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Big 10 Football Preview

   by ASA - 11/01/2007

The Badgers will look to make it four straight wins at the Horseshoe against the top-ranked Buckeyes. Michigan State, Northwestern and Indiana will aim to become bowl eligible. Curtis Painter and Purdue will attempt to reverse their struggles against Penn State. And Michigan hopes to welcome Chad Henne and Mike Hart back to the starting lineup.

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

Illinois
Illinois earned bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2001 campaign with its 28-17 win over Ball State. The win also snapped a two-game slide and prepared the Illini for the final month of the regular season. Illinois will aim to make it two in a row when it travels to Minnesota to take on the winless Gophers as 11.5-point favorites.

This week’s game marks the first meeting between the programs since the 2004 season. The Illini were destroyed 45-0 in that game but this time around will be much different. Illinois has already matched its combined win total of the previous three seasons combined while Minnesota sits at just 1-8.

The Illini have lost three straight games to the Gophers dating back to 2002 but are in the rare position of being the favorite in the meeting. They have won the last four meetings in which they’ve been favored and are 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS in the last five occurrences in which they’ve been double-digit favorites. Only one of those five games came at Minnesota and it resulted in a 50-23 Illinois win in 1983.

Indiana
The Hoosiers remain one win shy of bowl eligibility following their 33-3 shellacking at the hands of Wisconsin, extending their losing streak to three straight. Indiana will look to pick up that elusive sixth win this weekend when it hosts in-state rival Ball State as 6.5-point favorites.

These two programs last met a year ago in the second game of the season for each team. Indiana fell behind 23-7 in the first half but stormed back to win 24-23, aided greatly by a missed Ball State extra point. The Hoosiers, who have allowed 40.3 points per game during their losing streak, will need to sure up their defense this week in preparation for Ball State’s 22nd-ranked total offense.

Indiana has played Ball State three times since 1997 and have gone 3-0 SU but 0-2 ATS, winning by just 6.5 points in the two lined meetings. The Hoosiers, who have already beaten Western Michigan and Akron, have won 18 straight contests over Mid-American Conference programs dating back to 1989 and are 6-2-1 ATS in those contests. Additionally, they are 5-1 ATS versus the conference at home.

Iowa
The final stats suggest Iowa had no right to beat Michigan State last week but stats aren’t always the be-all end-all. The Hawkeyes took advantage of short fields to down the Spartans 34-27 in double overtime despite passing for just 53 yards and being outgained 185 yards. They’ll look to make it two straight wins with their first true road victory of the season when they play at Northwestern as 1-point dogs.

Iowa was strongly outplayed in a 21-7 home loss to Northwestern so will have revenge on the mind. The Hawkeyes struggled to move the ball on offense and consistently failed to stop the ball on defense in that meeting. Iowa has yet to win a true road game this year, going 0-4 SU and 1-3 ATS and losing by an average of 12.3 points per game.

The Hawkeyes have lost consecutive games to Northwestern but owned the Wildcats prior to that. From 1980 to 2002, Iowa went 19-4 SU and 15-8 ATS in the series. Also, the Hawkeyes have been underdogs to Northwestern just three times since 1980 and have gone 2-1 ATS in those contests. Overall, the underdog has gone 7-2 ATS in the last nine meetings within this series.

Michigan
Chad Henne and Mike Hart received some much-needed rest while Michigan extended its winning streak to seven straight with a 34-10 win over Minnesota. The Wolverines outgained the Gophers by 330 yards despite Henne and Hart’s absences. Both players are hoping to return this week when Michigan plays at Michigan State as 4.5-point favorites.

The 15th-ranked Wolverines beat the Spartans 31-13 last year and have won five straight in the series overall. Michigan utilized its strong rushing game to win last year, with Hart running for 122 of Michigan’s 211 total rushing yards. The Wolverines are currently 22nd in the country with more than 203 rushing yards per game and should get a boost with the return of Hart to the starting lineup.

Michigan is 20-7 SU against Michigan State since 1980. They’ve been favored in 26 of those 27 meetings and have been favored by fewer than five points just four times, going 3-1 SU and 2-2 ATS. Within those 27 meetings, the Wolverines are 8-5 in East Lansing but just 5-7-1 ATS. Michigan is 9-2 ATS in its last 11 road games overall.

Michigan State
The Spartans suffered from a case of the look-aheads in their 34-27 double-overtime loss to Iowa. They outplayed the Hawkeyes but were unable to finish the deal, perhaps due to their impending game against hated rivals Michigan. Michigan State will try to snap its five-game losing streak to the Wolverines Saturday as 4.5-point home dogs.

Head coach Mark Dantonio has quickly turned his team’s attention toward Michigan and has his team fired up for this contest. Dantonio has put major emphasis on this rivalry since becoming the head coach and that emphasis has continued this week. The Spartan defense, which has allowed 34 points a game in conference action, has to start playing better if Michigan State is to have a chance.

Most teams enjoy a home-field advantage. Michigan State doesn’t seem to be one of those teams. As a matter of fact, it has more of a home-field disadvantage. The Spartans are just 6-6 SU and 3-8-1 ATS at home since the start of the 2006 season. They are just 2-8 ATS in their last 10 home games overall and 1-4 ATS in their last five games as a home underdog.

Minnesota
The plight of the Gophers continued last week in a 34-10 loss to a Michigan team that rested both Chad Henne and Mike Hart. Minnesota is now 0-5 in conference action and hasn’t won since the second week of the season. The Gophers will look for that elusive first win this week at home against Illinois as 11.5-point dogs.

