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Big 10 Conference Report
by ASA - 09/21/2017
MICHIGAN (-10) @ PURDUE – Saturday at 4:00 PM ET
The Wolverines are now 3-0 but have had quite the struggle offensively. They have had the ball inside the red zone (inside 20 yard line) 10 times in 3 games this year and scored a grand total of 1 TD on those possessions. Their 5.9 yards per play ranks them 8th in the Big Ten in that category. Their QB Wilton Speight ranks dead last in the Big Ten averaging only 190 YPG passing (only QB’s that average 15 passing attempts per game included). Two weeks ago the Wolverines looked flat coming off their win over Florida and facing a Cincinnati team that simply isn’t very good. They won that game 36-14 but it was a 17-14 game late in the 3rd quarter. Last week vs Air Force they won 29-13 but it was a 19-13 game in the 4th quarter. Those are two teams Michigan should honestly dominate from the get go and they didn’t. The defense has obviously been carrying this team allowing just 3.4 yards per play (tops in the Big Ten). They have allowed only 3 offensive TD’s in 3 games this year!
The Boilers are definitely the surprise of the Big Ten. They are 2-1 on the year with their only loss coming by a TD vs Louisville. Last week they travelled to Missouri and absolutely destroyed the Tigers 35-3. Now granted, Mizzou is one of, if not the, worst team in the SEC but a road win like that is huge for Purdue. It was just their 9th road win in their last 49 away from home. Purdue continued with their two QB system although they gave last year’s starter, David Blough, the nod here. He’s been dealing with a shoulder problem but is now at or close to 100%. He was more than efficient leading the Boilers to TD’s on their first 3 offensive possessions of the game. They weren’t short, after a turnover type drives either. Those 3 TD drives went for 75, 87, and 96 yards. Because of Blough’s success, now back up QB Elijah Sinelar’s opportunities were few and far between with just 6 pass attempts (Blough had 28 pass attempts). The Boilermakers outgained Missouri by 275 yards and held a potent Tiger offense 3 points on 10 first downs and 203 total yards. The Tigers were averaging 42 PPG, 28 first downs per game, and 619 YPG coming into the game.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – These two haven’t met since the 2012 season. Since 1980, the Wolverines are 22-5 SU vs Purdue and they’ve been favored in all but 3 of those contests. Talk about a drought? Purdue has won only 3 of their last 33 conference games dating back to the start of the 2013 season. Since October of 2013, the Boilermakers have been a double digit home dog 9 times. They are 0-9 SU & 1-8 ATS in those games. Since 2007 Michigan has been a road favorite of 10 or more in conference play 9 times. They are 2-7 ATS in those games.
PENN STATE (-12) @ IOWA, Saturday at 7:30 PM ET
Penn State was in a prime spot for a letdown last weekend at home vs Georgia State as they were coming off a huge revenge game vs in-state rival Pitt. Apparently the Lions were far from flat as them won the game going away 56-0. They were primed and ready right from the opening kickoff as PSU rolled up 35 points on 358 yards by halftime! PSU moved the ball into Georgia State territory on all but one of their offensive possessions. Penn State is now 3-0 on the season and they have outscored their opponents 141-14. They also lead the Big Ten in turnover margin at +7 after their first 3 games. We’ll get a better idea of just how good this team is as they travel for the first time this season on Saturday.
While PSU didn’t seem to be flat after their in-state rivalry game, Iowa cannot say the same. The Hawkeyes beat their arch rival Iowa State on the road in overtime two weeks ago and came back home to host North Texas last Saturday. Iowa won the game 31-17 but it was much closer than that. In fact, the Hawks didn’t take the lead for good until late in the 3rd quarter when a Nate Stanley TD pass put them up 17-14. After trailing 14-10 at half, the Hawkeye defense held UNT scoreless on just 78 total yards facing only 18 offensive plays in the 2nd half. Keep in mind this is a North Texas team that lost 54-32 vs SMU the previous Saturday so this is a team Iowa should have handled from the opening seconds. After rushing for just 138 and 168 yards in their opening two games vs Wyoming and Iowa State, the Hawks seemed to finally get on track rushing for 238 in this game. However, their starting RB Akrum Wadley and his back up James Butler both left the game with injuries. Wadley has a leg injury and Butler an elbow injury. While neither appear to be serious both are up in the air for this weekend as of this writing.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – After losing 8 of their 9 meetings with Iowa between 2000-2010, Penn State has now won 3 straight in this series by final scores of 13-3, 38-14, and 41-14. In last year’s 41-14 win in Happy Valley, the Nits absolutely dominated with a yardage edge of 559 to 234. PSU was favored by 6 at home in that game and now they are laying double that (currently -12) on the road. Iowa has been a double digit home dog just 16 times since 1981 (11-5 ATS).
