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Big 10 Report

   by ASA - 10/21/2011

Michigan State (+8.5) vs. Wisconsin – 7:00 PM CST, ESPN

MSU: 5-1 SU, 4-2 ATS – Last week: vs. Michigan, W 28-14

WISC: 6-0 SU, 5-1 ATS – Last week: vs. Indiana, W 59-7

We’re just about halfway through the College Football season and right now it’s Wisconsin and Michigan State that look like the two favorites to represent its respective divisions in the inaugural Big Ten Title game. The Badgers have not had much luck visiting East Lansing in recent history, including their only regular season loss last season. ESPN’s GameDay crew will be on hand, adding even more excitement at Spartan Stadium for this Big Ten night game.

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We’ll all find out on Saturday when Wisconsin’s offense (8th in total offense at 523 YPG and 1st in scoring offense at 50.2 PPG) meets Michigan State’s defense (1st in total defense at 186 YPG allowed and 4th in scoring defense at 10.8 PPG allowed). MSU has allowed eight offensive touchdowns all season long. Wisconsin averages 6.7 offensive touchdowns per game. The Spartans held Wisconsin to its lowest point total in Big Ten play a season ago (24 points). However, it was the first conference game for the Badgers and they averaged 48.2 PPG after that loss.

The Badgers’ stop-unit is also performing at an extremely high level. It ranks 7th in total defense and 3rd in points allowed. Although this will be Wisconsin’s first true road game of the season and other than a home win over #11 Nebraska, the Badgers have mostly beaten up on sub-par talent.

Michigan State is off of a convincing victory against archrival Michigan last week. The Spartans held dangerous Michigan QB Robinson to just 9-of-24 passing for 123 yards (1 TD and 1 INT) and just 42 rush yards. MSU will try to avoid a “hangover” and do the same to Wisconsin QB Wilson (completing 74.2% with 14 TD and just 1 INT this season).

Something to consider: Wisconsin is 13-1 ATS in its past 14 games overall and has covered 8 straight Big Ten games in that span. Michigan State is 4-10 ATS in its last 14 as an underdog.

Purdue (+6) vs. Illinois – 11:00 PM CST, ESPN2

PU: 3-3 SU, 3-3 ATS – Last week: at Penn State, L 18-23

ILL: 6-1 SU, 3-4 ATS – Last week: vs. Ohio State, L 7-17

Both teams are off of a loss and need a win here. Purdue needs a win to salvage any hopes at a Bowl game, while Illinois needs this win to keep pace with Wisconsin and Penn State in the Big Ten Leaders division. The Illini dominated this meeting last season, holding Purdue to just 205 yards and 9 first downs in the 44-10 win. However, they haven’t won in West Lafayette since 2001, dropping three straight by an average of 26 points per game.

Despite the loss, Purdue had a promising performance on the road against Penn State last week. The Boilers final drive ended in an interception (their third of the game) and they lost by five points on the road. Purdue put up 162 rush yards (4.9 YPC) on a PSU defense that had been surrendering just 91.2 rush yards through its first six games. The Boilers will look for a similar performance against this Illinois defense that allowed 211 rush yards to Ohio State a week ago.

Illinois was yielding just 79 rush yards per game before last week. Ohio State only completed one pass (!) against this Illini defense and still won. Illinois’ offense was sluggish the entire game and managed just 285 yards and 7 points while turning the ball over three times in the process. Sophomore QB Scheelhaase had his worst performance of the season with just 169 pass yards with one touchdown and two interceptions while the Illini rushed for just 116 yards on 3.3 YPC (had been averaging 226 YPG).

Something to consider: Illinois was 4-1 SU & ATS after a loss last season. But this will be the first time that Illinois is a Big Ten road favorite since October of 2009 and the Illini are just 2-7 ATS their previous nine as a conference road chalk.

Northwestern (+4) vs. Penn State – 6:00 PM CST, Big Ten Network

NW: 2-4 SU, 2-4 ATS – Last week: at Iowa, L 31-41

PSU: 6-1 SU, 1-6 ATS – Last week: vs. Purdue, W 23-18

Penn State has somehow managed to win six of seven games this season without solid quarterback play. QB’s McGloin and Bolden have combined for just 51% completions with six touchdowns and six interceptions. It’s the defensive unit that’s holding this team together as it ranks 6th nationally in total defense and scoring defense (also has 17 forced turnovers – 10th nationally). Still, the Nittany Lions are playing with fire. They’ve failed to cover five of six games this season and four of their six wins are by 10 points or less.

If Penn State’s dormant offense (78th total offense and 96th in scoring offense) is ever going to wake up, it will have a good chance of doing so against Northwestern. The Wildcats defense ranks near the bottom of every major defensive category. They allow 433 yards per game (101st) and 30 points per game (88th). In three Big Ten games alone, Northwestern has allowed 40 points per game.

