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Big 10 Report

   by ASA - 10/24/2012

It’s the final weekend of October and the Big Ten picture is finally starting to take place. Michigan and Nebraska are the front-runners to represent the Legends division in the Big Ten Championship while it would take a monumental collapse from Wisconsin for the Badgers to miss out on a ticket to Indianapolis. Meanwhile, possibly the two best teams in the conference, Ohio State and Penn State; can’t play in the postseason but matchup this week in the “Ineligibowl”. ASA has the inside look at all the matchups inside…

Nebraska (-2.5) vs. Michigan – 7:00 PM CST - ESPN2
UN: Last week at Northwestern: W 29-28
UM: Last week vs. Michigan State: W 12-10

The winner of this game gets a head up on the Legends Division race. If the Wolverines win, they will be tough to catch as they would remain undefeated. Michigan's defense has been the best in the Big Ten in conference play. The Wolverines have allowed just 23 points through three games and have allowed opposing offenses to pass for just 126 yards per game (just 4.4 yards per attempt) with two touchdowns and four interceptions. They’ve also allowed Big Ten opponents to rush for just 91 yards per game on a 2.9 YPC average with no touchdowns through three games. Purdue, Michigan State, and Illinois haven’t exactly been lighting it up on offense, but those are still impressive numbers. They’ll try to carry that success over on the road against the league’s top offense. Offensively Michigan was held out of the endzone last week against MSU, but four field goals was enough to top their rival. The Wolves still have one of the top weapons in the country in Denard Robinson and Nebraska has had its difficulties dealing with dual-threat quarterbacks. After an emotion-charged, physical game against its rival, Michigan will have to reload in a hurry for this week's showdown with Nebraska on the road.

Nothing has come easy for the Huskers on the road, but they buckled down in the clutch and got two touchdowns with under 6:00 remaining to get the win over Northwestern last week. Looking at the stats, it’s a wonder how the Huskers didn’t win in a blowout. Nebraska had 201 rush yards, a +242 yard advantage, and +12 first downs. The defense really stepped up as the Huskers allowed a respectful 180 rush yards (4.7 YPC) to one of the top rushing offenses in the country. They also held Northwestern QB’s to complete just 16-of-37 passes for 121 yards. That was a promising performance against a spread team after allowing 63 points to Ohio State in Nebraska’s last game. Next the Huskers will deal with a much more potent offense, but they’ll be at home where they are 4-0 this season.

Recent history: Nebraska isn’t lacking for motivation here after losing at Michigan by 28 points last season in their first matchup as conference foes. Nebraska turned the ball over three times and was held to just 260 total yards.

Trends: Michigan is just 9-25 ATS in its last 34 conference games and 3-9-1 ATS in its last 13 road games. Nebraska is 4-1 ATS in its last 5 home games, but just 1-5-1 ATS in its last 7 conference games. The Huskers are also just 1-6 ATS in their last 7 games following a SU win.

Injury report: Michigan CB Ramon Taylor is still listed as the starter on the depth chart after suffering an undisclosed injury last week. Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead is day-to-day after aggravating his left knee injury for the second time in three weeks Saturday at Northwestern.

Penn State (PK) vs. Ohio State 4:30 PM CST – ESPN
PSU: Last week at Iowa: W 38-14
OSU: Last week vs. Purdue: W 29-22 (OT)

This game has been dubbed as “The Ineligi-Bowl” as both squads are banned from postseason play this year. Both teams come in undefeated in league play so this is for the Leaders division lead. Still, without an impact on postseason implication, this game still means a lot to both sides that are playing well. Penn State is playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten and just got done destroying Iowa on the road, a place PSU hadn’t won at since 1999. The Nittany Lions have now reeled off five straight wins (5-0 ATS) and have won each game by an average of 20.2 points per game (none by less than 11 points). QB McGloin continued his ascension with 289 yards and two touchdowns last week and he now has 14 TD’s and just two INT’s this season. RB Belton added 103 rush yards and three scores last week and coach Bill O’Brien’s offense gets better every week. Defensively PSU held Iowa to just 20 rush yards on 23 carries and 209 total yards. PSU now ranks 22nd in total defense and 13th in scoring defense. Beaver Stadium will be rocking on Saturday afternoon when OSU comes to town.

This will be the toughest test to date for the undefeated Buckeyes, who barely escaped with a home win over Purdue last weekend. Backup QB Kenny Guiton led the Buckeyes to a game-tying touchdown with three seconds remaining to send the game into overtime – where they won. Guiton may get the start as Braxton Miller remains questionable for this weekend’s game (see more below). The Buckeyes haven’t been good defensively this season. OSU ranks 68th in total defense, 109th against the pass, and 51st in scoring defense. The Bucks are allowing 31.3 points per game in conference play and they’ll face another difficult test against PSU’s new & improved offense.

