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Big 10 Preview

   by ASA - 08/30/2017

ASA's BIG TEN REPORT - Opening Weekend!


Ohio State (opened -20.5, currently -20.5) @ Indiana – This is a very rare conference opener during the first week of the season. Our database goes all the way back to 1980 and OSU has NEVER been an underdog in this series. They are 30-2-1 the last 33 meetings. However, IU has given this Buckeye team fits as of late covering 6 straight by an average margin of 13.1 PPG. Last year OSU trailed Indiana 17-13 at home late in the 3rd quarter before pulling away for a 38-17 win. The Bucks return 15 starters including QB JT Barrett and a very experienced offensive line. Ohio State’s defensive line should be among the best in the nation as they bring back nearly everyone in their front 7. The Hoosiers have a new head coach as Tom Allen takes over for Kevin Wilson. Something to keep an eye on is the fact that Wilson is now the offensive coordinator for Ohio State! Allen was the defensive coordinator for Indiana and also held the same job at South Florida prior to arriving in Bloomington. The Hoosiers return 15 starters from a team that went 6-7 last year losing to Utah 26-24 in the Foster Farms Bowl. IU has lost by more than 21 points at home just 3 times since the start of the 2009 season. OSU has been a road favorite of -21 or more 28 times since 1980 and they are 17-10-1 ATS in those games.

Buffalo @ Minnesota (opened -27, currently -25) – The Gophs usher in a new coach as former Western Michigan head man PJ Fleck takes over the program. Fleck was 30-22 in his 4 years with the Broncos including 13-1 last year. He should have a good feel for Buffalo coming from the MAC. His WMU squad beat Buffalo 38-0 last season outgaining the Bulls by almost 400 yards. Minny was 9-4 last year but will be breaking in a new QB this season. Their defense was solid holding 4 of their 8 Big Ten opponents to under 20 points, however they lose 8 of their top 12 tacklers. Buffalo was just 2-10 last year and lost all 6 of their road games by an average score of 36-9. The Bulls have won only 2 of their last 19 road openers. Minnesota has been favored by more than 24 points only 15 times since 1980. They are 13-2 SU in those games, 9-6 ATS. Buffalo has played only two Big Ten opponents since 2007 losing @ Penn State 27-14 and @ Ohio State 40-20.

Washington (opened -30.5, currently -27.5) @ Rutgers – These two met last year in Seattle in the season opener and Washington rolled to a 48-13 win. Interestingly enough, the Huskies were favored by 26 in that game at home last year and now they are favored by 4 TD’s on the road. The stats were surprisingly even in that game with Washington gaining 380 yards to 304 for Rutgers. The Huskies scored on a punt return and kickoff return in that game. The last time Washington was favored by more than 28 points in a road game was way back in 1991. On the flip side, Rutgers has been a home underdog of more than 28 points only once in the last 15 years. That was last season vs Michigan. A game the Scarlet Knights lost 78-0. Yes 78-0. We expect Rutgers to improve in their second year under head coach Chris Ash and maybe even pick up a Big Ten win or two (they were 0-8 last year). Their offense averaged just 15 PPG last year but should look much better with QB Kyle Bolin, a transfer from Louisville at the helm. However, playing a loaded Washington team with National Championship aspirations is a tough opener to say the least.

Utah State @ Wisconsin (opened -29.5, currently -27) – Wisconsin is the pre-season favorite to win the Big Ten West and we won’t argue with that. This team was fantastic defensively last year ranking 4th nationally in scoring defense allowing just 15.6 PPG. They will be very good again on that side of the ball again under new DC Jim Leonhard. They struggled at times offensively getting held under 24 points in 6 games last year. The Badgers should be much better offensively this season as QB Alex Hornibrook has a full year under his belt. The offensive line wasn’t great last year as far as Wisconsin standards are concerned and will be better this season. The Badgers continue to be one of the most consistent programs in the Big Ten with 97 wins over the last 10 years. Only Ohio State has more. Utah State was 3-9 last year but 4 of their losses came by a TD or less. Last year was the first time since 2010 the Aggies failed to make a bowl game. These two met here at Camp Randall in 2012 and USU nearly pulled off the upset losing 16-14. This is the largest underdog USU has been since 2010. Last year they were only +16 @ USC. The Badgers have been a home favorite of 28 or more just 19 times since 1980. They are 19-0 in those games (10-9 ATS). Wisconsin, however, has failed to cover 4 of their last 5 in this situation dating back to the start of the 2014 season.

