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Big 10 Conference Report

   by ASA - 10/29/2011

Wisconsin (-9.5) vs. Nebraska – 7:00 PM CST, ABC

UW: 4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS – Last week: vs. South Dakota St, W 59-10

UN: 4-0 SU, 1-3 ATS – Last week: at Wyoming, W 38-14

This is quite possibly the game of the year (and possibly a preview of the Big Ten Championship) for the Big Ten as two Top-10 teams matchup at Camp Randall. ESPN’s College Gameday crew will be on hand as Nebraska plays its very first conference game as a member of the Big Ten. Wisconsin opened at -7, but that number quickly rose and now sits at -9.5.

Wisconsin has been the league's only consistently dominant team through four weeks, albeit against a fairly weak schedule. Wisco ranks 8th in total offense and 6th in scoring offense with QB Wilson completing 75.8% with 11 touchdowns and RB’s White and Ball with 663 rush yards and 12 touchdowns combined.

Defensively the Badgers are allowing just 247 yards per game (8th nationally) and 8.5 points per game (3rd). The competition level goes up significantly this week at home, where Wisconsin is 45-4 since the start at the 2004 season and 34-3 under coach Bielema. Those three teams to beat Wisconsin at home all went on to play in BCS Bowls.

The Huskers have been quite one-dimensional on offense thus far. QB Martinez and RB Burkhead have combined for 841 rush yards (7.6 YPC) and 14 touchdowns. But Martinez is completing just 50% of his passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions. The Huskers haven’t needed an effective passing attack yet as their rushing game has been sufficient through four games.

Nebraska’s defense hasn’t been as dominant as it was supposed to be this season as it ranks 52nd in total defense and 48th in scoring defense. However, the Huskers haven’t been at full strength yet as three preseason All-American candidates – DT Crick, LB David, and CB Dennard – will all play together Saturday for the first time this season.

Something to consider: Wisconsin is 10-1 ATS in its last 11 games overall – a run started with a 13-point win over then-No. 1 Ohio State at home last October.

Ohio State (-3) vs. Michigan State – 2:30 PM CST, ABC regional

OSU: 3-1 SU, 2-2 ATS – Last week: vs. Colorado, W 37-17

MSU: 3-1 SU, 2-2 ATS – Last week: vs. Central Michigan, W 45-7

The fact that both of these squads suffered non-conference losses makes this game more intriguing. The winner will get off to a strong start in conference play while the loser has more questions to answer. The Spartans have lost seven straight to the Buckeyes and haven't won in Columbus since 1998. Only one meeting has been decided by single digits and the average win margin for OSU is 18 points per game. OSU is a much different team this time around, yet is favored by 3 points at home.

MSU has yet to register a quality win, but their defense has looked dominant. Not only are the Spartans limiting yards (1st in total defense) and points (9th in scoring defense), but they're making big plays, as they showed last week by intercepting CMU’s QB four times. The Spartans are averaging 39 points per game at home, but scored just 13 points in their only road game so far (a 18-point loss to Notre Dame).

OSU ranks 91st in total offense and 69th in scoring offense. Freshman QB Braxton Miller got the first start of his young career last weekend. He completed just 5-of-13 passes for 83 yards, but had two touchdowns while also rushing for 83 yards. How he reacts against a Big Ten opponent will determine how well the Buckeyes perform on Saturday. OSU plays Michigan State, Nebraska and Illinois in its next three games, so a loss could send the Buckeyes reeling. Expect a big effort at home from OSU.

Something to consider: Michigan State is just 3-10 ATS in its last 13 games as an underdog. Ohio State is 17-4 ATS in its last 21 home games (16-5 ATS as a home favorite).

Illinois (-8) vs. Northwestern – 11:00 AM, ESPN2

ILL: 4-0 SU, 2-2 ATS – Last week: vs. Western Michigan, W 23-20

NU: 2-1 SU, 1-2 ATS – Last week: BYE

Last year this game was played at Wrigley Field in November. Northwestern was off of a huge win vs. Iowa and was playing its first game without QB Persa (injured the previous week). Illinois netted 519 rush yards (!) and won by 21 points. Prior to that game NU had won six of the previous eight meetings. Illinois opens as an 8.5 point favorite for this year’s matchup.

Northwestern QB Persa should finally make his return for the Land of Lincoln Trophy showdown. How Persa performs in his first action since last November remains to be seen, but his presence alone should be a rousing factor for the Wildcats. Northwestern figures to be super motivated for this game: with Persa back, off of a loss with an extra week to prepare, and the fact that this is a rivalry game with a chance to knock Illinois off its pedestal.

