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Big 10 Conference Report - Week 9

   by ASA - 10/27/2011

Nebraska (-4) vs. Michigan State – 11:00 AM CST, ESPN

NEB: 6-1 SU, 2-5 ATS – Last week: at Minnesota, W 41-14

MSU: 6-1 SU, 5-2 ATS – Last week: vs. Wisconsin, W 37-31

This is arguably the Big Ten Game of the Year in the Legends Division. The winner has the inside track to play in the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. This was already a huge game for the Huskers as they won’t want to lose to the two top teams in the Big Ten in their inaugural season as a member (already blown out by Wisconsin). It’s an extremely tough situation for the Spartans, as they have to bounce back after last week’s huge win and play in a hostile environment.

Michigan State delivered a win last week that will be shown in highlights for the next 50 years. With the score tied 31-31, MSU completed a Hail Mary pass as time expired to beat 6th ranked Wisconsin. The Spartans were actually outgained by the Badgers, but made big plays when it mattered. They blocked a punt for touchdown, blocked a field goal, forced a safety, and scored on a double-reverse. QB Cousins played his best game of the season, completing 22-of-31 passes for 290 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Nebraska made quick work of Minnesota last week, rolling to a 34-0 halftime lead. The Huskers were able to cruise to an easy 41-14 win behind 515 total yards and 27 first downs. They recorded a defensive touchdown while holding the Gophers to just 254 yards and 11 first downs. It’s hard to determine how strong a team is after dismantling the last place team in the Big Ten, but Nebraska certainly has some momentum as it returns home to face the Spartans after back to back wins over Ohio State and Minnesota (with a bye in between).

Michigan State is 8th in the nation in rush defense (89 YPG), but was torched for 220 yards (5.4) last week against Wisconsin. Nebraska is 7th nationally in rush offense, averaging 261YPG. Nebraska may be able to run the ball with success against MSU, but the main key here will be the passing game behind QB Martinez. Martinez is completing just 55% for 168 YPG with 7 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.

Something to consider: MSU head coach Mark Dantonio is just 1-6 straight up in road/neutral games vs. ranked teams. Nebraska is just 3-12 ATS in its last 15 home games.

Ohio State (+7) vs. Wisconsin – 7:00 PM CST, ESPN

OSU: 4-3 SU, 4-3 ATS – Last week: BYE

WISC: 6-1 SU, 5-2 ATS – Last week: at Michigan State, L 31-37

This is not a good situation for the Badgers. Wisconsin must bounce back from a heartbreaking last second loss to Michigan State last week – a loss that eliminates them from National Championship contention and likely takes QB Wilson out of the Heisman running. To make matters worse, it will be their second-consecutive road night game in Columbus for OSU’s homecoming. And the Buckeyes are off of a bye week and want revenge after Wisconsin upset then-#1 OSU last season (only defeat of the 2010 season).

The Badgers actually outplayed the Spartans last week, but let their guard down for 4-5 plays that turned the game in MSU’s favor. Wisconsin had more yards and more first downs, but had a punt blocked (for touchdown), a field goal blocked, was forced into a safety, and allowed a Hail Mary touchdown. Wisco boasts the 8th best offense (511 YPG) in the nation, 5th scoring offense (47.4 PPG), 9th total defense (287 YPG allowed), and 6th scoring defense (13.6 PPG allowed).

Over the last five games, Ohio State QB’s have completed just 30-of-79 passes (38%) for 83 YPG with five touchdowns and three interceptions (including just one completion in a 17-7 win over Illinois on Oct. 15). OSU’s offense ranks 110th nationally in yards per game and 88th in scoring offense. The Buckeyes have remained competitive with a strong defense, but we’re going out on a limb here and saying that OSU will need competent QB play to upset the Badgers on Saturday.

Ohio State already has as many losses this season as it had in 2009 & 2010 combined. The Buckeyes are off of a much-needed bye week and healthy for this season-defining game. A win here would put OSU in the mix in the Leaders division title and give them a ton of momentum for a favorable schedule ahead.

Something to consider: Ohio State has been a Big Ten home underdog just three times in the past 10 years. You’d have to go back to 1992 for the last time Ohio State was a touchdown-or-more underdog at home.

Penn State (-4.5) vs. Illinois – 2:30 PM CST, ABC/ESPN2

PSU: 7-1 SU, 2-6 ATS – Last week: at Northwestern, W 34-24

ILL: 6-2 SU, 3-5 ATS – Last week: at Purdue, L 14-21

After PSU’s loss to #2 Alabama back on September 10th, everyone all but dismissed the Nittany Lions and their Big Ten title hopes. But here we are in the last week of October and Penn State is alone in first place of the Leaders division with a 4-0 conference mark. It’s not always pretty, but the Lions simply continue to win games (five of their six straight wins have been by 10-points or less). A win here would give PSU seven-straight wins heading into its bye week.

This PSU stop-unit is as good as it gets. PSU is limiting its opponents to just 282 yards per game (8th nationally) and 13 points per game (5th) despite the early season loss of standout LB Mauti. The emergence of QB McGloin and RB Redd has greatly helped this struggling offense. McGloin has passed for seven touchdowns and just two picks over the last five games and Redd has rushed for 566 yards in four Big Ten games (142 YPG and 5.5 YPC) after just 303 rush yards in four non-conference games.