Bowling Green @ Michigan State (opened -19.5, currently -17) – Last year was MSU’s first losing season since 2009. Sparty was expected by many to contend in the Big Ten West but finished with only a 3-9 record. Despite the poor record, they outgained their opponents by an average of 30 YPG which should have resulted in more than 3 wins. QB play was poor last season and it looks like sophomore Brian Lewerke, who threw for 380 yards last year, will get the nod. He will operate behind an offensive line that has only 40 combined career starts which is the 2nd lowest in the Big Ten. The defensive line is also very raw. The Spartans are inexperienced across the board and lost some key players in the off-season to transfer and suspension. Bowling Green couldn’t stop anybody last year. They allowed 40+ points 6 times and twice gave up more than 70 points. They are a respectable 8-18 vs Big Ten teams but were beaten 77-10 in their only match up vs the Big Ten last year (@ Ohio State). Last year they were 4-8 which was their first losing season since 2011.

Wyoming @ Iowa (opened -13, currently -11.5) – Iowa may start slow offensively as they are breaking in a new QB, Nathan Stanley, who has 9 career pass attempts. They will most likely rely heavily on the running game as Akrum Wadley returns as one of the top RB’s in the Big Ten and an offensive line that starts all upper classmen. The defense returns 8 starters after holding 8 of their 13 opponents last season to 21 points or fewer. The Hawks used to have one of the top home field advantages in the conference but that has changed a bit. They lost 3 games at home last year and have been beaten 14 times at Kinnick Stadium since the start of the 2012 season. Iowa was a near “lock” as a home favorite back when we opened our doors here at ASA in the late 90’s. They were 31-11 ATS as a home favorite from 1996 – 2005. However as of late the wheels have fallen of as the Hawkeyes have covered only 9 of the last 31 times they’ve been made a home favorite. Wyoming is a dangerous opening game for Iowa as the Cowboys improved from 2-10 in 2015 to 8-6 last year and nearly beat BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl. They have one of the better QB’s in the nation as Josh Allen threw for over 3,200 yards and ran for nearly 800 last season. That makes for a very interesting match up vs Iowa’s inexperience at QB.

Akron @ Penn State (opened -33, currently -30.5) – Penn State won the Big Ten last year and they return 90% of their offensive yardage from last year which is easily the best in the conference. The Nittany Lions bring back their QB (Trace McSorely), their RB (Saquan Barkley), and all but one of their top receivers & tight ends. The Zips were very inexperienced last year but still finished with a 5-7 record. They played only one Big Ten opponent in 2016 and lost 54-10 @ Wisconsin. This year they are much more experienced returning more lettermen than any other team in the MAC. They also have an experienced head man on the sidelines in Terry Bowden, former coach at Auburn. The Zips have lost 23 consecutive road openers however. The Nits are 5-0 lifetime vs Akron with the most recent meeting coming just a few years ago in 2014 where PSU was a 14 point favorite and won 21-3. Now just 3 years later they are laying nearly 5 TD’s vs the Zips. Last year Penn State opened the season at home vs a MAC team, Kent. They were favored by 22 in that game and failed to cover winning 33-13. PSU hasn’t been a favorite of this magnitude since the 2011 season. They have failed to cover the last 4 times they’ve been a favorite of more than 30 points (dating back to 2007). Akron has faced off against 17 Big Ten opponents since the start of the 2000 season. They are 0-17 SU in those games and have lost 16 of those games by at least 14 points. The average score in those 17 meetings was Big Ten 38, Akron 15.

