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Big 10 Conference Preview
by ASA - 09/27/2018
OHIO STATE -4 @ PENN STATE, Saturday at 7:30 PM ET
OHIO STATE – The Buckeyes were in a classic letdown spot last Saturday facing Tulane as a 37.5 point favored just one week after their big win over TCU. Despite the tough scheduling spot for OSU, they trounced the Green Wave 49-6 and getting the cover. They are now 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS with their line spread loss coming @ TCU by just a half point. Head coach Urban Meyer finished serving his 3-game suspension and was back on the sidelines for the first time this season. He watched his team dominate the stat sheet outgaining Tulane by 307 yards while picking up 18 more first downs. OSU has now outgained their four opponents by a combined 1,100 yards or an average of 275 YPG. QB Dwayne Haskins completed 21 of 24 passes for over 300 yards and 5 TD’s in the FIRST HALF! Haskins sat out the 2nd half and many of the regulars did the same so they should be well rested for their trip to Happy Valley on Saturday night. The Buckeye defense held Tulane to 4.4 yards per play and had 14 tackles for loss including 4 sacks. That was with All-American DE Nick Bosa sidelined due to an injury and he will miss his second consecutive game this Saturday.
PENN STATE – If you simply saw the PSU – Illinois score from last Friday night you might think the Nittany Lions had another cakewalk. However, the 63-24 final score didn’t really tell the entire story. PSU led just 28-24 entering the 4th quarter and then proceeded to score TD’s on all five 4th quarter possessions to break the game wide open. The Penn State quick strike offense was in full operation in that 4th quarter with TD drives of 9 seconds, 36 seconds, 50 seconds, and 2 minutes and 48 seconds. With the blowout win they have now outscored their last three opponents 177-40. Watching the Illini move the ball on this defense was a bit concerning especially with Ohio State’s much more potent attack on deck. Illinois, led by freshman QB Rivers making his first ever start, tallied 411 total yards including 245 on the ground. One thing we’ve noticed is the adjustments the Penn State staff is making at halftime are working very well. Despite three straight blowouts, the games have been fairly competitive in the first half. However, in the second half the Nits have outscored their last three opponents 113-7!
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Last year PSU’s Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff for a TD in Columbus but OSU pulled out a thriller scoring a TD with under 2:00 minutes remaining to top PSU 39-38. Looking at the stat sheet and not the score, you would guess that OSU won easily as they outgained the Lions 529 to 283. Just two years ago in 2016 PSU was a 17.5 point underdog at home vs OSU and pulled off the 24-21 upset. Since joining the Big Ten in 1990, Penn State has been a home dog in conference play 24 times and 8 of those games were vs Ohio State (PSU is 3-5 SU & 5-3 ATS in those games). Since October of 2005, the Buckeyes have been favored on the road 49 times. They are 44-5 SU and 31-17-1 ATS in those games.
MICHIGAN -14 @ NORTHWESTERN, Saturday at 4:30 PM ET
MICHIGAN – The Wolverines are coming off by far their best performance of the season beating Nebraska 56-10 at home last Saturday. After outgaining their first three opponents (Notre Dame, Western Michigan, and SMU) by a combined 363 yards they nearly matched that vs Nebraska putting up 359 more yards than the Huskers. It was the third consecutive game the Wolverine offense topped 400 yards and they nearly hit 500 in this one (491 yards which was a season high). The Michigan offense put up 39 points in the first half alone scoring on 6 of their first 7 possessions with their only non-scoring drive ending in a fumble. The offense was very balanced last Saturday with 285 yards rushing and 205 passing. The defense thwarted Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez’s return from injury as they completely shut him down. Martinez accounted for 304 yards in the Huskers opener vs Colorado before he was injured late in the game. In his return under center on Saturday Martinez accounted for only 10 yards (22 yards passing and -12 yards rushing). Michigan’s defense held Nebraska to a paltry 132 total yards on 63 plays. Word is they were extra motivated for this game after new Nebraska head coach Scott Frost made some comments about being more physical than Michigan when he brought his UCF team to the Big House in 2016.
NORTHWESTERN – The Cats have a preparation edge coming into their Big Ten opener as they are off a bye week. Two weeks ago they were upset at home vs Akron 39-34 as a 21 point favorite. The Wildcats were well in control of that game leading 21-3 at half before they completely melted down after halftime. Despite getting outgained by 124 yards, Akron scored on 3 non-offensive TD’s in the 2nd half fueling their upset in Evanston. Senior QB Clayton Thorson, who is returning from an ACL injury that occurred last season, finally had a big game throwing for 383 yards and 3 TD’s. However his 2 interceptions were BOTH returned for TD’s including a 97-yarder. The Cats only rushed for 86 yards and that’s been a problem this year as they rank dead last in the Big Ten averaging just 117 YPG on the ground. To make things even more difficult, they now lost their top RB Jeremy Larkin as he retired earlier this week after he was diagnosed with cervical stenosis. Larkin was their leading rusher with 346 yards through their first 3 games. John Moten is listed as the starter this week and he has carried the ball 15 times this season for an average of only 1.8 YPC.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – That last time these two met was in 2015 when Michigan cruised to a 38-0 win at home as a 10.5 point favorite. These two Big Ten foes have met 26 times since 1980 with Michigan winning 22 of those games. The Wolverines were favored in 25 of those 26 match ups. Northwestern’s last in in this series was in 2008 when they upset the Wolverines 21-14 as 3.5 point underdogs. The Cats have been a home underdog of 14 or more 46 times since 1980. They are 3-43 SU and 19-27-1 ATS in those games.
