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Big 10 Preview

   by ASA - 11/15/2007

Michigan and Ohio State meet with the conference crown on the line for the second straight year. Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State and Northwestern all look to cement a bowl berth. And Wisconsin looks to maintain its hold on the Paul Bunyan Axe by keeping Minnesota winless in Big Ten action.

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

The Illini proved last year’s near upset of then-No. 1 Ohio State was no fluke as they followed through on the threat in this year’s meeting. Juice Williams had the best game of his career with four touchdowns to lead Illinois to a 28-21 upset road win over the top-ranked Buckeyes. The Illini will look to extend their three-game winning streak as a 13.5-point home favorite over Northwestern in the regular season finale.

The Illinois secondary will need to follow up its strong showing last week with another this week against Northwestern’s potent aerial attack. The Illini are just 74th in the nation in pass defense but their three interceptions of Todd Boeckman proved to be the difference last week. Northwestern lives and dies with quarterback C.J. Bacher’s success so if Illinois can repeat last week’s performance it should be in good shape.

The Illini have lost four consecutive SU to Northwestern and just 1-6 ATS in the last seven meetings. But the Illini are coming off back-to-back easy road wins in which they covered by an average of 19.3 points. They’ll be back at home for this game, where they are 36-4-1 SU as double-digit favorites since 1980.

The Hoosiers were completely outplayed by Northwestern last week but still had a chance to pull out the win. It was not to be though as the Indiana defense surrendered a last-minute touchdown to fall 31-28. The Hoosiers are bowl eligible with six wins but so are so are three other Big Ten teams. They’ll need a seventh win to increase their chances for a postseason game and will look to capture that win when they host Purdue as 2-point dogs this weekend.

Indiana outplayed the Boilermakers in last year’s meeting, outgaining Purdue and forcing five turnovers. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they couldn’t take care of the ball either as they fumbled four times. Kellen Lewis and James Hardy both played great games with Lewis accounting for 393 total yards and Hardy catching nine passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. Indiana will need similar performances from both if it is to conclude its regular season with a win.

Last year’s meeting with Purdue was the closest the Hoosiers had been to beating the Boilermakers in a long time. Indiana has now lost five straight against Purdue, losing by an average of 20.4 points per game. The Hoosiers have fared well as home dogs recently in the series, covering two of the last three occurrences by an average of 12.5 points per game. Additionally, the home team is 7-2 ATS in the last nine meetings.

Iowa concluded its Big Ten schedule by narrowly beating the lone winless team in conference action, Minnesota, 21-16. The Hawkeyes, who could potentially be distracted by an off-the-field incidence, will conclude their regular season with a solid chance at their seventh win when they host Western Michigan as 14-point favorites.

The Hawkeyes have played Western Michigan just once before and that resulted in a 27-21 home loss in 2000. That game marked the only time Iowa has lost to a Mid-American Conference team since 1994, with the Hawkeyes going 13-1 SU and 10-2 ATS overall during that period. Iowa played the MAC’s Northern Illinois earlier this year, narrowly covering a 12.5-point spread in a 16-3 win over the 2-8 Huskies.

Western Michigan has struggled mightily this season, going just 1-7-1 ATS on the year, including a 37-27 home loss to Indiana in Week 2. But the Hawkeyes also lost at home to the Hoosiers, and by a larger margin in a 38-20 result. Iowa, which has won three straight, is 8-1-1 ATS in its last 10 games versus the MAC and 36-16 ATS in its last 52 games as a home favorite.

The Wolverines saw their undefeated conference mark ended with a brutal 37-21 loss at Wisconsin last week. That might not matter much to Michigan, though, as Chad Henne and Mike Hart saw little action due to “injuries.â€쳌 While there’s no doubt Henne and Hart are ailing, they could’ve played if necessary. The extra rest will ensure better health for Henne and Hart when Michigan hosts Ohio State this weekend as 4-point dogs with the Big Ten title on the line.

Michigan gave Ohio State a good battle in last year’s meeting before falling 42-39. Henne and Hart both had solid outings, combining for five touchdowns. Henne is 0-3 in his career against the Buckeyes but he hasn’t played that bad. He has completed 59 percent of his passes for 272.7 yards per game with five touchdowns and just two interceptions. Henne will finish his career atop nearly every Michigan passing statistic but the one thing he wants the most, to beat Ohio State, he has never done.

The Wolverines have lost three straight to the Buckeyes, going just 1-2 ATS and losing by more than a touchdown per game. Michigan has won seven of the last nine meetings SU in Ann Arbor, winning by an average of 14.4 points a game. The Wolverines have been home dogs just four times since 1995 and have gone 3-1 SU and ATS in those games. The only ATS loss in those games came by one point to Ohio State in 2005.

Michigan State
The Spartans responded in a way few expected, rebounding from a disheartening loss to rival Michigan to down Purdue 48-31 on the road. They posted their most well-balanced offensive game of the season, throwing for 266 yards and running for 150. Michigan State could still secure itself a bowl berth but it won’t be easy. It will host Penn State Saturday as 2.5-point dogs.

Michigan State has lost three straight to the Nittany Lions but last year’s game was closer than expected. The Spartans went into the game as 19-point underdogs but actually took a 13-7 lead into halftime. A lack of a consistent running game, which produced just 14 yards, was their undoing. Penn State again has a top notch rush defense but Michigan State is now a top-20 rushing offense with 205.4 rushing yards per game.

The Spartans are just 3-11 SU against Penn State since 1993 but they are 5-2 ATS at home within the series, covering those five contests by 11.3 points per game. Additionally, Michigan State has played well against the better teams, going 4-1 ATS in its last five games against teams with winning records. Penn State has not though, going just 1-4 ATS in the same scenario.