CENTRAL FLORIDA @ MARYLAND (-3.5) – Saturday at 3:00 PM ET
Will UCF be rusty in this one? The Knights haven’t played in a game since August 31st so when they take the field @ Maryland on Saturday it will be their first game in 23 days. Their game at the end of August was a blowout 61-17 win over Florida International. Since that win, with Hurricane Irma blowing through the area the Knights had two games cancelled and they were off practice and classes for nearly a full week. Campus was basically shut down. They just returned to practice last Thursday. Many of the players stated they thought it felt like starting camp all over again with so much time off and only one game played this season. The offense looks to be the strength of this team after putting up 61 points in their only game. They return 9 starters on that side of the ball including their starting QB, starting RB, and nearly all of their top receivers.
The Terps had last weekend off so while UCF hasn’t played in 23 days, Maryland hasn’t played in 14 days. While it’s hard to tell just two games into the season, the Terps do look like they are improved over last season when the finished with a 6-7 record. They are 2-0 including a 51-41 win @ Texas which looks much more impressive now after the Longhorns nearly upset USC on the road last Saturday. The offense is definitely clicking scoring 114 points in just two games this year. Their 63 point outburst vs Towson two weeks ago was the most points a Maryland team has scored since 1954. They lead the Big Ten averaging over 9 yards per play. In their season opener vs Texas, they lost starting QB Tyrell Pigrome for the season with a knee injury. Pigrome looked very good vs the Horns tallying 175 yards through the air, 65 on the ground, and 2 TD’s. Highly touted true freshman Kasim Hill took over as the starter vs Towson and didn’t miss a beat leading Maryland to their easy win. Hill was 13 for 16 through the air and a heavy passing attack wasn’t needed as UMD rushed for 367 yards in the win. Top RB Ty Johnson is averaging a ridiculous 15 YPC this season.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – These two met last year @ UCF and Maryland won 30-24 in double overtime. UCF ran 20 more offensive plays in the game and outgained the Terps by 82 yards in the loss. Maryland has been a losing proposition as a favorite going just 22-37 ATS (37%) in that role since 2004. UCF has actually been a successful team away from home with a winning record (25-24 SU) over their last 49.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN @ INDIANA (-23) – Saturday at 3:30 PM ET
Georgia Southern is winless on the season with losses to Auburn & New Hampshire. The Eagles had last week off before heading to play @ Indiana this Saturday. Their 41-7 loss to open the season @ Auburn was actually worse than the final scored might indicate. The Tigers were without their starting tailback and top WR because of suspensions. Georgia Southern was held to 78 total yards on 56 plays in the game. Auburn racked up well over 500 yards and had chances to make the final margin much worse. Two weeks ago the Eagles were supposed to host FCS New Hampshire but because of Hurricane Irma, the game was moved to Birmingham, Alabama. NH jumped out to a 22-0 lead at half and won the game 22-12. While it’s never ideal to lose to an FCS team, the Georgia Southern players were obviously going through some adversity at the time and New Hampshire is a solid program (ranked 15th in FCS). Georgia Southern runs an option offense from the shotgun and to say it needs to improve would be an understatement. They are averaging an FBS worst 2.99 yards per play on the season.
