Get the best handicapping articles and gambling advice throughout the football, basketball and baseball seasons from the world's top sports handicappers, as well as from Bovada (Bodog) Sportsbook and Casino.
Big 10 Conference Report -- Nov. 5
by ASA - 11/05/2014
GAME OF THE WEEK
Michigan State (-3.5) vs. Ohio State - 7:00 PM CST
The symmetry in this matchup is unbelievable. It's the two best teams in the B1G playing in the most important conference game of the year. Trying to find an edge in this matchup is an extremely tough task. MSU has won six straight games by 30.5 PPG and has the No. 5 scoring offense in the nation; OSU has won six straight by 33.8 PPG and has the No. 4 ranked scoring offense in the nation. Michigan State has surrendered just 20.3 PPG in B1G play and has the No. 5 ranked total defense; OSU has surrendered just 19.8 PPG in B1G play and has the No. 8 ranked total defense. MSU has won 12 straight home games by an average of 24.6 PPG; OSU has won 12 straight road games by an average of 15.4 PPG. The oddsmakers have made MSU a slight favorite here as they are playing at home off of a bye. The bye week came at a perfect time for the Spartans. They are off of an emotional victory over in-state rival Michigan and now have had an extra week to prepare for the Buckeyes. There aren’t many negative things to say about the Spartans right now as they are playing extremely sound football. The offense is humming behind QB Cook (17 TD, 5 INT) and RB Langford (100+ rush yards in five straight games). The run defense is surrendering just 95.4 YPG on 3.3 YPC and the pass defense is allowing opposing QB’s to complete just 51 percent. OSU is off of a blowout win over Illinois in a game where the Bucks got to rest the starters, so fatigue shouldn't be a factor here. QB J.T. Barrett has 20 pass TD and just 2 INT while adding 5 rush TD over OSU’s last six games. There is a bit of concern here though as he has yet to face a defense the likes of MSU, and the most similar comparison would be a game against a stout Penn State defense in which he had one of his poorer games (12-of-19 for 74 yards with 1 TD and 2 INT). The Bucks will look to get their 14th ranked rushing attack (259.2 rush YPG) going to aid their freshman quarterback here. Defensively the Bucks have developed into one of the top units in the conference and they get after the quarterback. Joey Bosa leads the conference in sacks, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles and has made a few game-altering plays this season. Ohio State is 8-2 SU over the last 10 games in the series, but Michigan State has won and covered two of the last three, including last year's matchup in the B1G Championship game. The last three games in the series have been decided by just 14 total points. Ohio State is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 as a road underdog, winning five of the 10 games outright. Michigan State is 6-1 ATS in its last seven home games and 10-4 ATS in its last 14 B1G games.
Wisconsin (-16) @ Purdue - 11:00 AM CST
Wisconsin didn’t exactly have a warm welcome to B1G newcomers Maryland and Rutgers in the past two weeks as the Badgers destroyed both by a combined score of 89-7. Last week’s 37-0 blowout of Rutgers was particularly dominant as they allowed the Scarlet Knights to gain just 139 total yards and achieve 8 first downs. RB’s Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement did the heavy lifting on offense, combining for 259 rush yards and 4 rush TD. Wisconsin will be chomping at the bit to get Gordon & Clement going against this Purdue defense that has surrendered 252.6 rush YPG (5.2 YPC) and 9 rush TD in its last three games. UW defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has his unit clicking on all cylinders as Wisconsin is 1st nationally in yards per game allowed (253.8), 3rd in pass YPG allowed (150.9), 11th in rush YPG allowed (102.9), and 3rd in PPG allowed (14.1). Opponents have reached the red zone just 13 times in eight games so far, by far the fewest in the B1G. Purdue, while improved offensively from 2013, ranks 104th nationally in total yards per game and 84th in points per game. Before being limited to just 14 points against Nebraska last week, the Boilers had scored 31 points or more in three straight, so there’s hope here for Purdue’s offense. For the Boilers to have a chance at winning, QB Austin Appleby will have to perform better than he did against the Huskers last week. Appleby completed just 18-of-46 passes (39 percent) for 216 yards with 1 TD and 2 INT. His poor play led Purdue to convert on just 2-of-16 3rd down opportunities and 14 points. Though Purdue has been a lot more competitive this season than it was in 2013, it hasn’t translated into victories. The Boilers have now dropped three straight and will need to win out to become bowl-eligible. Wisconsin has won and covered eight straight vs. the Boilermakers, winning each of those eight matchups by an average of 24.1 PPG. Last year in Madison the Badgers won, 41-10, and had a +366 total yard advantage. They rushed for 388 yards and 5 TD on 8.1 YPC. Wisconsin is just 6-15 ATS in its last 21 as a road favorite of 10 points or more. Purdue is 4-0-1 ATS this season as a double-digit underdog.