Louisville (opened -26.5, currently -24.5) @ Purdue – One interesting twist in this game is the fact that new Purdue head coach, Jeff Brohm, is facing off against his alma mater. Brohm, who was hired away from Western Kentucky by the Boilers, ranks in Louisville’s all time top 10 in passing yards, total offense, and passing TD’s. It’s possible Brohm could enter this game a bit shorthanded at the most important position on the field. Starting QB David Blough (3,300 yards passing last year) has been dealing with a shoulder strain and may not be ready for this one. If Blough can’t go, that would push Elijah Sindelar into the first start of his career. QB will not be a problem on the other sidelines as Lamar Jackson returns for Louisville after throwing for over 3,500 yards, rushing for over 1,500 yards and accounting for a whopping 51 TD’s a season ago. Cam Newton and Tim Tebow are the only other college QB’s to pass for at least 30 TD’s and rush for at least 20 TD’s in a single season! Can Purdue’s defense, who gave up 40+ points in 6 of their 12 games last year, somehow slow down Louisville’s offense, who scored 50+ in 6 of their 13 games a season ago. Many may consider this neutral field match up a home game for Purdue being the game is in Indianapolis. Keep in mind however, that while Purdue is 65 miles from Indianapolis, the Cards fans only have to travel a bit over 100 miles to get to this game. Whether it be neutral or away, the Boilermakers have all kinds of trouble away from home with just 8 wins in their last 47 games outside of West Lafayette.

Arkansas State @ Nebraska (opened -16, currently -16.5) – There has been much hype entering the season regarding Nebraska’s new QB Tanner Lee. Word is the transfer from Tulane has shown he has the skills to be an NFL draft pick in a few years when he graduates (he is a junior this season) if he continues to progress. However the Husker faithful may need to temper their enthusiasm. While we’re not saying Lee won’t live up to the hype, let’s just remember he hasn’t take a live snap since the 2015 season and he didn’t necessarily light it up at Tulane where he threw for 3,600 yards in two years with 23 TD’s and 21 interceptions. On the other side of the ball Nebraska will be implementing a brand new defense under coordinator Bob Diaco (former DC at Notre Dame and head coach at UConn). We’ve heard the transition to the 3-4 defense has been very smooth and the coaches are very optimistic on that side of the ball. Arkansas State is no pushover. They won the Sun Belt Title last year for the 5th time in 6 seasons. The Red Wolves have been to six consecutive bowl games including last year’s 31-13 win over UCF in the Cure Bowl. They return most of their skill position players including QB Justice Hansen, however they might have the least experienced offensive line in the nation having lost every starter from last year. These two teams last met in 2012 here in Lincoln. Nebraska was a 22 point favorite in that game and topped ASU 42-13. The Wolves have been a successful “big” underdog going 16-8 ATS as a dog of 2 TD’s or more (since 2004).

Nevada @ Northwestern (opened -24, currently -24) – While many feel Northwestern has a decent shot at winning the Big Ten West (we don’t disagree), they are sitting in unchartered territory here. The Cats are favored by 24 points in this game and this program simply isn’t used to being in this spot. In fact, if you subtract FCS opponents, Northwestern has been a favorite of 24 or higher only ONCE since 1980. That was in 2013 when they were a 28.5 point chalk at home vs Western Michigan but failed to cover in the 38-17 win. 81% of Northwestern’s total yardage returns from a year ago (including QB Clayton Thorson) and nearly half (10) of their starters are slated to be seniors. Nevada hired a new head coach, Jay Norvell, in the off-season. He comes over from Arizona State where he was the WR’s coach but Norvell has plenty of experience in the Big Ten having coached at Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska. The Wolfpack finished with a 5-7 record last year and their defense had trouble slowing anyone down allowing over 450 YPG. They should be much better on that side of the ball with 14 of their top 16 tacklers returning. Norvell has an interesting decision at QB where returning starter Ty Gangi is battling Alabama transfer David Cornwell. He said both will play on Saturday. Playing in big road games to start the season is nothing new to the Wolfpack. This will be the 6th straight year their first road game will be against a Power 5 opponent (others were @ Cal, @ UCLA, @ Arizona, @ Texas A&M, and @ Notre Dame).