Recent history: It’s been a pretty even series history. Ohio State is 4-3 SU & ATS over the previous seven. They’ve also won back-to-back games at State College by 20 & 17 points, respectively. PSU won this meeting at OSU last season, 20-14. That was the score at halftime and PSU’s defense (held OSU to just 139 2nd half yards) and running game (239 rush yards on 6.1 YPC) led the way for the PSU victory.

Trends: OSU is 26-10-1 ATS in its last 37 road games. But the Bucks are just 2-5 ATS in their last seven games overall. PSU is on a 6-0 ATS run. The Nittany Lions are also 4-1-1 ATS in their last 6 conference games. In head-to-head trends, the road team is 4-1 ATS in their last 5 meetings and the score has remained ‘under’ in six of the last eight meetings.

Injury report: Braxton Miller is participating in practice, but head coach Urban Meyer hasn’t stated if Miller will play or not this Saturday. PSU LB Joshua Perry and WR Corey Brown both are expected to be fine for the Penn State game after getting nicked up against Purdue.

Wisconsin (-6.5) vs. Michigan State – 2:30 PM CST
UW: Last week vs. Minnesota: W 38-13
MSU: Last week at Michigan: L 10-12

This was supposed to be one of the marquee matchups in the Big Ten this season. But Wisconsin dropped two of its first five games and MSU already has four losses, taking away some of the luster from this budding rivalry. Still, there’s no love lost from these two after two meetings last season (more in “recent history” below) and motivation will be high for both squads. The Badgers have gotten back to the ground-n-pound attack over the last few weeks. RB’s Montee Ball and James White have paved the way for a three-game winning streak. Ball has 529 yards (7.3 YPC) and seven scores while White has 341 yards (9.2 YPC) and four scores. This offense will face its biggest test, however, when Michigan State’s 12th ranked rush defense comes to town Saturday. The defense stepped up again last week and held Minnesota to just 245 total yards as the Badgers retained Paul Bunyan's Axe for the ninth straight year. This underrated defensive unit now ranks 19th in total defense and 21st in points allowed.

MSU has now dropped two straight games and four of its last six overall. Offensively the Spartans are a mess, and things haven’t been improving (just 16.5 PPG over the last six games). The running attack appeared to be its strong suit early in the season, but Le’Veon Bell appears to be wearing down under the heavy workload. Over the last four games, he’s carried it 91 times for just 3.4 YPC with three scores. QB Maxwell also continues to struggle as he’s completing just 55% of his passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions this season. The defense played well again last week against Michigan, but to no avail. This unit is 5th in total defense and 11th in points allowed. MSU will have to avoid a hangover from last week’s loss to rival Michigan and get prepared for another road test here at Camp Randall Stadium.

Recent history: Michigan State has been a thorn in the Badgers side. Wisconsin is 17-4 in its last 21 Big Ten games; two of those four losses are against MSU. However, Wisconsin got some revenge in the inaugural Big Ten title game last season with a 42-39 victory over Sparty. Montee Ball had 283 rushing & receiving yards with six total touchdowns in two games against MSU last year. MSU has covered three straight vs. the Badgers.

Trends: MSU is 6-1 ATS in its last seven road games. The Spartans are just 1-5 ATS in their last six games overall. Wisconsin has covered four straight games and the Badgers are 13-4-1 ATS in their last 18 home games. The total has finished ‘over’ in the last six meetings between MSU-Wisconsin in Madison.

Injury report: Badgers coach Bret Bielema said he's unsure if LT Ricky Wagner will be available for this week's game against Michigan State. Wagner injured his right knee two weeks ago against Purdue.

Northwestern (-6) vs. Iowa – 11:00 AM CST – ESPN2
NU: Last week vs. Nebraska: L 28-29
UI: Last week vs. Penn State: L 14-38

Both teams suffered home losses last week and both teams’ chances of winning the Legends division just got that much smaller. For Northwestern, it was the second time in three weeks the Wildcats held a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter of a game it lost. NW watched a 12-point lead evaporate against Nebraska. Defensively the Wildcats allowed Nebraska QB Martinez to complete 27-of-39 passes for 342 yards and three scores while the Huskers also rushed for 201 yards (543 total yards allowed). QB Kain Colter barely played last week after being the focal point of the offense during the first half of the season. Colter and Siemian combined to complete just 16-of-37 for 121 yards. NW looks for a bounce-back performance here against the Hawkeyes.

After a big road win at Michigan State, Iowa returned home to a packed Kinnick Stadium for its lone night game of the year and the Hawks laid an egg. Iowa never really challenged PSU, as the Nittany Lions built a 24-0 halftime lead. The Hawks didn’t score until a kickoff return for touchdown in the 4th quarter. QB James Vandenberg and the Hawkeyes' offense struggled again. Through seven games, Vandenberg has just three touchdown passes (had 25 in 2011). A couple of notable injuries in the Northwestern secondary should help Vandenberg bounce back this weekend. This unit now ranks 107th in total offense and 103rd in scoring offense. The defense couldn’t stop Penn State as the Nittany Lions racked up over 500 yards of total offense and 28 first downs. With how mediocre the Hawkeyes have been this season, with a win over Northwestern, they can manage to linger in the Legends division race with a favorable schedule.

