those games outright. They have played well on the road lately, though, going 4-0 ATS in their last four road games overall.

Minnesota’s season continued its downward spiral when it lost its sixth straight game. This one came at home against Division IAA North Dakota State by a final tally of 27-21. Chances are that losing streak won’t be snapped this week when the Gophers travel to play Michigan as 23-point underdogs.

Basic logic suggested the struggling Minnesota defense would get healthy against the Bisons but it actually got worse. The Gophers allowed 585 total yards, including 394 on the ground. They are at or near the bottom of nearly every defensive statistical category and won’t get much of a respite against the surging Wolverines. Out of 119 Division I teams, the Gophers are now last in the country in both passing and total defense, 118th in turnover margin, 116th in sacks, 109th in scoring defense and 94th in rushing defense.

Despite Minnesota’s losing streak it is actually 5-1-1 ATS in its last seven conference games and 4-1-1 ATS in its last six games as the underdog. The Gophers have been dogs of 20 or more points 12 times since 1995, going 0-12 SU but a respectable 6-6 ATS. Minnesota’s complete ineptitude on the defensive side of the ball could very well turn this game into a blowout, though.

The Wildcats picked up their third straight win with a non-conference 26-14 victory over Eastern Michigan last week. They’ll look to extend their winning streak to four games for the first time since the 1996 season when they go on the road to Purdue as 12.5-point underdogs.

Northwestern lost 31-10 at home to the Boilermakers in last year’s meeting. The Wildcats were doubled up in total yardage in that game but this year should be a different story. Quarterback C.J. Bacher has quickly become one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten while leading Northwestern’s sixth-ranked passing offense. Bacher has thrown for an average of 450.3 yards per game during the winning streak with 10 touchdowns to just one interception.

The Wildcats have historically struggled against Purdue, going just 6-19 SU and 10-15 ATS since 1980. They have won two of the last three meetings both SU and ATS, though. Additionally, within this series the road team is 7-2 ATS in the last nine meetings.

Ohio State
Ohio State received a slight late scare from Michigan State last week but held onto the lead and the top spot in the polls with a 24-17 win over the Spartans. The Buckeyes’ first eight games featured little competition but this week’s game at Penn State should give them their first real test of the season. They are 3.5-point road favorites.

The Buckeyes down the Nittany Lions 28-6 last year but the game was much closer than the final tally suggests. Ohio State tacked on two late interception returns for touchdowns, making a one-score game into a three-score game. The Buckeyes have relied mostly on their rushing attack to move the ball this season but the Penn State defense should prove to be a tough unit to move as it is ninth in the nation in rush defense.

Ohio State has been favored five times in seven meetings at Penn State, including the last three road meetings overall. The Buckeyes lost all three of those meetings ATS and two of three SU. Overall, though, they are 8-3 ATS when favored over the Lions. Additionally, Ohio State is 9-2 ATS in its last 11 road games, 19-7 ATS in its last 26 conference games and 20-7 ATS in its last 27 games overall.

Penn State
The Nittany Lions picked up their first road win of the season last week with a narrow 36-31 at Indiana. Looking ahead to this week’s game with Ohio State could have led to a letdown but Penn State avoided it. The Lions will look for their fourth straight win and an upset of top-ranked Ohio State when they host the Buckeyes as 3.5-point dogs.

Two of the nation’s top defenses will square off in this game. Penn State is fourth in the nation in scoring defense at 15 points allowed per game while Ohio State is first with just 7.9 points a game. That’s nothing new for these two teams as low-scoring games have littered this series over the years. None of the last five meetings have exceeded 41 points and only two of the last nine meetings have surpassed that mark.

Consistently strong defenses have led to both teams favoring the under recently. Four of the last five games in the series have stayed under the total. Also, the under has combined to go 11-2 in the last 13 October games between the programs and 27-11-1 in the last 39 combined conference games.

Purdue stopped its losing streak at two with a convincing 31-6 home win over Iowa last week, matching the team’s fewest points allowed this season. The game marked just the third time since the 2004 season that the Boilermakers allowed single-digit points. They’ll look to build on that effort this weekend when they host Northwestern at 12.5-point favorites.

Quarterback Curtis Painter and the passing offense had their way with Northwestern in last year’s 31-10 road win, throwing for 448 yards. The passing offense has struggled in Purdue’s two losses this year but rebounded last week with 315 yards and three scores through the air. The Wildcats are 87th in the nation in stopping the pass this year so Painter should be able to have another solid outing.

The Boilermakers are 19-6 SU against Northwestern since 1980 and 8-2 SU in the last 10 meetings overall. They’re just 5-7 ATS at home versus the Wildcats since 1982, though, including a 34-29 SU loss in the last meeting in West Lafayette. Additionally, Purdue has struggled recently as double-digit home favorites, going just 2-5 ATS in the last seven occurrences.

Northern Illinois couldn’t have at a better time for the struggling Badgers. Wisconsin snapped out of its two-game funk with a 44-3 thrashing of the Huskies as part of Homecoming weekend. The Badgers remain home this weekend with Indiana coming to town as 7.5-point favorites.

Wisconsin thoroughly dominated the Hoosiers, winning 52-17 on the road behind dominating performances on both sides of the ball. The Badgers defense will be tested much more in this year’s meeting and it’s debatable whether the unit will be up to the task. Wisconsin allowed 34.3 points a game in its three games prior to Northern Illinois and now must face Indiana’s 25th-ranked scoring offense.

This meeting marks the first time since the 1991 season that the Badgers have been single-digit home favorites against the Hoosiers. Wisconsin is just 6-4 SU and 5-5 ATS in 10 home meetings with Indiana since 1982, including just 1-2 ATS in the three games in which it was favored by single digits. The Badgers are a historically strong home team, though, going 14-6 ATS in their last 20 home contests.

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