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Big 10 Conference Preview -- Week 6

   by ASA - 10/04/2012

Ohio State continues in ascension as one of the top teams in the league and will try to remain undefeated when the Huskers, off of a big win over Wisconsin, come to town. Meanwhile, Michigan is off of its bye week and will try to save some face after losing its two biggest games of the season thus far against Purdue, whom many expect to be a dark horse Big Ten title contender. ASA gives you all of the analysis and more!

Ohio State (-3.5) vs. Nebraska – 7:00 PM CST – ABC
OSU: Last week at Michigan State: W 17-16
UN: Last week vs. Wisconsin: W 30-27

The Buckeyes survived their first Big Ten road test in a win at Michigan State last weekend. Offensively Braxton Miller and the offense overcame three turnovers and managed 383 hard-earned total yards. But they were able to control the ball with 204 rush yards on 44 carries. The defense came up big against a stout MSU rush offense. The Bucks allowed just 34 yards on 22 carries (1.4 YPC) and dared QB Andrew Maxwell to beat them through the air – which he didn’t. Nebraska has a much more balanced offense here and the Buckeyes won’t be able to key on one aspect. The Huskers average 306 rush yards per game and 216 pass yards per game.

Nebraska looked abysmal in the first half, but came out on fire in the second half. The Huskers rallied from a 17-point third quarter deficit to beat the Badgers by three points. Nebraska allowed 236 yards and 20 first half points before holding Wisky to just 108 yards and seven points in the second. Offensively the Huskers were put the ball on the ground too many times as they fumbled six times, but were fortunate to only lose two. They put up 440 yards of total offense, 259 that came on four consecutive drives in the 2nd half that resulted in 20 straight points.

Neither team has faced a dual-threat quarterback like both defenses will face in Taylor Martinez and Braxton Miller. Last year Martinez rushed for 102 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown while Miller tallied 91 rush yards on 10 carries. The Huskers rallied from a 21-point deficit to win that game at home – much like they did last week against Wisconsin. Nebraska scored 28 second half points on their final six drives while OSU had four punts and two turnovers on its last six drives. OSU will be hungry for revenge here at home.

The Buckeyes are 27-4 SU & 21-10 ATS their last 31 Big Ten home games; though they were just 1-3 ATS last season. Nebraska is 2-5 ATS its last seven road games as an underdog, including 0-2 ATS in the Big Ten last season.

Injury report: The Buckeyes' RB Jordan Hall left in the first half of the Michigan State game with a knee injury. Urban Meyer said that Hall has a PCL tear in his right knee won’t play against Nebraska. A PCL tear is not as serious as an ACL or MCL tear, but it is an injury that could hold Hall out for more than one week.

Purdue (+3) vs. Michigan – 3:00 PM CST - Big Ten Network
PU: Last week vs. Marshall: W 51-41
UM: Last week: BYE

Purdue is 3-1 so far this season with a narrow loss to Notre Dame. Many experts peg the Boilers as a dark horse to contend for a Big Ten title. Offensively they’ve been extremely balanced and efficient. They are averaging 262 pass yards per game, 202 rush yards per game, and 42.5 points per game. Purdue’s 51-41 win over Marshall last week is a bit deceiving as the Boilers took a 42-14 lead into halftime. The Herd put up a few meaningless touchdowns on the board late.

The Wolverines are averaging 20.9 points per game on the road the past two seasons, compared with more than 40 at home. This year, Michigan has scored just 20 total points in its two games away from Ann Arbor (albeit against outstanding defenses in Alabama and Notre Dame). Michigan lost both of those road games and the Wolves will try to reverse their road jinx here at Purdue. They had a bye week after the disaster against Notre Dame, where they scored just six points and QB Robinson threw four interceptions. Robinson has been shaky all season. He’s completing less than 55% of his passes with six touchdowns and eight interceptions. Defensively Michigan will have its hands full this weekend, and this unit has been vulnerable. Teams have been able to run at will against Michigan, averaging 182 yards per game (UM ranks 90th against the run).

The Boilers allowed 535 total yards in a 36-14 loss last year in Ann Arbor. The Wolves rushed for 339 yards and four scores. Michigan is 1-3 ATS its last four against Purdue and 1-3 ATS its last four visiting Purdue. The Wolverines are also just 2-6 ATS as a Big Ten road favorite. Purdue is 3-1 ATS its last four as a home ‘dog against Big Ten foes.

Injury report: The bye week appears to have worked well for the Wolverines' health. Head coach Brady Hoke said starters DE Brennen Beyer, WR Devin Gardner, FB Stephen Hopkins, OG Ricky Barnum are all healthy and ready to play this week. The one guy who's not quite back is starting TE Brandon Moore, who hasn't played since suffering a leg injury in the opener versus Alabama.

Penn State (-3) vs. Northwestern – 11:00 AM CST – ESPN
PSU: Last week at Illinois: W 35-7
NU: Last week vs. Indiana: W 44-29

Northwestern takes to the road for the first time since a September 1st trip to Syracuse. They improved to 5-0 last week in a big win over Indiana. Do-it-all “quarterback” Kain Colter is becoming one of the top playmakers in the Big Ten after he rushed for 161 yards and four scores and caught nine balls for 131 yards. The Wildcats could go a long way to prove their Big Ten legitimacy with a road win at Penn State. Northwestern has lost five straight times to Penn State and is seeking just its second-ever win in State College.