Ball State @ Illinois (opened at -8.5, currently -7) – While all of the other Big Ten teams playing host to opponents this weekend are huge favorites, the Illini are only laying 7 points vs MAC foe Ball State. And it’s not as if the Cards are a MAC powerhouse. They’ve won only 12 games combined over the last 3 seasons. BSU was just 4-8 last year and return fewer lettermen than everyone in the MAC not named Western Michigan. Dual threat QB Riley Neal is back under center after passing for 2,500 yards and rushing for over 500 yards a year ago. So why is Illinois only favored by a TD at home in this one? Well they were bad last year with a 3-9 record and now return fewer lettermen than anyone in the conference. They are breaking in a new QB Chayce Crouch who has 66 pass attempts in two seasons. On top of that, defensively the Illini are losing 6 of their top 10 tacklers on defense. This will be a very inexperienced team and let’s face it, the winning tradition simply isn’t there as the Illini haven’t had an above .500 season since 2011. Ball State is 50-22-1 ATS their last 73 road games. BSU has also been very tough on Big Ten teams as of late going 5-0 ATS since 2011 (2-3 SU record) with two outright wins over Indiana. The Cards three losses vs the Big Ten since 2011 have come by margins of 10, 5, and 4 points. Illinois is favored by a TD here and they have won a grand total of 8 games by more than 7 points over the last 5 seasons (minus FCS opponents).

Maryland @ Texas (opened -17, currently -18) – Texas fans have been flush with anticipation for the season as new head coach Tom Herman takes the sidelines for his first game as the Longhorn coach. Herman had a 22-4 record the last two seasons at Houston. The Horns have had 3 straight losing seasons and to put that into context, they had just 3 losing season total from 1990 to 2009. The offense put up 32 PPG last year and will be very good again this year. The problem is the defense, which was once the staple of this program, allowed 31.5 PPG and has given up an average of 400+ YPG in 4 of the last 5 seasons. Amazing with the talent they get out of that state. Maryland’s head man DJ Durkin led Maryland to a bowl game last year after taking over a team that was 3-9 the previous season. The Terps are an experienced team that will be starting 18 upperclassmen in Saturday’s game. Six of their starting front seven on defense are seniors. Maryland started the 2016 season with four straight wins before losing 7 of their final 9 games, including the bowl game. Sophomore Tyrell Pigrome who played some last year (322 yards passing & 294 yards rushing) has won the QB battle and will start on Saturday. Can Maryland pull the upset here? History says probably not as Maryland has pulled just one upset over their last 21 games as a 14 point underdog or higher (1-20 SU / 9-12 ATS). The last time the Longhorns were favored by -17 or more was last November @ Kansas. Texas was a 23.5 point favorite in that game and lost 24-21. However, since 2000, Texas is a money making 44-31 ATS as favorites of 17 or more.

Michigan (opened -4, currently -3.5) vs Florida (@ Arlington, TX) – These two storied programs met just a year and a half ago when they faced off in the Citrus Bowl. Michigan won that game in dominating fashion 41-7. Michigan returns the fewest starters in college football with only 5 regulars coming back. That includes only 1 starter returning from a defense that was dominating a year ago. That doesn’t mean the Wolverines lack for talent, it’s just unproven talent. Michigan was 10-3 last year and those three losses came by a combined 5 points to the likes of Ohio State, Florida State, and Iowa. The Gators come into this one with a number of suspensions including top WR Callaway. Their defense was also a shut down unit last year allowing only 293 YPG. Defenses are expected to dominate here which is why the total is set at just 45 points. The Florida offense was not good last year as they were held to 20 points or less in 6 of their 8 SEC games. They should be better this year however the all important QB position is unsettled. As of this writing head coach Jim McElwain hadn’t decided on a starter between Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire, junior Luke Del Rio, and redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks. He actually said that he may play all 3 QB’s on Saturday. Whoever starts will be working with a solid set of skill position players as everyone of note returns from last year. These two have met 3 times since 1980 with the Wolverines winning all 3. Michigan is just 9-18-1 ATS the last 28 times they’ve been favored between -1 and -7. Since 2000, the Wolverines are only 29-48-2 ATS as a favorite of -10 or less.

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