Illinois has dropped two straight games after a strong 6-0 start. The offense has failed to put up points in six of the last eight quarters (shutout in the first three quarters of back-to-back games). They’ve put up just 326 YPG and 21 total points in those two losses after averaging 448 YPG and 35 points per game in the first six games of the season.

Something to consider: Illinois won 33-13 at Penn State last year for its first ever win in State College. Prior to last year, Illinois was 0-6 in Happy Valley with the average margin of defeat of 16 PPG. They are 5-2 ATS in the previous seven meetings but just 3-11 straight up since 1993.

Michigan (-13) vs. Purdue – 11:00 AM CST, ESPN2

MICH: 6-1 SU, 5-2 ATS – Last week: BYE

PUR: 4-3 SU, 4-3 ATS – Last week: vs. Illinois, W 21-14

Purdue has followed up every win with a loss this season and the Boilers will try to avoid that streak as they head into Ann Arbor after a breakthrough win over Illinois last week. The Wolverines are off of a bye week will try to avoid the 2nd half slide that has happened over each of the last two seasons. They started 4-0 in 2009 and 5-0 in 2010 before finishing both seasons a combined 3-13 (started 6-0 this season before last week’s loss).

Defensively the Wolverines have respectable statistics and rankings, but this unit has struggled against the three best offenses it has faced. Against MSU, Notre Dame, and Northwestern the Wolverines have allowed 28 PPG, 173 rush YPG, and 428 total YPG (allowing 5 PPG, 124 rush YPG, and 267 total YPG against four other teams). Purdue’s offense is improving, but isn’t on par with the top half of the Big Ten.

Michigan was averaging 458 YPG and 38 PPG before managing just 250 yards and 14 points against MSU. QB Robinson totaled just 165 total yards (had been averaging 308 YPG). Robinson leads the Big Ten in rushing, but is also tops in interceptions and has had to leave in each of the last two games with injuries. Purdue is respectable on defense (40th in yards allowed and 24th in points allowed) and saw some success against Robinson last season. The Boilers held him to just 176 passing yards and 68 rush yards (3.1 YPC) and forced four turnovers (2 interceptions and 2 fumbles).

Something to consider: Purdue won the last time here in 2009 to end an 18-game losing streak at the Big House. They’ve now covered three straight against the Wolverines.

Minnesota (+16) vs. Iowa – 2:30 PM CST, Big Ten Network

MINN: 1-6 SU, 2-5 ATS – Last week: vs. Nebraska, L 14-41

IOWA: 5-2 SU, 3-4 ATS – Last week: vs. Indiana, W 45-24

Iowa bounced back after the three-point performance at Penn State by racking up 86 points in wins against Northwestern and Indiana the past two weeks. QB Vandenberg completed 26-of-38 passes with six touchdowns and just one interception in those two games while RB Coker has rushed for 263 yards (5.8 YPC) and four touchdowns. Both Vandenberg and Coker should have another big day against this defense that ranks 100th in yards allowed and 116th in points allowed.

Iowa still has a long way to go on defense as the Hawkeyes are surrendering 245 pass YPG (90th) and 162 rush YPG (68th). They have a chance to gain some confidence here against Minnesota. The Gophers have scored just 31 points the past three games and rank near the bottom in every major offensive category.

The Gophers don't have much to brag about these days. They came out of their bye week lifeless against Nebraska last week, falling behind 34-0 by halftime. Minnesota has now dropped four straight games and will be lucky to avoid a 1-11 season. They do, however, have possession of the Floyd of Rosedale trophy after last year’s upset win over Iowa. Minnesota outgained Iowa by +168 yards and had +6 first downs.

Something to consider: Iowa has won eight of the last 10 in this series. The Hawkeyes were 12-1 ATS in this series from 1993-2005, but have failed to cover four of the last five – including last year’s loss.

Indiana (+8.5) vs. Northwestern – 11:00 AM CST, Big Ten Network

IND: 1-7 SU, 4-4 ATS – Last week: at Iowa, L 24-45

NW: 2-5 SU, 2-5 ATS – Last week: vs. Penn State, L 24-34

The nightmare season has continued for Northwestern. They’ve dropped five straight after a 2-0 start and need to win four of the final five games to become Bowl eligible. Indiana is already eliminated from Bowl contention as the Hoosier’s only win this season came against FCS South Carolina State.

Northwestern is allowing 39 points per game in Big Ten play. The offense is gaining yards (405 per game) and putting up points (28 points per game), but until this defense starts creating stops, this team is going nowhere. QB Persa (75% with six touchdowns) can put up big numbers in this offense if he can stay healthy.

Indiana has lost four straight Big Ten games. The last three have been by 21, 52, and 21 points. Defensively the Hoosiers have allowed 41+ points in three straight games and this unit ranks at or near the bottom in every major statistical category. If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s that Indiana had a strong contribution from freshman QB Tre Robinson last week in his first start. Robinson passed for 197 yards and a score while rushing for 84 more.

Something to consider: Northwestern has won six of the last seven meetings. However, the largest margin in any of those games was 7 points – average margin of victory of 3.7 points per game.

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