Recent history: Northwestern in 5-2 SU & ATS in the last seven meetings; however, the Hawkeyes won & covered in Iowa City last season, ending a three-year losing streak. Siemian and Colter each passed for a touchdown in a losing effort while Iowa QB Vandenberg led the way for the Hawkeyes with 224 passing yards and two scores.

Trends: Iowa is 36-15-1 ATS in its last 52 games following a loss. The Hawks are just 2-9 ATS in their last 11 road games. Northwestern has covered five straight home games and it is 7-1 ATS in its last eight games overall. The underdog is 6-1 ATS in the last seven meetings between these two and the score has remained ‘under’ the total in six of the last seven.

Injury report: Iowa starting LT Brandon Scherff will miss several months after undergoing surgery to repair a leg injury suffered in Saturday night's loss to Penn State. Northwestern’s secondary could be very thin this week. CB’s Nick VanHoose and Quinn Evans are doubtful. VanHoose is the team’s top cover man. The good news is that top RB Venric Mark is expected to play Saturday.

Minnesota (+3.5) vs. Purdue – 2:30 PM CST – Big Ten Network
UM: Last week at Wisconsin: L 13-38
PU: Last week at Ohio State: L 22-29

Purdue has dropped three straight games against some formidable Big Ten opponents: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. The Boilers still need to win three of their last five games to become bowl eligible and they have a pretty favorable schedule the rest of the way. This week against Minnesota they’ll have to shake off the stink of last week’s loss to Ohio State. Despite a blocked extra point and a blocked field goal - Purdue held a lead the entire 4th quarter before Ohio State scored the tying touchdown with just three seconds remaining (OSU won it in overtime). It was a strong performance on both sides of the ball from Purdue and just a devastating way to lose a game like that on the road. One of these two is going to break a three-game losing streak. The other falls to 0-4 in league play.

Minnesota Head coach Jerry Kill has committed to true freshman QB Philip Nelson as his quarterback, with oft-injured MarQueis Gray going to receiver. Nelson made his collegiate debut in his start at Wisconsin last week. He had mixed results, throwing for two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Gophers are looking for a scoring spark as Minnesota has scored exactly 13 points in three straight conference losses. They haven’t scored over 17 points since mid-September when Gray got hurt. Defensively the Gophers rank 6th against the pass – mostly because opponents have so much success running against them (83rd against the run) that they don’t have to pass. Last week Wisconsin ran for 337 yards on 6.1 YPC average.

Recent history: Purdue has won and covered two straight in the series and they are 7-3 SU & ATS dating back to 2000. Last year the Boilers took a 24-0 lead after the first quarter and took a 31-3 lead into halftime. Minnesota managed just 213 total yards and 11 first downs. The favorite is 10-1-1 ATS in the last 12 meetings between these two and the total has finished ‘over’ in the last four meetings in Minnesota.

Purdue is 6-2-1 ATS in its last nine games following a loss. Minnesota is 6-1 ATS in its last seven home games and 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games following a SU loss of more than 20 points.

Injury report: Minnesota WR Gray, whose knee/ankle issues prevent him from being full strength at quarterback, will work at wide receiver for the foreseeable future.

Illinois (-2) vs. Indiana – 11:00 AM CST - Big Ten Network
Ill: Last week - BYE
Ind: Last week at Navy: L 30-31

Both teams have combined to lose nine straight games. But the good news is that one of these two HAS to win this weekend. The Illini haven't been close to a victory over an FBS opponent since the opener. But they’ve had two weeks to prepare for this one after losing 0-45 to Michigan two weeks ago. Offensively the Illini have nothing going for them. They’ve scored 21 total points in three Big Ten games, rank 115th in total offense, and have more turnovers than touchdowns this season. The defense hasn’t been terrible, but even an elite unit couldn’t make up for the offensive deficiencies that this team has.

Sooner or later, Indiana has to pull one of these games out. They’ve lost five straight games by an average of 5 PPG. Four of the five games have been decided by four points or less including last week’s one-point loss to Navy. Indiana held a lead almost the entire game before Navy scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Hoosiers tallied 417 yards and 26 first downs, but two interceptions (one returned for touchdown) and the inability to stop the run doomed them in the end. Navy tallied 257 rush yards.

Recent history: Illinois has won and covered four of the last five in the series. The four wins were by an average 26.5 points per game (none by fewer than 13 points). Last year Indiana took a 10-0 lead, but was outscored 41-10 after that in the 21-point loss.

Trends: Indiana is 3-1-1 ATS in its last five games following a loss. Illinois is 0-4 ATS in its last four conference games. The favorite is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings between these two and the home team is 7-3 ATS in the last 10 meetings.

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