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Big 10 Preview
by Tom Stryker - 10/08/2010
With five teams still unbeaten in Big Ten play, the chase for roses is far from decided. But, with this week’s headline game in Ann Arbor, some key questions about the power in the conference could be decided. Yes, the marquis game features unbeaten Michigan State at the Big House, against the unbeaten Wolverines. But, in other key action, Ohio State (hosting Indiana) and Northwestern (hosting Purdue) hope to stay perfect in the league – as will Iowa – idle this Saturday.
Let’s look at this week’s action:
MICHIGAN ST at MICHIGAN
The legions of Maize and Blue supporters are no longer climbing on Rich Rodriguez’ back, at least until after Saturday, because of the surprising 5-0 start. Michigan has rode the whirlwind of offensive production produced by quarterback Denard Robinson, the nation’s leading rusher.
But the Spartans of Coach Mark Dantonio have matched that 5-0 start, and hold an impressive win over Wisconsin in their early-season credentials. Dantonio, who suffered a heart attack after the Notre Dame game and missed the Spartans’ victories over Northern Colorado and the Badgers, will be on hand Saturday.
Certainly a key ingredient to watch in this one will be Michigan’s porous defense, a unit that yielded 480 passing yards in a last-minute victory at Indiana last Saturday. The Spartans are physical – but are they quick enough to keep Robinson in check? Defense will decide the winner in this one.
But remember, the Wolverines will have the frenzied 106,000-plus fans and the sting of double revenge and two straight losing seasons as their fuel for this matchup.
SERIES HISTORY NOTE: Michigan 21-9 SU and 13-15-2 ATS since 1980
KEY ANGLES: Wolverines 28-42-2 ATS as a Big 10 home favorite, including 8-21-1 ATS in this role provided UM is not off a momentum building blowout win of 10 points or more.
Michigan State 22-13 ATS on the Big 10 road facing a team that enters off two or more straight up wins including 15-5 ATS in this set provided the Spartans enter off a straight up win as well.
INDIANA at OHIO STATE
Coach Jim Tressell will be looking for his 100th victory in Columbus when his Buckeyes take on Indiana Saturday in the Horseshoe. And Ohio State will be looking to nail down its 16th straight victory over I.U. Ranked No. 2 in the nation, Ohio State has won 11 straight games and 38 of their last 42 Big Ten games.
Saturday’s contest features the matchup of two of the league’s premier quarterbacks in Terrelle Pryor and Indiana’s Ben Chappell. Pryor, dinged a little in last week’s triumph at Illinois, will be ready to go – looking for an Ohio State record-tying 6th 300-yard game in total offense. And Chappell will be trying to air some magic for the Hoosiers. Chappell leads the conference in passing with 342.5 yards a game.
The Hoosiers have another weapon in wide receiver Tandon Doss, the league’s leader in receiving yardage at 107.7 per game – and in all-purpose yardage at 211 yards per game.
But it’s the Ohio State defense that may dictate the outcome in this one. Ohio State’s pass defense could give Chappell fits. The Buckeyes defense leads the league in pass defense at 161.8 yards an outing.
SERIES TRENDS OF NOTE: Ohio State 23-2-1 SU and 17-7-2 ATS since 1980
KEY ANGLES: Buckeyes 52-11 SU and 39-23-1 ATS L63 as a conference host.
Hoosiers are 41-61-2 ATS as a Big 10 guest coming off a conference game including 10-33 SU and 14-29 ATS in this role coming off a point spread victory. Also, Hoosiers are 6-18 SU and ATS after Michigan wars including 3-15 ATS in this role priced as an underdog.
PURDUE at NORTHWESTERN
A night game that involves a nationally-ranked Northwestern football team – what’s this? Yes – Saturday at Evanston and Coach Pat Fitzgerald knows how important this matchup with the Boilermakers is for his Wildcats. Northwestern is 5-0 and has won 8 straight games dating back to last season. And the ‘Cats have not opened a year 6-0 since 1962, when Ara Parseghian prowled the shores of Lake Michigan as Northwestern’s head coach.
Junior quarterback Dan Persa is one big reason Northwestern is tasting so much success this fall. He leads the nation in pass completion percentage at 79.4%. Northwestern benefits in the league race – not playing Ohio State or Michigan this year. But the Wildcats five early-season victories have come at the expense of teams with a combined 6-14 record.
If Purdue (2-2) and Coach Danny Hope plan on slowing Northwestern, it will have to do it with a new quarterback under center. Redshirt freshman Rob Henry will be the quarterback, with season starter Robert Marve out for the season with a knee injury. Henry played well in the second half of a loss to Toledo and helped a week ago in a victory over Ball State. But this will be the biggest test of his fledgling career.
SERIES TRENDS OF NOTE: Northwestern 8-20 SU and 12-16 ATS since 1980.
KEY ANGLES: Wildcats 22-10 ATS in Big 10 playing coming off a pointspread loss.
Purdue is 12-42-1 SU and 21-32-2 ATS away in conference play versus a foe that enters off a straight up win. Also, Boilermakers 3-9 ATS off a straight up loss with rest.
MINNESOTA at WISCONSIN
This one is a game pitting two teams without much margin for error.
Wisconsin was toppled at Michigan State recently and knows two losses will make any chances for Big Ten hardware extremely difficult. And it’s worse for Minnesota, where Coach Tim Brewster’s team stands 1-4 SU and 15-28 SU in his tenure. The wolves are at his door – and only a remarkable turnaround in the second half of the season is likely to save his job.
Bret Bielema’s Badgers still are ranked 19th – and feature the nation’s 25-ranked unit it total defense, allowing only 301 yards a game.
Freshman James White, the league’s top frosh for two successive weeks, has gained 243 yards and scored 6 touchdowns in those two outings. He gives quarterback Scott Tolzien a good option. Tolzien, with teams keying on the Wisconsin running game, is the 6th highest quarterback with a 147.6 passing efficiency rating.
It’s the battle for the axe, but not much more is at stake here.
SERIES TRENDS OF NOTE: Wisconsin 20-10 SU and 17-11-2 ATS since 1980.
KEY ANGLES: Badgers 39-24 SU and 38-25 ATS at home in conference play facing a foe that enters off a straight up loss. Also, Wisconsin 13-1 SU and 10-4 ATS L14 as Big 10 host.
Gophers 6-10-1 ATS L16 as double-digit conference road dog.
ILLINOIS at PENN STATE
Illinois head coach Ron Zook has made progress, but his 23-41 mark with Illinois is not drawing raves among Illini followers. A strong showing against Ohio State last Saturday did not do much to help. At 2-2 SU, he and Illinois need a statement game soon.
But against the Penn State defense, that might not be easy. The Nittany Lions are 15th in the nation, allowing only 15 points a game.
After scoring only 3 points in losses to Alabama and Iowa, it is clear what is stopping Penn State – the lack of an offense. Freshman quarterback Rob Bolden has struggled, and only senior Evan Royster (more than 3,000 career rushing yards) gives PSU much firepower.
Penn State is 11-2 SU against Illinois since joining the Big Ten – and there is little reason to think this one will be any different.
SERIES TRENDS OF NOTE: Penn State 11-2 SU and 7-6 ATS since 1980.
KEY ANGLES: Illinois 11-29 SU and 16-24 ATS as Big 10 guest since 2000 including 4-21 SU and 6-19 ATS in this role coming off a straight up loss. Inside the 6-19 ATS tightener, Illini 1-12 ATS in this role if its foe enters off a blowout loss of 10 points or more.