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Big 10 Insider Report
by ASA - 10/21/2016
OHIO STATE (-20) @ PENN STATE – Saturday at 8:00 PM ET
PENN STATE – PSU had last week to prepare for this huge home game. We’re guessing they’ll try and get the ground game going with RB Saquon Barkley against an Ohio State defense that allowed over 230 yards rushing last week @ Wisconsin. Barkley was “struggling” a bit heading into his most recent game vs Maryland. He had 4 consecutive “non-100 yard” games before exploding for 202 vs the Terps. On the defensive side of the ball, the Nittany Lions have struggled to stop the run which is not a winning recipe when playing Ohio State. In their 3 Big Ten games the Penn State defense has given up 170, 228, and 326 yards on the ground. Now they must attempt to slow down the Big Ten’s top rushing offense with the Buckeyes putting up 300 YPG on the ground on 6.0 YPC. Being as banged up as they’ve been, that might be a tough task for the Nits. They have been without all of their starting LB’s due to injuries, however there is a chance that Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda could return on Saturday. We’re told they are getting close to coming back. If they do return, it would be the first time since the season opener they’ve played together. They’ll need those two back if they want to have a chance to slow down Ohio State’s running game.
OHIO STATE – The schedule makers are not making it easy on the Buckeyes. This is the second straight week they are on the road vs a team coming off a bye. Last week they led Wisconsin for only 6 minutes of the 60 minute game (regulation). They were outgained by the Badgers and allowed Wisconsin to grind out 236 yards on the ground. The Ohio State defense came into the game allowing under 100 YPG rushing. Despite being outplayed by Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium, the Buckeyes came out with an OT win. Amazingly, it was the Bucks 17th straight Big Ten road win and Urban Meyer’s 20th consecutive road win overall. Their last conference road loss came back in 2011 which is an astounding accomplishment. The Buckeyes are laying a big number here and it’s the 16th time in their last 17 road games they’ve been favored. It’s also the 4th straight time that OSU has been a double digit favorite over Penn State. After covering their first 4 games of the season, the Buckeyes lost each of their last 2 games to the spread vs Indiana and Wisconsin. Their number remain dominating though as they are outgaining their opponents by an average of 236 YPG and 2.5 YPP. The OSU pass defense has been phenomenal allowing only 159 YPG but have shown some vulnerability in stopping the run. While their overall rush defense numbers are very solid (121 YPG) the two good running teams they’ve faced this year, Wisconsin & Oklahoma, have moved the ball well on the ground.
LAST YEAR – Ohio State was favored by -17.5 at home last year and won easily 38-10. Now they are favored by more on the road @ PSU this year than they were last season at home. As expected, the Buckeyes are 29-0 SU the last 29 times they’ve been a road favorite of -20 or more and a solid 18-10-1 ATS in those games. This is THE LARGEST underdog Penn State has EVER been at home. The closest was 2 years ago when they were +14 at home against these Buckeyes.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Since joining the Big Ten, Penn State is just 7-16 vs Ohio State and just 8-15 ATS in those games.
WISCONSIN (-4) @ IOWA – Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
WISCONSIN – Can the Badgers get up off the mat after last Saturday’s brutal home loss to the Buckeyes? That will possibly be the #1 key to this game. They opened as a 3-point road favorite in this game and as of this writing have pushed up to -4 at some spots. Wisconsin played OSU toe to toe last week and by many accounts actually outplayed the Buckeyes. The Badgers, who were 10-point underdogs, were actually tied or ahead in regulation for all but 6 minutes and 15 seconds. Wisconsin outgained OSU last Saturday including rolling up 236 yards on the ground vs a Buckeye defense that was allowing 98 YPG rushing coming into the game. Defensively they held Ohio State to 5.5 YPP but really had trouble putting pressure on JT Barrett. That was partly due to the fact that LB Vince Biegel, UW’s top pass rusher, was out for his second straight game due to an injured foot. Biegel has progressed well after his surgery a few weeks ago and actually is slated to play this weekend @ Iowa if all goes well in practice this week. The Badgers dropped to 4-2 on the year, however their 2 losses came at the hands of #2 Ohio State and #4 Michigan by just 7 points each. QB Alex Hornibrook looked much better last week after recovering from a bruised sternum suffered early on in the Michigan game. That injury was kept under wraps until late last week and explains why he looked so poor vs the Wolverines.