Minnesota’s defense has been absolutely awful from the opening snap this year but it may actually have a chance against the Illini. One bright spot for the unit could come this week, though. The Gophers are last in college football with 332 passing yards allowed per game but are facing an Illinois passing attack that averages just 147 yards per game. If Minnesota can keep the Illini running game somewhat in check, it may have a chance to keep this game close.

The Gophers are 5-1 both SU and ATS in the last six meetings with Illinois, including a 45-0 win the last time these squads met in 2004. This Minnesota team is far different than that 2004 edition, though, as evidenced by its 2-5-1 ATS in its last eight games. The Gophers have been double-digit home dogs just three times in the last six years and two of those games came earlier this year. They are just 1-8-1 ATS in their last 10 games as double-digit dogs and 1-4-3 ATS in their last eight games as a home underdog.

Northwestern
The Wildcats failed at their attempt for a fourth straight win with a 35-17 loss at Purdue last week. They’ll look to start another winning streak and become bowl eligible when they host Iowa this weekend as 1-point favorites.

Quarterback C.J. Bacher is the lifeblood of this team and if he’s playing well the Wildcats are winning. If he’s playing bad, the Wildcats are losing. In Northwestern’s five wins, Bacher has thrown 14 touchdowns and just one interception. In Northwestern’s four losses, he has thrown just one touchdown to go with 10 picks. Iowa is 11th in the country with a plus-9 turnover margin with 10 interceptions and seven fumbles forced. Bacher will need to keep his interception total down to give the Wildcats a chance.

Northwestern has won two straight over Iowa, including a convincing 21-7 road win as 20-point dogs in last year’s meeting. The Wildcats have been favored over Iowa just three times since 1980, going 2-1 SU and 1-2 ATS. Northwestern hasn’t historically fared well as a favorite, though, going just 7-22 ATS in its last 29 games as a home favorite and just 1-4 ATS in its last five games as a favorite overall.

Ohio State
The top-ranked Buckeyes passed their first big test in a big way with a 37-17 road win at Penn State. Many thought Ohio State was in a great position to be upset but it responded to the hype with perhaps its best game of the year. The Buckeyes will look to maintain their firm grip on the No. 1 ranking this week when they host Wisconsin as 15.5-point favorites.

No team in the Big Ten has given Ohio State more fits over the years than the Badgers. The Buckeyes fell 24-13 at home the last time these programs met in 2004, which followed a loss in 2003. Since 1980, Ohio State has a winning 12-10-1 SU record but is just 6-15-2 ATS in those contests, including four straight ATS losses. The Buckeyes were favored in each of those 23 meetings with a high of 26.5 points in 1996. Within those games, Ohio State was double-digit favorites in 11 of them, going 8-3 SU and 3-6-2 ATS.

The Buckeyes are riding a wave of momentum like no other team in college football right now, though. They’ve taken a beating from the media, which has made several claims that Ohio State isn’t deserving of a No. 1 ranking. The Buckeyes are 20-6 in their last 26 conference games, 12-5 ATS in their last 17 home games and 21-7 in their last 28 games overall.

Penn State
As has become the norm during the Anthony Morelli era at Penn State, the Nittany Lions failed to win the big game, this time falling 37-17 at home to Ohio State. Penn State was a perfect 5-0 at home before that loss and will look to get back in the win column this week when it hosts Purdue as 7-point favorites.

The Nittany Lions won an ugly one with the Boilermakers last year, winning 12-0 in a game full of miscues. One positive was the effort from the Lion defense, which held Purdue to just 246 yards while forcing three turnovers. They’ll need a similar effort this time around against Purdue’s 22nd-ranked scoring offense.

Penn State has historically dominated this series, going 8-2 SU in the last 10 meetings and 7-1 ATS in the last eight. The Lions have won the last two meetings by an average of 15 points a game and have covered by 6.5 points per contest. They have struggled in conference action overall, though, going just 2-6 ATS in their last eight Big Ten battles.

Purdue
West Lafayette continued to treat the Boilermakers well this week as they improved to 5-1 at home following a 35-17 win over Northwestern. Now they must head back out on to the road for just the fourth time this year as 7-point dogs at Penn State.

Quarterback Curtis Painter has struggled against the tough Nittany Lion defense the past two years. He completed just 6-of-17 passes for 60 yards in 2005 and threw two interceptions in captaining a scoreless Purdue offense last year. Painter has played better than ever this year with 268.9 yards per game and a 24:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He’ll need to be the 2007 version if the Boilermakers are to have a chance.

The Boilermakers are a solid 5-2-1 ATS in their last eight road games but have struggled in the role of underdog away from home. They are just 6-17 ATS in their last 23 games as a road dog, including a 27-point loss at Michigan as 4.5-point dogs earlier this year.

Wisconsin
The Badger defense put forth its second consecutive dominating performance in leading Wisconsin to a 33-3 win over Indiana. That made it back-to-back games holding the opposition to just three points. The Badgers will need a similar performance this week when they travel to Columbus to take on the top-ranked Buckeyes as 15.5-point underdogs.

P.J. Hill’s expected absence will make a strong defensive showing even more important for Wisconsin. Hill left last week’s game with a bruised left foot and his return is questionable right now. That would leave the Badgers with third-string freshman back Zach Brown. Quarterback Tyler Donovan will not be able to carry the offense against Ohio State’s top-ranked pass defense so the Wisconsin defense has to show up big.

The Badgers are one of the few Big Ten teams that have actually enjoyed significant success against the Buckeyes. Wisconsin has won three straight meetings at Ohio State and are 4-0 ATS in the last four meetings in the Horseshoe overall. The last three meetings have seen the Badgers be an average of 7.3-point underdogs only to have them win outright by 13 points per game, covering by an average of 20.3 points.

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