For Northwestern, it’s now desperation time. A team that was considered a threat to compete in the Legends division has now lost four straight and really can’t afford another loss if it wants any shot at a Bowl game this season. Northwestern arguably outplayed the Hawkeyes in the 10-point loss last week.

The Wildcats gained 495 yards and 29 first downs and had +17 minutes time of possession against Iowa. They even converted 16-of-22 (73%) of their 3rd down conversions. Iowa returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and that was at least a 10 and maybe 14 point swing that Northwestern couldn’t overcome.

Something to consider: Penn State scored 35 unanswered points to win last year’s meeting, 35-21. PSU has now won & covered three straight in this series (average score of 34-14).

Minnesota (+25) vs. Nebraska – 2:30 PM CST, ABC

MINN: 1-5 SU, 2-4 ATS – Last week: BYE

NEB: 5-1 SU, 1-5 ATS – Last week: BYE

Minnesota had a bye last week after surrendering 103 points in back-to-back Big Ten losses to open conference play. This one could get ugly for Minnesota as the Gophers are ranked near the bottom in every major offensive and defensive category. They rank 110th in total offense, 109th in scoring offense, 93rd in total defense, and 109th in scoring defense.

Nebraska also had a week off after its huge comeback win over Ohio State. The Huskers scored 28 unanswered points to win by seven over the visiting Buckeyes. Nebraska QB Martinez has seen his share of struggles through the air (54% with 6 touchdowns and 6 interceptions), but the Huskers are churning out 247 rush yards per game – good for 11th nationally. Expect a lot of rush attempts against this feeble Gophers defense.

Minnesota QB Gray should be back and healthy after missing time with a toe injury, and his athletic ability should help the Gophers this week. He may see a little less pressure coming from the Nebraska defense as Huskers star DT Jared Crick was ruled out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. That’s a big blow to a defense that has underachieved thus far, but don’t expect to see much of a dropoff against the Gophers on Saturday.

Something to consider: This is only the seventh time in the past 12 years that a Big Ten team has been a 25+ point favorite in a conference road game (1-4 ATS).

Iowa (-23) vs. Indiana – 11:00 AM CST, Big Ten Network

IOWA: 4-2 SU, 3-3 ATS – Last week: vs. Northwestern, W 41-31

IND: 1-6 SU, 3-4 ATS – Last week: at Wisconsin, L 7-59

Indiana nearly walked away with an upset win over the Hawkeyes last season, but standout WR Belcher dropped the game-winning touchdown with 28 seconds remaining and left the Hoosiers with a 13-18 loss. They’ve now dropped three straight to the Hawkeyes by an average score of 35-15.

Although Indiana didn’t lose by 63 points this year against Wisconsin, it didn’t exactly walk away with much confidence after a 52 point loss at the hands of the Badgers. Wisconsin has made a lot of teams look bad, but outside of a 62-yard touchdown run, the Hoosiers looked completely helpless. This Indiana defense now ranks 105th in yards allowed, 117th in rush yards allowed, and 95th in points allowed.

A week after failing to score a touchdown against Penn State, Iowa scored five against Northwestern in a 10-point win. RB Coker finally had a breakout game with 124 rush yards and two scores. There are still some concerns on defense as this unit is allowing north of 400 yards per game and 29 points per game to BCS conference foes this season. With Indiana this week and Minnesota next week, Iowa has a chance to gain some momentum if it can take care of business against below average Big Ten opponents.

Something to consider: Iowa is 1-7 ATS and just 3-4 straight up as a 15-point or more favorite.

Michigan – BYE

MICH: 6-1 SU, 5-2 ATS – Last week: at Michigan State, W 14-28

After a +25.5 margin of victory through a 6-0 start, Michigan came crashing down last week against archrival Michigan State. The Wolverines offense managed just 250 yards and 14 points while QB Robinson looked human with just 165 total yards (had been averaging 308 YPG). Up next the Wolverines have a winnable game against Purdue before a grueling four-game finish: at Iowa, at Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio State.

Ohio State – BYE

OSU: 4-3 SU, 4-3 ATS – Last week: at Illinois, W 17-7

Ohio State needed just one completed pass to beat the Illini last weekend. Proving you can still win playing old fashion football: a ground-and-pound running attack and suffocating defense. The run game was fueled by the return of previously suspended RB Herron, who scampered for 114 yards and a score. It’s hard to imagine that Ohio State can continue this recipe for the rest of the season, but it was a nice way to head into the bye week. They’ll need an extra week to prepare for a home-meeting with Wisconsin – just a year after Wisconsin upset then #1 OSU in Madison.

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