IOWA – The Hawkeyes offense was struggling big time going into last week’s game vs Purdue but they couldn’t ask for a better remedy than having to face the porous Boilermaker defense. After failing to top 21 points in three of their previous four games, the Hawkeyes erupted for 49 points on 520 yards. Iowa had 6 possessions in the first half and scored TD’s on 5 of them to lead 35-7 at half. However, the Hawkeyes, as might be expected, came out flat after halftime getting outscored 28-14 in the 2nd stanza. The Iowa defense really struggled in the 2nd half allowing the Boilermaker offense to score 4 TD’s on 389 yards. Because of that poor 2nd half, Iowa only outgained Purdue by 15 yards, the first time they’ve outgained an opponent this season. Purdue rolled up 505 total yards with only 47 of those coming on the ground. On the other side, Iowa destroyed the Boilers terrible rush defense to the tune of 365 yards on the ground. They’ll have a much tougher go of it this week facing a Wisconsin defense allowing 106 YPG rushing and that includes facing the likes of LSU, Michigan, and Ohio State. Iowa returns home where they have lost 2 straight at the hands of North Dakota State and Northwestern.
LAST YEAR – The Badgers were a 5-point favorite at home last year and lost to the Hawkeyes in a low scoring affair 10-6. Wisconsin outgained the Hawks by 100 yards but turned the ball over 4 times including at the Iowa 1-yard line going in for the winning score in the 4th quarter.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – The Hawkeyes have been tabbed home underdogs just twice since 2013. Both of those games were vs Wisconsin and the Badgers won both 28-9 and 26-24. Going back further, Iowa has been a home dog 38 times since the start of the 1989 season. They are just 9-29 SU in those games (18-18-2 ATS). Wisconsin has won 12 of their last 13 SU as a road favorite (8-4 ATS)
RUTGERS @ MINNESOTA (-19) – Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
MINNESOTA – In the battle of back up QB’s last Saturday, Minnesota’s Conor Rhoda topped Maryland’s Tyrell Pigrome 31-10. Pigrome had the better numbers throwing for 161 yards and rushing for 71 yards while Rhoda completed just 7 passes for 82 yards and had negative yards rushing. Pigrome, however, committed 2 of the Terps 3 turnovers while the Gophs didn’t have a giveaway. You wouldn’t look at the box score and come to the conclusion that Minnesota won this game by 3 TD’s. The Gophs had just 311 total yards, averaged less than 5 yards per play, completed only 7 passes and converted on only 29% of their third down plays yet still put up 31 points. The offense was hoping to get starting QB Mitch Leidner back this week after sitting out with a concussion last week although we’ve been told that looks like a long shot. They are preparing as though Rhoda will get the start again. The Minny defense continued to play very well allowing just 10 points and less than 4 YPP. So far in Big Ten play the Gophers have allowed 7, 10, and 23 (in regulation) points. They held both Iowa & Maryland to just one offensive TD each. Since getting back to full strength in the defensive backfield before the Iowa game (suspended and injured players returning), they have allowed just 142 and 161 yards passing. That was the strength of their defense last year as well as they allowed just 180 YPG through the air.
RUTGERS – And the beat goes on for the Scarlet Knights. They were whipped again, this time by a lower tier Big Ten team with Illinois rolling to an easy 24-7 road win. That loss dropped Rutgers to 0-4 in the Big Ten and they have been outscored 174-14 in those four games! If that doesn’t tell you how bad Rutgers has been in conference play, how about this. They are last in scoring offense (3.5 PPG), last in scoring defense (43.5 PPG), last in total offense (231 YPG), and 13th (second to last) in total defense (486 YPG). That pretty much tells the story for new head coach Chris Ash and his 2016 Rutgers team. The amazing part is, despite getting outscored by a whopping 160 points in league play, the Knights have actually outgained 2 of their 4 Big Ten opponents (Iowa & Illinois). They were also 2-1 heading into conference play. So with an offense averaging barely over a FG per game in the Big Ten, a change is a no-brainer and that’s what Ash has done for this week’s game @ Minnesota. QB Chris Laviano will take a seat and sophomore Gio Rescigno will get his first career start. Rescigno played the entire 2nd half of last week’s game vs Illinois and went 10 for 18 and led Rutgers on their first TD drive since September 24th! We do know this, it would be nearly impossible to do any worse for an offense that ranks 127th (out of 128) averaging 298 YPG.
