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.
ASA's Big Ten Preview, Part 3
by ASA - 09/01/2005
11 starters returning (5 on offense, 6 on defense)
6-6 overall record (5-3 in the Big Ten) & 6-6 ATS in 2004
No postseason in 2004
ASAâ€™s take on the 2005 Wildcats: The 2004 version of Northwestern football was actually a bit of a disappointment. In 2003 they were coming off a 6-6 season and worked their way into the Motor City Bowl. Last season they returned 17 starters and expected bigger things. It didnâ€™t happen. They started the 2004 season 1-3 and ended the year at 6-6 and no bowl. They do have one of the most experienced QBâ€™s in the country. Brett Basanez has started 34 games in his career and 28 consecutive games. The 28 game consecutive start streak ranks him 4th nationally. He is just 5 wins away from becoming the schoolâ€™s all time winning QB. He should have a pretty good corp of receivers to throw to led by Mark Philmore who had 54 catches last year despite missing four games due to injury. If Basanez gets hurt, NW is in trouble. His backups are all freshman. The Cats lose RB Noah Herron who was one of the best in the Big Ten. However, head coach Randy Walker has a knack for producing good RBâ€™s. In his 29 years as a coach (head and assistant) he has had a 1,000 rusher in 24 of those. Thus, you can bet Northwestern will run the ball well again this year. Terrell Jordan, who had nearly 600 yards the last two seasons combined, is the top candidate. The offensive line has three key starters gone and may take some time to develop. As usual, Northwesternâ€™s defense was not very good in 2004 giving up over 28 PPG. That was the seventh straight year the Wildcats have given up an average of more than 25 PPG. That side of the ball REALLY needs to be addressed. The defense does return LB Tim McGarigle who led the nation in tackles last season. However, we donâ€™t look for a huge improvement, if any, out of this unit. The Wildcats have a VERY tough schedule from October through early November when the host Wisconsin, followed by trips to Purdue and Michigan State, then home dates with Michigan and Iowa before traveling to Ohio State. That 5 game stretch could do them in. It will again be difficult for NW to eclipse or even get to the .500 overall mark.
ASAâ€™S â€œEXTRAâ€쳌 OBSERVATIONS ON NORTHWESTERN: Northwestern seems to have a problem with their game prior to playing Illinois each season. We know Illinois is a huge rivalry for the Wildcats and this could be due to them looking ahead. However, NW has now lost 8 consecutive games the game prior to facing off vs. the Illini. On top of that, they have now lost 7 straight games ATS the week prior to their battle with Illinois.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
18 starters returning (9 on offense, 9 on defense)
8-4 overall record (4-4 in the Big Ten) & 7-5 ATS in 2004
Ohio State (+3.5) beat Oklahoma State 33-7 in the Alamo Bowl
ASAâ€™s take on the 2005 Buckeyes: Despite finishing just 4-4 in the conference last year, the Buckeyes are considered to be the favorites to win the Big Ten in 2005. They will have a QB controversy early on which isnâ€™t always a good thing. Justin Zwick will be the starter in game one because Troy Smith is suspended for that game. Zwick took two-thirds of the snaps with the number one unit during the spring while Smith took one-third. Zwick played well in last yearâ€™s bowl game while Smith basically beat Michigan by himself to end the regular season before he got in trouble with the NCAA. However, their offense has had talent but been only so-so the last few years. WRâ€™s Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes could be the best tandem in the nation. Now just get them the ball. If head coach Jim Tressel opens up the playbook and allows his players to make plays (which it sounds like he will), then the offense should be just fine. The defense should be very good as always. If Iowa doesnâ€™t have the best LB corp in the Big Ten, then the Buckeyes do. Starters A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel and Bobby Carpenter all return after combining for 318 tackles LAST YEAR! That doesnâ€™t even include Mike Dâ€™Andrea who was a starter at the beginning of last year before being injured early and missing the rest of the season. He is also back and healthy. The defensive backfield should also be very good. One thing that can go overlooked at times is special teams. Keep in mind, the Buckeyes lose one of the best kickers in collegiate history in Mike Nugent who was OSUâ€™s leading scorer at 102 points last season. His replacement is a senior, Josh Huston, but has little experience. He did not attempt a field goal last year and kicked off just twice. The Bucks donâ€™t play Wisconsin which is always good for OSU seeing the Badgers have beaten them 4 of the last 6 years. Expect OSU to get back to (or near) the top of the Big Ten this season.
ASAâ€™S â€œEXTRAâ€쳌 OBSERVATIONS ON OHIO STATE: Since Jim Tressel took over as the Bucks head man, they are 10-2-1 ATS at home if favored by less than 10 points. Ohio State is an amazing 41-3 SU their last 44 non-conference games.
PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
18 starters returning (9 on offense, 9 on defense)
4-7 overall record (2-6 in the Big Ten) & 6-5 ATS in 2004
No postseason in 2004
ASAâ€™s take on the 2005 Nittany Lions: Oh how PSU has fallen as of late. The Lions have just ONE winning season in the last 5 years. That is amazing with that programâ€™s history. That should change this season. Penn State had the nationâ€™s 10th best overall defense a year ago and donâ€™t be surprised if they are better this year. The return 9 regulars and the people in the know around Happy Valley are saying this could be one of their best defenses in a long time. PSU will be another Big Ten team with outstanding linebackers. All three are back in Dan Connor, Tim Shaw and Paul Posluszny who combined for 239 tackles last year. The defensive line will be very good and the secondary will be outstanding starting 4 seniors including safety Sean Harrell who is back after missing last season due to a neck injury. Last yearâ€™s defense held every opponent to 21 points or less. You would think that would equate to a nice overall record. That wasnâ€™t the case because the offense stunk. They started the Big Ten season 0-6 and scored 13 points or less in all six games. Five of their seven losses in 2004 were by single digits meaning they werenâ€™t all that far away from a winning record. They simply need to find a way to put some points on the board. The athletic Michael Robinson was named the starting QB coming out of spring ball. He has been all over the board playing WR, RB and QB as Paterno knows he needs to get his best athlete on the field. This year, if he is entrenched as the starting QB, it will only help him. Four of five starters on the offensive line return. Last yearâ€™s starting center E.Z. Smith was supposed to return but was expelled from school for two semesters for shooting a bow and arrow in the PSU dorms. If PSU can simply find a way to put a few points on the board they will be in every game and win their fair share. If that happens, expect the Lions to be back in a bowl game in 2005.