Indiana had a bye last week as well although it wasn’t a previously scheduled Saturday off. They were supposed to host FIU, however the Panthers cancelled their trip to Bloomington because of complications caused by Hurricane Irma. IU comes in with a 1-1 record losing at home to Ohio State and beating Virginia on the road. Their 49-21 home loss to the Buckeyes wasn’t indicative of how the game was played out. The Hoosiers actually led late in the 3rd quarter before turnovers led to an OSU onslaught in the 4th quarter. Their game two weeks ago @ UVA was sort of the opposite. Indiana won the game 34-17 but were outgained, had fewer first downs and held the ball for nearly 10:00 minutes less than the Cavs. UVA was shut out on downs twice inside IU territory and gave up a punt return for a TD in the game. Field position played a huge roll in this game as Indiana scored on TD drives of just 32 and 30 yards to go along with their special teams score.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Indiana is in rare territory this Saturday. They have been a favorite of 3 TD’s or more only 9 times in the last 38 years! They are 9-0 SU in those games (4-5 ATS). The last time they were this hefty a favorite? Last year vs Purdue when IU was -21 and barely squeaked by with a win 26-24.
RUTGERS @ NEBRASKA (-13.5) – Saturday at 3:30 PM ET
Rutgers won! The Knights broke their FBS worst 11 game losing streak last Saturday by destroying FCS opponent Morgan State 65-0. Their most recent win before Saturday was nearly a year ago when they beat New Mexico. Now sitting at 1-2 after losses to Washington & Eastern Michigan to open the season, the Knights travel to Lincoln, Nebraska for just the 2nd time in their history. Watching their first few games, RU does look like they have improved offensively. QB Kyle Bolin, a transfer from Louisville, looks better than what they have had at that position in the past. His back up, freshman Johnathan Lewis has been getting time as well and he is a dangerous runner. They have added a few transfers at WR to go along with their top WR Janarion Grant to make that position quite athletic. They open conference season this weekend after getting out scored by an average of 30 PPG and outgained by 230 YPG in Big Ten play last year. After breaking their 11 game losing streak last weekend, Rutgers now must try and break their 14 game Big Ten losing streak @ Nebraska on Saturday.
While Rutgers was thrilled they finally won a game last weekend, Nebraska was trying to figure out how they could possibly lose at home to Northern Illinois. Turnovers that’s how. If you would simply glance at the boxscore from last week’s 21-17 home loss, you would have though Nebraska won this game rather handily. They held NIU to just 213 total yards (Huskers had 387), had more first downs and a big 13:00 minute time of possession edge. Northern Illinois led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and had a grand total of ONE first down. Nebraska QB Tanner Lee tossed two interceptions that were returned for TD’s in the first quarter alone. That gives Lee 7 interceptions in just 3 games which is the most in the nation. The Husker defense played quite well the Northern offense crossed midfield only 3 times the entire game taking out the interceptions. It was Nebraska’s first loss EVER to a MAC opponent. What once may have been a “ho-hum” game for the Huskers is now a huge one. They cannot afford another loss to a team they should handle on the field. A setback here would drop them to 1-3 and possibly send their season into a tailspin. Top RB Tre Bryant (300 yards rushing this season) did not play last week due to a knee injury and is doubtful for this game.
Note – After this writing, Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst was fired. Not sure how that affects this particular game, however Eichorst hired head coach Mike Riley who is now on a “hotter” seat that he previous was.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – These two have met twice since Rutgers joined the Big Ten with Nebraska winning each by margins of 18 & 17 points. As mentioned above, Rutgers has lost 14 straight Big Ten games. All but 4 of those losses were by at least 17 points. The Knights have a 2-10 SU record on the road in Big Ten play since joining the league in 2014. Since joining the Big Ten in 2011, the Huskers have been a home favorite of 10 or more 10 times in conference play. They are 3-7 ATS in those games.
UNLV @ OHIO STATE (-40.5) – Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
The Rebels head to Columbus with a 1-1 record after losing at home to Howard 43-40 in week one and then beating Idaho 44-16 on the road two weeks ago. They had last weekend off to get ready for their huge road game vs the Buckeyes. Their loss at home to Howard was actually noted as the worst upset in NCAA history according to the pointspread. While Howard is an FCS team there are a number of sportsbooks that carry lines when those teams face an FBS foe. The oddsmakers set UNLV as a 45-point favorite in that game only to see the Rebels lose by a FG. That topped the previous biggest upset which was in 2007 when a Jim Harbaugh led Stanford team beat USC as a 40-point dog. In a huge turnaround, just a week later UNLV beat Idaho by 28 points as a 4-point underdog. The Rebs rely heavily on the run with 96 rushing attempts in two games to just 37 pass attempts. We’ll see how they fare against an OSU rush defense allowing just 3 YPC and that includes a game vs rush heavy Army.