LAST YEAR – No meetings since Rutgers joined the Big Ten.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – This is rarified air for the Gophers. Since 2006 they’ve been favored by -17 or more just 5 times and failed to cover 4 of those. They also lost 2 of those 5 games outright. Over their last 48 games dating back to mid-season 2012, Rutgers is just 19-29 ATS. Going way back to 1980, our database tells us that Rutgers is just 3-77-1 SU and 32-48-1 ATS as underdogs of 17 or more (0-3 ATS this year).
INDIANA @ NORTHWESTERN (-2.5) – Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
NORTHWESTERN – The Cats opened as 3 point favorites in this one and they have since dropped to -1.5. Northwestern is coming off impressive back to back road wins (with a bye in between) winning @ Iowa and @ Michigan State. While those are tough spots to win, if we’re talking last year, wow. This year, both Iowa and MSU look to be down quite a bit, both have lost back to back home games, so it’s not overly surprising. The way the Cats won last week was something that caught our eye. They got down 14-0 in East Lansing and then went on a 33-3 run into the 3rd quarter to build up a 33-17 lead. Sparty then cut that lead to 33-31 and the Wildcats then returned the ensuing kickoff for a TD and went on to win 54-40. Where the heck was this NW offense early in the season? They started the year just 1-3 and were averaging only 16 PPG. Over the last 2 games they’ve rolled up 92 points on 852 yards. They are 19 of 38 on 3rd down (or 4th) in those games which is a big reason why they have put up the numbers they have. They’ve been able to keep their offense on the field. Where would NW be right now if they had that type of offensive production early in the year? Probably undefeated as their 3 losses on the season have come by a combined 14 points. RB Justin Jackson leads the Big Ten in rushing and QB Clayton Thorson is leaps and bounds better than last year. He’s improved his completion percentage by 8% (50% to 58%), his yards per attempt has gone from 5.2 to 6.9, and he already has more TD pass this season (11) than he had all of last year (9). Now if the Cats can shore up their defense (allowing nearly 100 more YPG this year than last) this team will be very dangerous from this point on.
INDIANA – Who thought when the season started we’d be discussing Northwestern’s potent offense and subpar defense while also focusing in on Indiana’s much improve defense and “struggling” offense. After 3 conference games, Northwestern’s offense ranks ahead of Indiana in both YPG and PPG. On the flip side, Indiana’s defense ranks ahead of NW in both YPG and PPG. What world are we living in? Two weeks ago the Hoosiers held OSU to their lowest yards per play output of the year. Last week they held Nebraska to 5.0 YPP and also held them scoreless in the 2nd and 3rd quarter. If it weren’t for a pick 6 by the Huskers in the 1st quarter, Indiana may have pulled the upset. The IU defense has been susceptible to the run allowing 188 YPG, however those numbers are even skewed a bit as OSU rolled up nearly 300 on the ground. In their last 2 games, the Hoosier defense held the Buckeyes 11 points below their season average and Nebraska 8 points below theirs. The problem has been the offense scoring only 17 and he 22 points in those games. Their other Big Ten game, a win over MSU, the Hoosiers were only able to score 24 and only 21 in regulation. Much of the problem has been the inconsistency of QB Richard Lagow who has thrown 9 interceptions in his last 4 games inlcluding 2 last week vs Nebaska. We never thought we’d say it but it looks like Northwestern will have the advantage on offense in this game while Indiana will have the advantage on defense.
LAST YEAR – These two haven’t met since 2012 when Northwestern won big 44-29.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – The Wildcats have won 8 of the last 9 in this series. 7 of the last 9 in this Big Ten battle have been decided by a TD or less. Northwestern is just 7-17 ATS their last 24 home games.