The Gophers posted their best defensive showing of the year by far last weekend but it still wasn’t enough as they dropped a 21-16 decision to Iowa. That loss likely ended Minnesota’s chances of posting a conference win as it hosts Wisconsin as 13.5-point dogs this weekend.

The battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe has been a lopsided one recently as the Gophers have lost the last three meetings. Minnesota trailed 41-3 midway through the third quarter in last year’s meeting in losing 48-12. The Gophers were doubled up in yardage and trailed in time of possession by more than seven minutes. Minnesota has lost five straight ATS to Wisconsin and is just 9-16-2 ATS within the series since 1980.

Northwestern rode a strong defensive performance and solid running from Tyrell Sutton in overcoming three C.J. Bacher interceptions to down Indiana 31-28 last week. One more win would go a long way toward securing a bowl berth for the Wildcats but that win could be hard to get. They’ll travel to Illinois as 13.5-poing dogs in the regular season finale this weekend.

The Wildcats played Illinois in the regular season finale last year and came away with a 27-16 win. Northwestern used a 110-yard, clock-chewing performance from Sutton to nearly double up the Illini in time of possession in that game and will a similar showing this year. The Wildcats are only 90th in the country in rushing offense but Sutton has run for 329 yards on 4.8 yards per carry in his three games since returning from injury.

Northwestern has dominated its series with Illinois recently, winning four consecutive outright and six of the last seven ATS. The Wildcats have fared especially well on the road within the series, going 11-3 ATS in Champaign including a 5-1 ATS in their last six trips. Northwestern has also enjoyed success as the underdog recently, going 7-3 ATS in the last 10 occurrences.

Ohio State
The Buckeyes had a good run atop the polls but that run, along with their chances of a national championship, came to an end with their 28-21 home loss to Illinois last week. The Big Ten crown is still up for grabs, though, and Ohio State will have no problem getting up for it when it plays rival Michigan as 4-point road favorites.

The Ohio State offense paved the way for a 42-39 win over the Wolverines in last year’s matchup. Most of the damage done in that game came from players no longer on the roster so it will be up to quarterback Todd Boeckman and the rest of the offense to rebound from last week’s poor showing. Running back Chris Wells and wideout Brian Robiskie are the only two returning players from last year’s game that had an impact on offense – both scored touchdowns – and they’ll needed to do the same this year.

Since taking over the program in 2001, head coach Jim Tressel has absolutely owned Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr. Tressel is 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS since over Carr since coming to Columbus, including 2-1 SU and ATS marks in Ann Arbor. Additionally, the Buckeyes are 4-1 ATS over Michigan when following a loss and 7-1 ATS in their last eight games following an ATS loss overall.

Penn State
The Nittany Lions are coming what essentially amounts to a bye week following their 31-0 blanking of Temple last week. Penn State held the hapless Owls to just four rushing yards but it will a much tougher time against Michigan State’s 21st-ranked rush offense this week. The Lions will travel to East Lansing as 2.5-point favorites.

Penn State overcome four fumbles and a subpar showing from Anthony Morelli to pull out a 17-13 win in last year’s meeting with the Spartans. The win marked Penn State’s third straight win over Michigan State and its eleventh in 14 meetings since 1993. The Lions have struggled in East Lansing, though, going just 2-5 ATS. Their three SU losses have all come on the road and have come by an average of 24.3 points per game.

The road has not been kind to the Penn State recently as it is just 8-14 SU and 7-15 ATS in its last 22 road contests. The Nittany Lions have been favored in each of their four road games this year but are just 2-2 SU and 1-3 ATS in those contests with the only ATS win coming in last week’s game at Temple.

The Purdue defense, which had made significant strides this season, reverted back to its tendencies of a year ago in a 48-31 loss to Michigan State in its home finale. The Boilermakers will look to correct those mistakes this week when they play Indiana as 2-point road favorites.

The Boilermakers overcame four Curtis Painter interceptions to down the Hoosiers 28-19 in last year’s matchup. Purdue will need a much better performance from Painter in this year’s meeting if it is to snap its current two-game slide. Indiana boasts a quick strike, potentially explosive offense that can take advantage of turnovers.

The in-state rivalry between Purdue and Indiana has been extremely one-sided. Purdue has won five straight in the series and nine of the last 10 meetings and has won by an average of 26.1 points per game. Additionally, the favorite is 5-2 ATS in the last seven games within the series. The Boilermakers are 4-1 ATS in their last five games as a small road favorite of three points or less and are 6-2-1 ATS in their last nine games overall.

Wisconsin beat Michigan in Madison for the second straight time when it took down the Wolverines and their depleted offense in a 37-21 win. The Badgers, who could be without starting quarterback Tyler Donovan, will look to carry that momentum over into this weekend’s contest against Minnesota with the Paul Bunyan Axe on the line.

The last time these teams met in the Twin Cities resulted in a wild finish that resulted in a 38-34 Wisconsin victory. The Badgers scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes, including a block punt recovered in the end zone, to overcome a late 10-point deficit. That win gave Wisconsin back-to-back wins in the series and last year’s win made it three straight.

The Badgers, who are 13.5-point favorites, have covered five straight contests within the series, covering by an average of 13.4 points per game. They’ve been double-digit favorites at Minnesota just twice since 1983 and have split those contests both SU and ATS. Five of the Gophers’ seven conference losses have come by 13 or more points, including 14-, 23- and 27-point losses at home.

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