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Big 10 Insiders Report
by ASA - 10/26/2016
NEBRASKA @ WISCONSIN (-8.5) – Saturday at 7:00 PM ET
WISCONSIN – The Badgers opened as a 7-point favorite here and within 24 hours the line was up to -8.5 & -9. Wisconsin comes in 5-2 but their losses have come by 7 points each vs Ohio State & Michigan. They dominated last week’s game vs Iowa more than the final score of 17-9 might indicate. Wisconsin outgained Iowa by nearly 200 yards holding the Hawks to just 3.9 yards per play. The UW offense pushed the ball inside the Iowa 35-yard line on 4 of their 5 first half possessions but had just 7 points at half. They missed a FG, punted from the Iowa 35, and fumbled into the endzone from the 1-yard line on 3 of those possessions. They could have and should have been up big at half. Wisconsin shut down the Iowa running game to just 83 yards making it the 9th time in the last 14 games the Badger defense has held their opponent to under 100 yards rushing. They are 9-0 in those games. Iowa was held without a TD and UW has now allowed just 8 TD’s the entire season in 7 games. That defense has been great but will be missing their leading tackler for the remainder of the season. LB Jack Cichy tore a pectoral muscle on Saturday and won’t play again this season. They have been ravaged at the LB spot this season as starting inside LB Orr was lost for the season in the LSU game, LB Biegel sat out 2 games and returned vs Iowa, and OLB Baun, who replaced Biegel while he was out, is also injured and unable to play.
NEBRASKA – Unlike Wisconsin, who has played a brutally tough schedule, Nebraska is undefeated one could argue they have played the easiest slate in the Big Ten. Their best win so far this year was probably a 35-32 game @ home vs Oregon. How good was that win though? Since that game the Ducks have lost 4 straight and are just 2-5 on the season. The Huskers Big Ten wins have come against Northwestern (when the Cats weren’t playing well), Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue. Last Saturday they were behind 14-10 at half to a Purdue team that had just fired their coach earlier in the week. That game was in Lincoln. The bounced back in the 2nd half and picked up a 27-14 win but were not impressive doing it. Could it have been a look ahead spot against a bad Purdue team? Sure. One alarming stat was Nebraska’s running game putting up “only” 157 yards on 4.2 YPC. That might not seem terrible but let’s not forget that Purdue allowed all three of their Big Ten opponents (Maryland, Illinois, and Iowa) ALL to rush for over 300 yards this year. The Huskers offense could get a boost for this game as one of their better playmakers, WR Jordan Westerkamp, is expected back after missing the last two games. They are really banged up on the offensive line however with both starting tackles (Gates & Knevel) injured but expected to play.
LAST YEAR – Wisconsin (-2.5) won last year in Lincoln 23-21 kicking a field goal with just 4 seconds remaining to get the victory. In their most recent game here at Camp Randall, in 2014, the Badgers cruised to a 59-24 win and UW RB Melvin Gordon rushed for over 400 yards.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS - These two have met 5 times since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011. The Badgers are 4-1 SU & ATS in those games. In their 3 games in Madison, the Badgers have dominated by scores of 59-24, 70-31, and 48-17. That’s a combined score of 177-72 in favor of Wisconsin. Before 2000, Nebraska was a 7-point or more underdog just SIX total times. Since 2000, they’ve been an underdog of 7 or more 20 times. In those 26 games, the Huskers are just 4-22 SU (13-13 ATS) obviously pulling very few upsets.
MICHIGAN (-24) @ MICHIGAN STATE – Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
MICHIGAN STATE – Michigan opened as a 21 point favorite on the road in this huge rivalry and it has since pushed up to -24. That is the largest pointspread in this storied series since 1992 when Michigan was favored by 27.5 at home vs Sparty. Just two years ago, in 2014, in their most recent home game vs the Wolverines, Michigan State was favored by 16.5. That’s a massive 40 POINT SWING on the spread in just 2 seasons. That speaks to how much these two programs have changed in a very short period of time. Last week MSU made it 5 consecutive losses all as a favorite. The Spartans lost last Saturday @ Maryland 28-17. Freshman QB Brian Lewerke got his 2nd straight start, but unlike a week earlier when he was pulled in the 2nd half vs Northwestern, Mark Dantonio decided to keep him in the entire game. This was actually a bit of a surprise as former starter and senior Tyler O’Conner came in the 2nd half vs Northwestern and led MSU to points on 3 of his 6 drives. He didn’t see the field this week. Lewerke and the MSU offense put up yardage (426) but simply had trouble putting points on the board (17). In the 18 offensive possessions over the last two games where Lewerke was under center, Michigan State has scored just 3 TD’s and 2 FG’s. The defense hasn’t helped the cause as they are allowing 30 PPG on the season. The Spartans are definitely banged up right now, especially in the defensive backfield, and “because of that”, head coach Mark Dantonio decided to not release a depth chart this week for the first time in his career. However, many are speculating this is simply a jab at Harbaugh and Michigan who haven’t released a depth chart all season long.