ILLINOIS @ MICHIGAN (-39) – Saturday at 3:30 PM ET
MICHIGAN – The Wolverines are coming off a bye after beating Rutgers 78-0 two weeks ago. Michigan is 3-0 in the Big Ten and have outscored their 3 opponents 141-17! Michigan has outgained each of their seven opponents by an average of 250 YPG. They have outgained every opponent by at least 100 yards with the exception of Colorado who they outgained by 72 yards. This number has Michigan -36.5 which is the second highest spread for the Wolverines this year only behind Hawaii which had Michigan favored by -38. The Wolves won that game 63-3. The defense has been lights out all year. The U of M defense is the only team in the entire country to allow under 4 YPP coming in at 3.58 YPP which is by far the best in the nation. Florida is next best allowing 4.14 YPP. The Wolves are also by far #1 in YPG allowed at 212 which is a full 33 yards better than Army which is slotted at #2. They also lead the country in sacks per game at 4 and 3rd down conversion rate allowing opponents only 12%. Offensively this team is very tough to defend, especially on the ground, where the Wolverines have four players that have at least 250 yards rushing. Their 25 rushing TD’s lead the nation.
ILLINOIS – The Illini got off the schneid last week beating Rutgers after losing four straight leading into that one. Rutgers seems to be the remedy for teams to “get right” and Illinois sort of did that with a 24-7 win. Illinois was outgained by 65 yards in the game but ran only 57 offensive plays to 80 for Rutgers. Starting QB Wes Lunt was on the shelf last week with a back injury. His replacement Chayce Crouch stepped in a “managed” the win over Rutgers completing just 6 passes for 92 yards. Crouch injured his shoulder late in the game @ Rutgers and may not play this weekend. If the first two QB’s are unable to step on the field, the Illini would send Jeff George Jr under center and he has never taken a snap in a college football game. That would be a disaster against a defense the caliber of Michigan’s. The good news for Illinois fans is, both Lunt and Crouch were in full pads at practice on Wednesday and looked OK. The Illinois defense looked better last week, who wouldn’t vs a Rutgers team averaging 3.5 PPG in Big Ten play, giving up just one TD. That was after allowing at least 31 points in four straight games. The Illini are 36.5 point dogs in this one which is the 3rd largest underdog number for Illinois in the last 25 years.
LAST YEAR – These two last met in 2012 when the Wolverines shutout Illinois 45-0.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – This is the FOURTH time this season alone that Michigan has been favored by 30 points or more. They are 3-0 ATS in their first 3. For comparison’s sake coming into this year the Wolverines were favored by 30 or more just 12 times since the start of the 200 season. The Illini have been a 30+ point underdog only 5 times since 1980 (2-3 ATS) and just once since 2005.
MICHIGAN STATE (-3) @ MARYLAND – Saturday at 7:30 PM ET
MARYLAND – The Terps, under new head coach DJ Durkin, looked like they might be one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten early in the season. They rolled through their first four games with a perfect record. Granted those games were against Howard, FIU, UCF, and Purdue, but they didn’t lose a game none the less. We mentioned that we couldn’t get a good read on how good Maryland might be because of their early competition. Now we have a better idea. Since the 4-0 start, the Terps have played two “middling” Big Ten teams, Penn State & Minnesota, and were trounced by both. PSU beat them 38-14 and the Gophs went into College Park and won 31-10 with both teams playing their back up QB’s. Maryland was dominated in both of those games getting outgained in both by 274 combined yards. After averaging 43 PPG over their first four games Maryland has put up just 12 PPG their last two games. Part of that drop off can be attributed to the absence of starting QB Perry Hills. He injured his shoulder late in the 2nd quarter of their game @ PSU two weeks ago and he has not played since. He’s still questionable this week, however he was listed as the #1 QB on the depth chart earlier this week. The defense actually played fairly well last week. You wouldn’t guess that looking at the scoreboard but the Terps limited Minnesota to just over 300 yards and less than 5 YPP. They are allowing just 4.8 YPP on the season. Very solid but they need help from the offense who needs to get it straight soon.