ASAâ€™S â€œEXTRAâ€쳌 OBSERVATIONS ON PENN STATE: PSU and Michigan State have now met 12 times since the Lions started playing in the Big Ten. The home team has now covered 10 of those games. The most recent three games between these two havenâ€™t even been close to the Vegas number with the winner covering by an average of 32.3 points above and beyond the spread.
18 starters returning (7 on offense, 11 on defense)
7-5 overall record (4-4 in the Big Ten) & 5-7 ATS in 2004
Purdue (-7.5) lost to Arizona State 23-27 in the Sun Bowl
ASAâ€™s take on the 2005 Boilermakers: We think Purdue could be one of the â€œsurprisesâ€쳌 this year in the Big Ten if you want to call them that. The Boilers have been one of the best programs in the conference since Joe Tiller took over back in 1996. He has taken this program to eight straight bowl games. Purdue returns their ENTIRE defense for the 2005 season. It was a pretty darn good defense at that as they allowed just 17 PPG and 345 total yards per game. They will be better this season. Not only that, the Big Ten did them a HUGE favor as far as the schedule goes seeing they do not face Michigan or Ohio State this year. We would guess the main reason people think that Purdue might â€œfall backâ€쳌 a bit this year is because their QB Kyle Orton has moved on to the NFL. While Orton was a fantastic QB, this yearâ€™s starter, Brandon Kirsch, is no slouch. Kirsch is a senior with a lot of experience. He has started six games in his career including two last year. He completed 61% of his passes last season. He also is a dangerous runner as he had 423 yards rushing as a freshman when he started 4 games at QB. The Boilers have a good offensive line with three starters back. Their RBâ€™s are very good with two 5th year seniors leading the way in Jerod Void and Brandon Jones. Those two combined for nearly 1,200 yards last season. The Boilermakers do lose WR Taylor Stubblefield, however they have two very good and experienced players coming back at that position with Kyle Ingraham (624 yards receiving last year) and Dorien Bryant (584 yards last year). This team had four conference losses by a TOTAL of 10 points a year ago. Purdue should be very good this year and we expect them to be right near the top of the conference when the season comes to an end.
ASAâ€™S â€œEXTRAâ€쳌 OBSERVATIONS ON PURDUE: Purdue is simply a solid pointspread team at home. They have now covered 14 of their last 17 home games dating back to the 2002 season. They have also done very well at home as a double digit chalk. The Boilers are 12-3 ATS the last 15 times theyâ€™ve been favored by 10 points or more at home. That goes back to the 2000 season.
10 starters returning (6 on offense, 4 on defense)
9-3 overall record (6-2 in the Big Ten) & 7-5 ATS in 2004
Wisconsin (+7.5) lost to Georgia 24-21 in the Outback Bowl
ASAâ€™s take on the 2005 Badgers: There are a lot of unknowns with this 2005 edition of Wisconsin football. They need to replace a ton of experience on both sides of the ball. On offense, the line will be a key. Three of the five starters from last year are gone. That being said, two of the three â€œnewcomersâ€쳌 on the offensive line are seniors in Jason Palermo and Matt Lawrence. Both have logged enough game time to be considered somewhat experienced. QB John Stocco is definitely the #1 QB again coming out of spring, even though he had an up and down year in 2004. Head coach Barry Alvarez wants to get Stoccoâ€™s back up, Tyler Donovan, into more games this year. He reminds Alvarez of former QB Brooks Bollinger because of his scrambling ability. The RB will be Colorado transfer Brian Calhoun. The coaches have raved about Calhoun every since he stepped on campus last season. Expect a big year out of him both rushing and receiving out of the backfield. The Badgers will have a new offensive â€œstyleâ€쳌 this year as new offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will bring a much better passing scheme to the table. He was the OC at Oregon State the past few years. The stop unit lost a lot but is expected to be very solid again this year after finishing 9th nationally in overall defense a year ago. UW lost their entire defensive line including DE Erasmus James. The new starters on the line are young (a freshman and three sophomores) however they are also very talented. The coaches are confident they will do the job this season. The LBâ€™s are good and if Brett Bell can return from an off-season ACL injury, the defensive corners will be solid. Defensive coordinator Bret Bielema has shown he is one of the best in the business after coming over from Kansas State a year ago. The Badgers do have a favorable Big Ten schedule as they do not play Ohio State and get Michigan, Iowa and Purdue all at home. However, with all of the unproven players going into the season, the Badgers goal should be simply to have a winning season and get to a bowl game.
ASAâ€™S â€œEXTRAâ€쳌 OBSERVATIONS ON WISCONSIN: If the Badgers are a favorite of 10 points or more, you might want to strongly consider the other side. In fact, as a double digit chalk, Wisconsin is just 3-16 ATS (15.7%) since the beginning of the 2000 season.