MICHIGAN – Going into the 2008 season, Michigan had dominated this series going winning 21 of the previous 28 meetings. That script has flipped with MSU now winning 7 of the last 8. In fact, only one player on the entire Michigan roster has ever played in a game where the Wolves came out on top vs MSU. That’s it. Just one. You can bet Harbaugh and company have been patiently waiting for this one after losing on a blocked punt return for a TD as time expired last year. In their last 2 trips to East Lansing (2013 & 2014) Michigan tallied only one total TD and just 13 total yards rushing. That’s in two games. It looks like it might be Michigan State that has the offensive struggles this season. We touched upon the MSU productivity with Lewerke at QB and that was against the defenses of Northwestern and Maryland, not Michigan. The Wolverines have allowed only 8 defensive TD’s in 7 games this season. They lead the nation in total defense (205 YPG), scoring defense (10 PPG allowed), 3rd down percentage defense (13% success rate for opponents), and pass defense (111 YPG allowed). Last week against Illinois Michigan won 41-8 allowing just 6 first downs and 172 yards of total offense. It was the 4th consecutive game the Maize & Blue defense allowed 10 points or less and allowed fewer than 200 yards of offense. The Michigan offense is no slouch either scoring 40+ points in every game but one this season (Wisconsin).
LAST YEAR – Everyone remembers this one. MSU blocks a Michigan punt on the final play of the game and returns it 38 yards for the game winning TD as time expires. MSU wins 27-23 as a 7-point dog. The last game played in East Lansing in 2014 MSU dominated 35-11 as 16.5 point favorites.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – MSU has dominated this series as of late going a perfect 8-0 ATS the last 8 seasons (7-1 SU record). Our database tells us that MSU has been a home dog of more than 20 only ONCE in the last 37 years! That was vs Michigan (-26) back in 1991. The last time MSU was a double digit underdog at home was in 2006 vs Ohio State. This is just the 2nd time in the last 22 years the Spartans have been more than a 10 point dog at home.
MINNESOTA (-10) @ ILLINOIS – Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
ILLINOIS – The “up in the air” status of QB Wes Lunt is keeping this line off the board at many places. The few spots that do have it are pegging Minnesota as a 10-point favorite which honestly seems quite high especially if Lunt is able to go. Lunt did not play at all in last week’s 41-8 loss @ Michigan. The Illini were outgained by nearly 400 yards in that game and Lunt’s replacement, Jeff George Jr completed just 4 of his 15 pass attempts. George is Illinois’ 3rd string QB behind Lunt and Chayce Crouch who started their previous game but is now out with an injury to his shoulder. Before his start @ Michigan, the last time George was under center at the beginning of a game was his senior year in H.S. (2013) playing in the Indiana State Championship game. If Lunt’s back isn’t ready to go on Saturday, George will get a second consecutive start. He’ll need to drum up something for an Illini offense that is averaging only 19 PPG in Big Ten play and only 129 YPG passing vs conference opponents. They’ve scored just 7 offensive TD’s in their 4 Big Ten games and 5 of those scores came against the two worst defenses in the league (Purdue & Rutgers). Since their opener vs Murray State, the Illinois defense has allowed 30+ points in every game but one (Rutgers). They will have to try and improve on that with starting LB Tre Watson on the bench for the first half as he was ejected for targeting @ Michigan last week.
MINNESOTA – The Gophs got a serious scare last week when they were almost upset but Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights came into the game having been outscored 174-14 in their four Big Ten games so far this season. They “exploded” for 32 points, more than double their Big Ten total on the season, vs a Minnesota defense that had actually been quite solid this year. Before a lethargic Rutgers offense rolled up big numbers last week, the Gopher defense had allowed only 7, 10, and 26 (in regulation) points in their three Big Ten games this season. The Minnesota offense looked great to start the game last week. They scored TD’s on their first 3 possessions and nearly half their yardage for the game came on those 3 possessions. Up 21-3 at the end of the first quarter, the Minnesota offense would muster only 2 field goals the rest of the way including the game winner with only a few seconds remaining. Their only TD after the first quarter was a 94-yard kickoff return with 6:15 remaining in the 3rd quarter. In a strange situation, two of Minnesota’s top 3 CB’s including their best DB (KiAnte Hardin), were unable to play in last week’s home game but can play this week @ Illinois. That’s because there are 6 Gopher players who were served a restraining order last week to keep them away from TCF Bank Stadium due to an alleged incident with a female who is part of the game day operations at the Field. They can, however, play in road games and are available this week if head coach Tracy Claeys decides to use them.