MICHIGAN STATE – If Maryland is struggling then MSU is in a complete free fall. Last week’s 54-40 loss at home to Northwestern was Sparty’s fourth straight loss. The crazy part is, they were favored in all 4 games and lost by a combined score of 139-81. It was the first time since 2006 that the Spartans have lost 4 games in a row and our database tells us it’s the first time they have EVER lost four games in a row as a favorite. Head coach Mark Dantonio is doing whatever he can to jumpstart this team as he inserted freshman Brian Lewerke under center last week for his first career start. Lewerke started fairly well leading MSU to 10 points on 136 yards over his first four drives. Although he also threw a pick 6 on one of those four drives as well. However on his next 4 drives Michigan State totaled 19 years, punted 3 times and Lewerke was sacked for a safety on the other. He was then yanked and previous starter O’Connor played the remainder of the game. This week both have taken reps with the #1 offense but no decision had been made as of Thursday. Let’s not blame this all on the offense. The defense isn’t helping as last week’s 54 point outburst by Northwestern was the most points this team has given up since 2003. They’ve allowed 30 or more points in 3 of their 6 games this year after allowing 30 or more in just 6 of their previous 54 games entering this season.
LAST YEAR – MSU has won and covered both meetings between these two. Last year Sparty won 24-7 as a 14.5 point home favorite and in 2014 they won 27-15 as a 10.5 point road chalk.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – If MSU loses this game, it will be their 5th consecutive loss as a favorite. As we stated above, the Spartans have NEVER lost 4 straight games as a favorite until last week so 5 in a row would obviously be a first as well. Dating back to the start of last season, MSU is now 3-12-1 ATS their last 16 as a favorite. Believe it or not, this is the first time this season the Terps have been an underdog. They have lost 14 straight games as an underdog (4-10 ATS).
PURDUE @ NEBRASKA (-24) – Saturday at 3:30 PM ET
NEBRASKA – While Nebraska comes in with a perfect 6-0 record, their best start since 2001, we’re still not sure just how good this team is. I guess you could say their “signature” win this year was at home vs Oregon 35-32. While that looked like a very good win at the time, the Ducks have since flopped so how good was that win? The only team they’ve beaten that currently has a winning record is Wyoming who comes in at 4-2. They jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead last week on Indiana, with the help of a pick 6, but had to hold on late for the 27-22 win. The offense was held somewhat in check by the IU defense averaging just 5.0 YPP. After completing over 65% of his passes in the first two Big Ten games, QB Tommy Armstrong struggled big time @ Indiana. He completed just 38% of his passes and threw 2 interceptions in the game. It looks like Armstrong and company will get some help on Saturday as the offensive line is close to full strength. Starting left tackle Nick Gates has been out with a bad ankle but practiced some this week and may play. Starting center Dylan Utter dislocated a finger but should play on Saturday. Armstrong has thrown 65 fewer passes through 6 games this year compared to last and don’t expect that to change this weekend. That because the Huskers average 220 yards rushing on 47 attempts and they are facing a Purdue defense that is allowing their Big Ten opponents to rush for an average of 360 YPG! Expect the ball to stay on the ground a lot on Sunday.
PURDUE – The Boilers came into this season with just a 6-30 record over the last 3 seasons. They were actually showing some progress this year with a 3-3 mark through 6 games. Apparently they weren’t showing enough progress as head coach Darrell Hazell was given his walking papers after last week’s 49-35 loss at home to Iowa. It was an interesting move at this point of the season because it’s quite obvious the players like Hazell and definitely hadn’t quit on him. Despite getting down 28-0 and 35-7 at half, this Purdue team battled back to within 14 twice in the 2nd half and had the ball attempting to cut the lead to 7 at one point in the 4th quarter. WR’s coach Gerad Parker takes over as interim head coach with zero head coaching experience. The Purdue offense has been fairly explosive this year averaging 441 YPG and scoring 34+ points in half their games. The problem has been on the other side of the ball. The Purdue run defense has failed to hold ANY of their Big Ten opponents under 300 rushing yards! They’ve also allowed 50, 31, and 49 points in their 3 conference games.
LAST YEAR – Purdue (+7.5) pulled the home upset last year beating Nebraska 55-45. The Huskers scored first with a FG to lead 3-0 and Purdue never trailed after that.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – The Huskers are 2-1 ATS this year as a double digit favorite however entering the season they were just 15-25 ATS in that role the previous 40. This is the largest number Purdue has faced this year by nearly 2 TD’s – they were +11 at home vs Iowa. The Boilers are 6-0 ATS the last 6 times they’ve been a dog of 3 TD’s or more.