Iowa (-1.5) @ Minnesota - 11:00 AM CST
The Hawkeyes had the most impressive victory in the B1G last week with its 48-7 shellacking of Northwestern. Don’t look now but the Hawks may have found themselves an offense. They’ve averaged 41.3 PPG over the last three and were all over the Wildcats from the get-go last week. They scored the first 24 points of the game en route to a 38-7 halftime lead over Illinois. They had their best rushing performance of the season with 221 rush yards and 4 TD on 4.8 YPC. The defense was outstanding in holding Northwestern to just 180 total yards and 13 first downs. The defensive front held the Wildcats to just 105 rush yards on 2.4 YPC and limited NW to just 9-of-24 passing for 75 yards. It’s a good time for Iowa to break out as the Hawks start a stretch of important games against Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin to decide the B1G West race. It was a great time for the Gophers to have a bye week as they are off of an embarrassing loss to Illinois two weeks ago. Minnesota was able to pull off back-to-back close victories over Northwestern and Purdue, but couldn’t do it a third straight time against Illinois. The lack of a competent passing attack really hurt the Gophers as QB Leidner completed just 12-of-30 passes. The Gophers actually held a three-point lead in the 4th quarter before Illinois returned a Leidner fumble for a TD. Leidner’s inconsistencies in the passing game (Minnesota is 122nd nationally in pass YPG) could be the downfall of this team. He’ll have to be at the top of his game this week against an Iowa pass-defense that ranks 3rd in the B1G in pass-defense efficiency, allowing opposing QB’s to complete just 50.2% with 6 TD and 10 INT. The good news is that Minnesota had a bye week to figure out its issues; the bad news is that the competition takes a huge step up from here on out with games against Iowa, OSU, Nebraska, and Wisconsin (combined record of 27-6). The Floyd of Rosedale trophy battle between these two has always been a hotly contested rivalry. Minnesota has covered five of the last eight in the series, but Iowa is 2-0 SU & ATS the past two seasons, winning both games by 16+ points. Iowa has covered eight of its last nine road games and is 5-0 SU & ATS in its last five games as a road favorite. Minnesota is 4-9-1 ATS in its last 14 games as a home underdog of fewer than 10 points.
Penn State (-5) @ Indiana - 11:00 AM CST
Penn State continues to free-fall. The Nittany Lions lost another heart-breaker last week in their one-point home loss to B1G newcomer Maryland. It was PSU’s fourth straight loss overall and third straight by seven points or fewer. Defensively the Nittany Lions played good enough to beat the Terps, allowing just 194 total yards and 15 first downs. It was another struggle offensively that led to PSU’s demise in this one. QB Hackenberg had another poor outing, completing just 18-of-42 passes for 177 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT with 2 lost fumbles. Hackenberg is completing just 54.7% with just 3 pass TD and 8 turnovers (5 INT, 3 fumbles) in PSU’s four-game skid. It doesn’t help Hackenberg’s case the PSU has one of the worst rush-offenses in the nation. The Nittany Lions have just 162 rush yards on less than 1.5 YPC over the last four games. They should be able to find a little running room against this Indiana defense that has allowed 240 rush YPG over its last three games. Indiana doesn’t have a viable option at quarterback now that Nate Sudfeld is out for the year. Since he got injured against Iowa, his backups have combined to complete just 13-of-36 passes for 66 yards with 0 TD and 2 INT in a little over two games of action. A 34-10 loss to Michigan last week showed opponents how easy it is to roll through Indiana if you can keep Tevin Coleman under wraps. Coleman, to his credit, has still surpassed 100 rush yards in every game this season (averaging 162.5 rush YPG), but he can’t win games by himself. And Indiana’s defense hasn’t proven that it’s good enough to keep the Hoosiers competitive. The Hoosiers allowed Michigan’s anemic offense to gain 404 total yards. They even made Michigan QB Devin Gardner look like he was a star. They are now 101st in yards per game allowed and 108th in points per game allowed. Indiana was 0-16 SU in the series against Penn State before notching its first win in 2013, 44-24. The Hoosiers are also 5-2 ATS in the last seven games vs. the Nittany Lions. Indiana is 0-4 ATS in conference play this season and 2-9 ATS in its last 11 B1G games dating back to last season. Penn State is 7-4 ATS in its last 11 as a road favorite.