The Nittany Lions have won three straight and are playing at a high level defensively. They haven’t allowed more than 24 points in a game this season and they haven’t allowed more than 13 the past three weeks. They’ll face their toughest test of the season against Northwestern’s spread attack which averages 256 yards per game behind Kain Colter and Venric Mark. QB Matt McGloin continues to perform well in the new offense. McGloin is averaging 253 yards per game (63% completions) with six touchdowns and one interception during PSU’s three game win-streak. He’ll have his shot against this Northwestern defense that has been vulnerable to strong passing attacks.

McGloin passed for 192 yards and two scores in the Nittany Lions’ 10-point win last season. Northwestern scored on four of its first five drives before being shutout in the final seven drives of the game. PSU is 5-0 SU & 4-1 ATS its last five vs. Northwestern, winning by an average of 15.8 points per game. Northwestern is 1-6 SU but 5-2 ATS in its last seven trips to State College.

Wisconsin (-14.5) vs. Illinois – 2:30 PM CST - ESPN2
UW: Last week at Nebraska: L 27-30
UI: Last week vs. Penn State: L 7-35

Both teams are coming off Big Ten losses, so there will be no shortage of motivation here. Wisconsin has something to build off of at least, after taking an early 20-3 over Nebraska before falling late. RB Ball rushed for three touchdowns, but also fumbled late. Freshman QB Stave wasn’t spectacular in his first road start, and coach Bielema put in Danny O’Brien for the final drive. Wisky only totaled 295 yards on offense, but it was defensive inefficiencies that cost them the Nebraska game. The Badgers allowed 440 yards to the Huskers, including 259 on the ground (5.6 YPC average). They’ll get a chance to right the ship in a home game against a struggling Illini squad Saturday.

The Illini look like a mess right now and are searching for answers in all three phases – and answers are usually hard to come by in Camp Randall Stadium. The offense was supposed to be much more explosive under Tim Beckman’s spread attack. Instead, the team ranks 97th nationally in scoring at 22.6 points per game and 96th nationally in total offense. And that includes a stat-padding 44-0 victory over FCS Charleston Southern. The defense was supposed to be elite. But this unit has given up 45, 52, and 35 points its last three games against FBS opponents.

Wisconsin has won six of the last seven meetings against Illinois, but the Illini are 4-1 ATS over the last five meetings. The Illini haven’t traveled to Camp Randall since 2008, but they’ve dropped three straight there by an average of 11 points per game. Illinois is 6-1 ATS its last seven as a double-digit underdog against conference foes.

Indiana (+15.5) vs. Michigan State – 11:00 AM CST – Big Ten Network
IU: Last week vs. Northwestern: W 29-44
MSU: Last week vs. Ohio State: L 16-17

Michigan State is off of a close home loss to Ohio State. Despite a plus-3 turnover ratio, the Spartans couldn’t capitalize on offense. They rank 80th in yards per game and 112th in points per game. QB Maxwell and his receiving corps have yet to inspire any confidence that this offense can move the ball consistently through the air. Through five games Maxwell is completing just 55.7% of his passes with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Luckily they get a shot at one of the nation’s worst defenses in Indiana this week. The Hoosiers rank 106th against the run, 95th in yards allowed, and 72nd in points allowed (IU allowed an astonishing 704 yards against Northwestern last week).

The Hoosiers have had no problem putting points on the scoreboard. Through four games they are averaging over 500 yards per game and 34.2 points per game. However, those strong numbers are based on one game against an FCS opponent, and three others against defenses ranked 116th, 111th, and 59th. They’ll have a much more difficult time against this MSU defense that hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in a game this season.

Michigan State is 7-1 SU & ATS in its last eight games against Indiana (average score of 41-20). The Hoosiers are 8-16 ATS in their last 24 games as a home underdog of two touchdowns or more. Michigan State hasn’t been a two-touchdown or more road favorite in the Big Ten since 1999.

Iowa – BYE
UI: Last week vs. Minnesota: W 31-13

The Hawkeyes “brought home the bacon” in last week’s rivalry win over Minnesota. Offensively the Hawks got another strong performance from walk-on RB Mark Weisman, who now has now rushed for 507 yards (7.0 YPC) and seven touchdowns the last three games. After a solid junior campaign when he threw for 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions; senior QB Vandenberg can’t seem to get on track this season. He’s completing less than 59% of his passes with just two touchdowns and two interceptions. All in all, it was a key win for Iowa as it now has some momentum heading into its bye week to prepare for its first big conference road test at Michigan State next Saturday.

Minnesota – BYE
UM: Last week at Iowa: L 13-31

Minnesota’s early season hot streak came to a screeching halt in a loss to Iowa last week. The good news is that it was the first blemish on the Gophers’ schedule. The bad news is that Iowa really exposed some weaknesses. QB Max Shortell struggled under center, throwing for just 197 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. As coach Jerry Kill said Sunday, the Gophers really need top quarterback MarQueis Gray to get healthy. Also unsettling was the play of Minnesota's defense, which couldn't stop Weisman. The Gophers can regroup during the bye week before their league home opener against Northwestern.

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