Illinois had a flat performance against Western Michigan last week – understandable after a huge win against Arizona State the week prior – but found a way to remain unbeaten and at 4-0 for the first time since 1951 with a three-point victory. Illinois lost one 1st and one 2nd round talent from its 2010 defense. Still, the Illini rank 6th in rush yards allowed, 12th in total yards, and 13th in scoring defense.

Something to consider: Northwestern is just 1-7 ATS in its last 8 Big Ten games, but is 11-2 ATS in its last 13 games as a road underdog. The Wildcats have also covered eight of the last 11 meetings against Illinois.

Michigan (-20) vs. Minnesota – 11:00 AM CST, Big Ten Network

Mich: 4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS – Last week: vs. San Diego State, W 28-7

Minn: 1-3 SU, 2-2 ATS – Last week: vs. North Dakota St, L 24-37

Minnesota is off of a terrible loss to North Dakota State and now has to play a team that has beaten it 19 of the previous 20 meetings (since 1987). Michigan has outscored Minnesota by 22 points per game in that 20 game span and only four games were decided by less than 10 points. Michigan was favored by 20+ points in seven of those games and was 6-1 ATS. Again the Wolverines are favored by 20 points heading into this weekend.

Minnesota fell to an FCS opponent for the second consecutive year and the third time in the past five seasons with its 13-point loss to North Dakota State last week. The Gophers now have a quarterback dilemma on their hands with Marqueis Gray and Max Shortell. Gray (50.6% with 3 TD & 3 INT) remains the starter, but freshman Shortell will see time.

The Wolverines are 4-0 for the third consecutive year after a 21-point win over head coach Brady Hoke’s former team – San Diego State. QB Robinson again had a big game on the ground with 200 rush yards and three touchdowns, but his deficiencies in the passing game could come back to haunt UM. The defense continues to make strides, as it has now forced 17 turnovers in four games and is allowing just 13 PPG (11th nationally).

Something to consider: Minnesota is 6-1 ATS in its last seven games as a road underdog. Michigan is just 3-23 ATS in its last 26 conference games.

Indiana (+16.5) vs. Penn State – 11:00 AM CST, ESPNU

IU: 1-3 SU, 2-2 ATS – Last week: at North Texas, L 21-24

PSU: 3-1 SU, 0-4 ATS – Last week: vs. Eastern Michigan, W 34-6

Indiana fell behind 24-0 to winless North Texas last week before mounting a rally in the final minutes. UNT ranks at or near the bottom of every major offensive and defensive category and Indiana couldn’t get a W. First-year coach Kevin Wilson still has a lot of questions heading into Big Ten play, most notably at quarterback. Wright-Baker has started every game thus far, but freshman Kiel remains neck-and-neck.

The Nittany Lions rank 8th nationally in total defense, 7th in passing defense, and 10th in scoring defense. However, this unit took a big hit last week as defensive captain and team leader LB Mauti tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the season.

The Nittany Lions had their best offensive game of the season last week against Eastern Michigan when they tallied 468 yards and 34 points. Co-starting QB’s McGloin and Bolden combined to complete 21-of-30 passes for 335 yards and four scores. Both could see some success against this Hoosier defense that allowed passing touchdowns of 17, 32, and 83 yards to North Texas last week.

Something to consider: Penn State has never lost to the Hoosiers with a 14-0 all-time record (average margin of victory 17 PPG). PSU is 6-0-1 ATS its last seven games as a double digit road favorite.

Purdue (+12) vs. Notre Dame – 7:00 PM CST, ESPN

PU: 2-1 SU, 1-2 ATS – Last week: BYE

ND: 2-2 SU, 1-3 ATS – Last week: at Pittsburgh, W 15-12

The Boilers beat up on FCS Southeast Missouri State two weeks ago before spending the bye week preparing for Notre Dame. QB Marve returned after an ACL injury last season delayed his comeback. He completed 7-of-8 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown while splitting time with TerBush. TerBush will start against the Irish, but both will get playing time.

Purdue really needed that bye week to prepare for this, as QB Marve put it, “program defining game.” Notre Dame is more battle-tested, having played three teams in the Top-25 so far. But this Irish offense has 15 turnovers through four games, and that most certainly cost them two wins. Purdue will need to convert on any forced turnovers to upset ND.

Something to consider: Purdue has lost three straight and is just 5-20 against the Irish since 1986. The Boilers have won four out of its last five games as a double digit home underdog and is 9-4-1 ATS its last 14 as a home ‘dog.

Iowa - BYE

3-1 SU, 2-2 ATS – Last week: vs. UL Monroe, W 45-17

The Hawkeyes enter the bye week after an easy win against Louisiana-Monroe. QB Vandenberg has caught fire, tallying 1,095 pass yards with 10 TDs and only one INT through four games. Iowa will spend the off week preparing for a date with Penn State in Happy Valley

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