Two weeks ago OSU was embarrassed on their home field getting manhandled by Oklahoma. They took their frustrations out on Army last week in a 38-7 win. The spread hovered between 30.5 and 32.5 so their spread result really depended when and where the wager was made. After much ridicule following their loss to Oklahoma, OSU QB JT Barrett played a very solid game completing 25 of his 33 passes for 270 yards and 3 TD’s. Much is being made of the OSU offense struggling early in the year but their numbers are quite similar to last year. After 3 games last year the Bucks were averaging 545 YPG on 7 YPP. This year they are at 557 YPG on 6.7 YPP. Very comparable numbers. The difference this year, stat wise, is definitely on the other side of the ball. Defensively OSU was allowing just 278 YPG on 3.9 YPP after their first 3 games last season. This year those numbers are much higher 401 YPG on 5 YPP. Maybe the defense should be getting more criticism?
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – UNLV is just 24-49-4 their last 77 road games. The Rebs have been this significant of an underdog only ONCE since 1980. That was back in 1995 when they were 53 point dogs @ Tennessee and lost the game 62-3. On the flip side, OSU has been a favorite of 40 points or more 8 times in the last 38 seasons. As to be expected, they are 8-0 SU in those games and 6-2 ATS. In those 8 games only twice has a team topped 7 points and the Bucks pitched a shutout in half of them (4).
NOTRE DAME (-4) @ MICHIGAN STATE – Saturday at 8:00 PM ET
After losing a heart breaker two weeks ago at home to Georgia 20-19, the Irish bounced back last week with an important win @ Boston College. The game was fairly tight for almost 3 full quarters when ND pulled away scoring 4 TD’s in the final 17:30 of the game to win 49-20 and easily cover the 13 point spread. The offense continues to be very impressive racking up 611 yards vs a BC defense that finished 14th in the nation last year allowing only 331 YPG. It was the second time this season Notre Dame scored 49 points as they beat Temple 49-16 to open the season. The lone concern offensively has been the accuracy of first time starting QB Brandon Wimbush. He rushed for 207 yards last week and 4 TD’s, however completed only 11 of his 24 pass attempts for less than 100 yards. On the season Wimbush is completing only 50% of his passes with 2 TD’s and 2 interceptions. The Irish play @ Michigan State this weekend for their first and only back to back travel games this season.
While ND was getting a much needed win in Boston, Michigan State was at home resting and getting ready for this game. After going just 3-9 last year, the Spartans come into this game with a 2-0 record beating MAC teams Western Michigan and Bowling Green. While MSU looks like they are definitely improved over last year, it’s still hard to gauge how much better they are. This game will go a long ways in answering that question. Sparty beat Bowling Green 35-10 in their opener but the Falcons have since gone on to lose at home to South Dakota and then were crushed at a struggling Northwestern 49-7. MSU also topped a solid Western Michigan team 28-14, however they caught the Broncos come back from the west coast after losing a heart breaker @ USC. Not an ideal situation for WMU. Now you see what we don’t have a great barometer for how good Michigan State is. We do know this, they are getting much better play from the all-important QB position which was a train wreck last year. Starter Brian Lewerke has completed 65% of his passes on the season and he’s rushed for 150 yards in two games.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – These two rivals faced off every season from 1997 – 2013. Then they did not play each other in 2014 or 2015. Now they are back at it this season. Notre Dame is just 5-13-1 ATS in this series since 1994. As a road favorite in this series, the Irish are just 2-7-1 ATS since 1980. Michigan State struggled big time in this series from 1976 – 1994 losing 17 of the 19 match ups. After a hiatus in 1995 & 1996, the series started again and since 1997 Sparty has won 11 of the 18 meetings.