LAST YEAR – Minnesota won this match up 32-23 last year as 4.5 point favorites. Illinois had nearly 100 more total yards in the game but turned the ball over 3 times to just once for the Gophers.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – This is the first time the Gophs have been a road favorite this season. Dating back to 1983, Minnesota has been a road favorite 40 times covering 24 of those games. Illinois is just 6-13 ATS in this series dating back to 1992. If this spread holds at -10, the Illini have lost 16 straight games in that situation but they are 9-5 ATS the last 14 in that spot.
PENN STATE (-11.5) @ PURDUE – Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
PURDUE – The Boilers gave a valiant effort last week under less than ideal circumstances. They went to an undefeated and heavily favored Nebraska team’s home field and led 14-10 at half. That was only a few days after the Boiler brass decided to can their head coach Darrell Hazell who had been on the hot seat for quite some time. Because of the firing, even though we were told the players were in Hazell’s corner and like the head man, it’s highly possible a “weight” was lifted off the player’s shoulders. All the talk of their coach potentially getting fired was now gone and they could just go out and play. They played fairly well but will that affect continue moving forward or was it a quick reaction that played out in the most recent game after the firing? I guess we’ll all find out sooner than later. The offense looked great in the first half rolling up 234 total yards and 14 points to lead at the break. The problem was, they were stuck in neutral in the 2nd half. After the break Purdue had under 100 yards of offense and didn’t score a point. On a positive defensive note, the Boilermaker defense who had been run over for almost 1,100 rushing yards in their first 3 Big Ten games only allowed 157 yards on the ground on Saturday. While most have this team buried for the season, they are still 3-4 on the year and a bowl game is not completely out of the equation with “sort of” winnable games coming up against PSU, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Indiana.
PENN STATE – Can we dare say the word letdown here? Obviously PSU is off their biggest win in years and easily their top win in the James Franklin era. Now they are laying double digits on the road which could be considered a definite “trap” spot for the Nits. Let’s keep this in mind. PSU has played in 20 Big Ten games with Franklin as their head coach and he’s won only four of those games by double digits. Now they are being asked to do so on the road off a monster home win. A game they won at home and was set up perfectly for them to potentially pull an upset. Let’s remember that OSU played @ a rested Wisconsin team a week earlier and now faced a PSU team on the road also off a bye just one week after that physical affair with the Badgers. A very nice spot for the host Nittany Lions. That being said, while it could be argued Wisconsin outplayed Ohio State a week earlier, that was not the case here. Ohio State dominated the stats gaining 413 yards to just 276 for PSU. The Bucks also had a 15:00 minute time of possession edge. The way the 4th quarter played out was an “everything went right” for PSU situation. After the Lions scored with 13:32 remaining in the 4th quarter to cut OSU’s lead to 21-14 they really did nothing to warrant scoring the game’s final 10 points. From that point on, the Bucks gained 76 yards of total offense while PSU had -1 yards of total offense yet the Nits won on the scoreboard 10-0. A blocked FG returned for TD and blocked punt that led to 3 points were the difference. A crazy thought but its if PSU wins out, which is possible, they could win a share of the Big Ten East Title if Ohio State wins out beating Michigan to end the season.
LAST YEAR – These two have not met since 2013. In that game PSU was a 21 point home favorite and won the game 45-21.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Penn State has won 7 games in a row in this Big Ten series by an average score of 27.5 to 12.5. PSU has not been a double digit road favorite since 2011. Dating back to 1980, the Nittany Lions are a perfect 41-0 SU as a double digit road favorite (22-18-1 ATS). Purdue has lost 9 straight home games as a double digit dog (3-6 ATS).
NORTHWESTERN @ OHIO STATE (-27) – Saturday at 3:30 PM ET
OHIO STATE – This line opened with OSU favored by 21 and has jumped a full 6 points from the opener with the Bucks now favored by 26.5. Bettors are obviously anticipating OSU bouncing back strong from their first loss of the season last week @ PSU. Also factoring into the equation could be Ohio State’s “style” points situation as the still have a shot at College Football’s Final 4 but need to win out and doing it convincingly will help. Last week’s loss at PSU was an extremely tough one to take. Urban Meyer came into the game with a perfect 20-0 record his last 20 roadies and truth be told OSU dominated the game. They outgained Penn State by almost 140 yards and if not for a blocked FG returned for a TD (a 10 point swing) we’re probably talking about a double digit win for the Bucks. How does a team that isn’t used to losing road games, or any games for that matter, respond? If there is a slight concern on offense it would be why OSU’s running game has fallen off the last 2 games. In their first 5 games, the Buckeyes averaged 323 YPG on the ground. In the last two weeks they tallied 185 and 168 yards rushing vs Wisconsin & Penn State. Defensively they are still among the best in the nation allowing only 8 offensive TD’s in 7 games, including just 2 rushing TD’s.