Michigan (-1.5) @ Northwestern - 2:30 PM CST
The fact that Northwestern is a home underdog to these Wolverines goes to show how much the Wildcats are struggling right now. They’ve now dropped three consecutive games after a promising 2-0 start in B1G play that included a victory over Wisconsin. The offense is horrendous. This unit has averaged just 13.6 PPG during the three-game losing streak. It starts with the struggles of QB Siemian, who is completing just 54% for 170 pass YPG with 1 TD and 2 INT over the last three games. They may have bottomed out in last week’s loss to Iowa, a game in which the Wildcats were outgained by 303 yards and were down by 31 points by halftime. A once promising defense (16.2 PPG allowed after five games) has now allowed 36.6 PPG over the last three. Coach Pat Fitzgerald is using last week’s debacle as motivation to bounce back and get Northwestern into bowl eligibility, starting against the Wolverines this Saturday. After losing to in-state rival Michigan State, Michigan took out its frustration on Indiana last Saturday in a 34-10 victory. Indiana, playing essentially without a passing attack (5-of-8 passing for 24 yards), wasn’t necessarily hard to dispatch. But it was a promising effort from this Michigan offense that gained 404 total yards behind a solid day from QB Gardner (22-of-29 for 220 yards with 2 TD and 1 INT). Sophomore RB Drake Johnson had a breakout performance with 122 rush yards and 2 TD on just 16 carries. The Wolverines, with all of their struggles and headaches this season, have two winnable games in a row before its season-ending showdown with the Buckeyes. If they can continue to improve and play mistake-free on the offensive side, 2014 could conclude with a happy ending after all. Michigan is 5-0 SU & 4-1 ATS in its last five trips to Evanston, including last year’s 27-19 overtime road victory. Michigan is just 7-17-1 ATS in its last 25 road games and 3-8 ATS in its last 11 games as a B1G road favorite. Northwestern is 6-11 ATS in its last 17 games as a home underdog and just 3-10 ATS in its last 13 B1G games.
Nebraska - Bye
Nebraska got a bit of a scare when star RB Ameer Abdullah left Saturday's game against Purdue with a knee injury. It doesn’t appear to be anything too serious, and it helps that Nebraska has a bye week for Abdullah to heal. But his status is up in the air when the Huskers return to the field in a critical B1G West matchup against Wisconsin on November 15th. Abdullah’s absence was evident against Purdue has the Huskers struggled to move the football. Nebraska gained just 297 total yards, including 179 rush yards on just 3.5 YPC. QB Armstrong was also ineffective, throwing for just 118 yards with 1 TD and 2 INT. Still, the Huskers were able to take advantage of Purdue’s mistakes and score 35 points in the win. They’ll rest up and prepare a gameplan for the key battle against Wisconsin next week.
Maryland - Bye
Maryland bounced back from its blowout loss to Wisconsin to notch a key conference victory over Penn State. For the Terps, it was just their second win over Penn State in the last 38 tries, and it made them officially bowl-eligible. They may have started a new rivalry in the process in the hotly contested battle as Maryland’s captains refused to shake hands with PSU’s captains when they met for the coin toss. As for the game, Maryland managed just 194 total yards, including just 33 rush yards on 30 carries – making it their 2nd consecutive game with fewer than 50 rush yards. Defensively Maryland hasn’t looked better this season. They held PSU to just 219 total yards, including 42 rush yards on 41 carries while forced four turnovers. The Terps now get a bye week to prepare for a battle with Michigan State on November 15th.
Rutgers - Bye
After a promising 5-1 start to the season, the Scarlet Knights have now dropped three straight. The three losses came by an average of 31.3 PPG with the closest margin of defeat an 18-point loss to Nebraska. They may have bottomed out in the home loss to Wisconsin last week as it’s difficult to imagine them playing any worse than they did last week. Playing against the best defense in the Big Ten, Rutgers managed just 139 total yards and 8 first downs and were shutout for the first time in 12 years. QB’s Nova & Laviano combined to complete just 7-of-27 passes for 63 yards while the rushing attacked notched just 76 yards on 29 carries (2.6 YPC). The front line of the defense was gashed for 298 yards despite stacking the box. Their next game, a home game against Indiana next week, seems to be a “must-win” for the Scarlet Knights to become bowl eligible as they’ll be underdogs on the road the final two weeks of the season (@MSU, @Maryland).
Illinois - Bye
The momentum from upsetting Minnesota disappeared pretty quickly against Ohio State last week. The Illini were completely outmatched from the get-go as OSU held a 31-0 halftime lead. The Bucks had a 48-0 advantage before Illinois put a couple of garbage touchdowns & yards on the board late in the game. QB O’Toole, who had put together a string of respectable performances, struggled mightily. He tossed for just 58 yards with 2 INT before getting pulled from the game. The rushing attack managed just 106 yards on 42 carries, making it the eight game out of nine that the Illini have been held under 4.0 YPC. It’ll take a miraculous finish for Illinois to win two of its final three to become bowl-eligible. Next up the Illini host Iowa on November 15th.