NORTHWESTERN – The Cats offense has had a complete transformation this season. After averaging just 16 PPG over their first four games, Northwestern has now put up 39 PPG over their last three. The Cats have picked up the pace offensively which has helped them accumulate more opportunities to put points on the board. In their last 3 games they’ve run 72, 83, and 88 offensive plays. In their first four games of the season they topped 72 plays only once and ran 57 plays or less two times. Last week’s offensive output was a tale of two halves. They pounded Indiana for 24 points and well over 300 yards in the first half. In the second half they were held scoreless and didn’t even reach 50 yards of total offense. Because of their recent offensive surge, NW has won 3 straight after losing 3 of their first 4. If their offense had been clicking early, there is a decent chance we’re talking about an undefeated or one loss team right now. That’s because the defense was playing very well during that early 4 game stretch. They allowed only 16 PPG during their first 4 games yet lost 3 of them because of their offensive struggles. Now the defense has gotten worse allowing 28 PPG over their last 3 yet the Cats are 3-0 in that stretch. The defense lost a key player this week when their top defensive back Matt Harris walked away from football due to concussion issues. Harris was one of the better DB’s in the Big Ten but hadn’t played since their week 2 game vs Illinois State.
LAST YEAR – Surprisingly these two have met only once since the 2008 season. That was in 2013 when the Buckeyes topped Northwestern 40-30 as 6.5 points favorites.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – To say OSU has dominated this series would be an understatement. Our in-depth data base goes back to 1980 and since then the Buckeyes are 23-1 vs Northwestern including 16-8 ATS. The Cats only win during that time came in 2004 as they upset OSU 33-27 as 11-point underdogs. This is the largest pointspread Northwestern has faced since the 2010 season. The Buckeyes have never lost 2 games in a row under Meyer. They have only lost 4 regular season games since Meyer took over in 2012.
MARYLAND @ INDIANA (-5) – Saturday at 3:30 PM ET
INDIANA – The Hoosiers started the season winning 3 of their first 4 games and were well on their way to qualifying for a bowl game for the 2nd straight season. If the make it to the post-season, it would be the first time since the 1990 season they have done so in back to back years. However, they have since lost 3 in a row and now sit at 3-4 on the year. We’ve mentioned many times in this column their defense is very solid and the offense is the question mark. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to say that about Indiana. Normally the roles are reversed. IU traveled last Saturday to take on a red hot Northwestern team who’s offense is now clicking on all cylinders. The Cats continued to click offensively in the first half last week and took a 24-3 lead into halftime. We were impressed with the resolve of the IU defense as they held NW scoreless after halftime but came up short in the 24-14 loss. After allowing an unacceptable 362 total yards in the first half, IU shut down Northwestern to just 46 second half yards. Offensively this team continues to struggle getting the ball in the endzone. After scoring at least 30 points nine times last season, IU has now scored 22 or less (in regulation) in four straight games. They moved the ball on Saturday putting up over 400 total yards but had just 14 points to show for it. Last week they moved the ball inside the Northwestern 30-yard line six times and came away with just 12 points on those drives. Starting QB Lagow continues to struggling topping 60% completions only once in the last five games and throwing 11 picks in that six game span.
MARYLAND – After losing back to back games to Penn State & Minnesota, the Terps got a boost offensively last week with the return of starting QB Perry Hills. He was injured in the first half of the PSU game and missed the Minnesota game. Hills was back under center last week and completed 21 of his 27 pass attempts, including 2 TD’s, in Maryland’s 28-17 win over free falling Michigan State. The game was almost dead even on the stat sheet but MSU had two turnovers, one of which led to a Maryland TD. Neither defense could stop the others run game as both rushed for over 200 yards. The Terps probably won’t be able to run roughshod over an IU defense that allows just 3.9 YPC so Hills will have to be good again in this one. The Terp defensive backfield is really banged up as they lost starter Darnell Savage early in last week’s game meaning they were down 3 starters in the back end. We’re not sure a struggling IU passing game can take advantage of that or not this week. Every game is obviously important but the Terps are viewing this one as a very key game on their remaining schedule. They need just one more win to become bowl eligible after finishing just 3 wins last season. After their trip to Indiana this week they play Michigan, Ohio State, and Nebraska the next 3 games before closing out with Rutgers. The next three will be tough so a win this Saturday takes the pressure off.
LAST YEAR – These two have met twice since Maryland joined the league and surprisingly the road team has cruised to an easy victory on each. Last year the Hoosiers won 47-28 on the road and a year earlier Maryland won 37-15 @ Indiana.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – The Hoosiers have been home favorites twice this season and failed to cover both games. They came into the season on a 23-16 ATS run as a home favorite of more than 3 points. These two have combined for just 2 OVERS this year (12 UNDERS). The Hoosiers are just an 18-37 SU at home off a loss (26-28-1 ATS).