PURDUE -3.5 @ NEBRASKA, Saturday at 3:30 PM ET
PURDUE – Well the Boilers finally got it done last week beating Boston College 30-13 as a 7-point underdog. Purdue came into the game with an 0-3 record losing those games by a combined 8 points despite having outgained all 3 of those opponents (Northwestern, Eastern Michigan, and Missouri). So now, despite being 1-3, the Boilermakers have a point differential of +9 and a yardage differential of +280 on the season. It was a nice situational spot for Purdue getting a BC team coming in ranked for the first time in over a decade and off a road win @ Wake Forest. The defense, which had struggled for much of the year, played lights out holding a very good BC rushing attack to only 85 yards on the ground. Offensively, head coach Jeff Brohm trashed the 2-QB system two weeks ago vs Mizzou giving the reigns to David Blough. He has now played the entire game in each of the last 2 putting up huge numbers in the process with 868 yards passing, 6 TD’s and just 1 interception. How do the Boilers respond in their first game away from home after beating a ranked opponent for the first time in seven years? We’ll see.
NEBRASKA – Has Nebraska officially hit rock bottom? New head coach Scott Frost seems to think so stating to his players after the game he believes this is going to be the bottom and now they will turn on an upward trend. The Huskers were crushed in their Big Ten opener @ Michigan by a final score of 56-10 getting outgained by 359 yards. The game saw the return of freshman QB Adrian Martinez after missing last week’s home loss vs Troy due to an injury. The dynamic QB was nothing of the sort on Saturday completing just 7 passes for 22 yards while getting stonewalled for negative yards rushing. The offense has thrown up back to back stinkers scoring 17 & 6 points and now ranks 100th or lower in total offense, scoring offense, passing offense, and 3rd down conversion percentage. The Nebraska defense came into the game having allowed just 187 yards rushing on 69 carries for an average of just 2.7 YPC. That changes dramatically @ Michigan where the Wolverines rolled up 285 yards on the ground on over 6 YPC. Now a once promising season has a bleak outlook with the Huskers starting 0-3. Frost stated after the Michigan game, "We're really going to find out who loves football and who loves each other and who is going to band together.” This weekend’s home game vs Purdue will tell us a lot.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Oh how things have changed. The last time these two met in Lincoln was just two years ago and Nebraska was a 24-point favorite in that one (Huskers won 27-14). Now they are a 3.5 point underdog which is a 27.5 point swing in just two years. Last season Nebraska was a 3.5 point dog @ Purdue and won the game outright 25-24. Since November of 2007, Purdue has been a road favorite just 7 times and they are 1-6 ATS in those games losing 4 outright. Nebraska has been a home dog in conference play just 7 times since joining the Big Ten. They are 1-6 SU and 2-5 ATS in those games.
INDIANA -17 @ RUTGERS, Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
INDIANA – The Hoosiers lost their first game of the season last week as Michigan State waltzed into Bloomington as a 5.5 point favorite and rolled to a 35-21 win. IU was down 28-7 after three quarters but rallied to cut the score to 28-21 with 3:30 to play in the game. Just 11 seconds later MSU salted the game away with a 75-yard TD run to close out the scoring. The Indiana offense leaned heavily on their running game the first three weeks rushing for 213, 237, and 255 yards. That came to a screeching halt last week as the MSU defense held them to just 29 yards on 32 carries for less than 1 yard per carry. That forced QB Peyton Ramsey to throw it all over the yard as he attempted 46 passes (completed 32). His previous high in passes attempted this year was just 27. Our guess is they get back to the ground game this week vs a Rutgers defense that is last in the Big Ten in stopping the run allowing 220 YPG.
RUTGERS – The Scarlet Knights are reeling to say the least. Last week they were destroyed 42-13 at home vs Buffalo which was the Bulls first ever win over a Big Ten team. After opening the year with a win over Texas State, the Knights have been outscored 149-30 over their last 3 games. That includes a 55-14 loss to Kansas who has won only 17 of their last 108 games! The Rutgers offense averaged only 3.7 YPP last week against a MAC defense that had allowed 5.7 YPP vs their other two FBS opponents (Eastern Michigan & Temple). Knights head coach Chris Ash pulled freshman starting QB Artur Sitkowski for the 3rd straight game after he completed just 6 passes for 39 yards on their first 6 offensive possessions. Senior QB Giovanni Rescigno looked much better (129 yards passing) and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a switch this week. Defensively they weren’t any better. After Buffalo punted on their first possession and threw an interception on their second possession, the Bulls went on to score 5 TD’s in their next 6 possessions to take a 35-6 halftime lead. How bad is Rutgers right now? They rank dead last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense, pass offense, pass efficiency, rush defense, and pass efficiency defense.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Last year IU was a 12 point favorite at home vs Rutgers and destroyed the Knights 41-0 outgaining them 503 to 190. This year they are laying 17+ on the road. The Hoosiers haven’t been a road favorite of 17 or more since 1990, a span of 28 years! Rutgers had been a home underdog of 17 or more 31 times since 1980. They are 1-30 SU and 11-20 ATS in those contests.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN +28.5 @ MICHIGAN STATE, Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
CENTRAL MICHIGAN – CMU enters East Lansing with just a 1-3 record on the season. Their lone win came last Saturday vs FCS Maine and it was far from a dominating performance. The Chippewas won the game 17-5 but were outgained by nearly 100 yards. Central Michigan’s offense has been terrible this year and that didn’t change last week as they gained only 177 total yards vs Maine. After their first four games they rank 125th in total offense, 128th in scoring offense, 105th in rushing offense, and 125th in passing offense. Don’t expect their running game to get on track this weekend as they face the #1 rush defense in the nation in Michigan State. That means much of the offense will most likely fall on the shoulders of QB Tommy Lazzaro who made the first start of his career last week vs Maine. He completed 7 passes for just 82 yards in last week’s win.
MICHIGAN STATE – Sparty went on the road after a bye week and controlled Indiana last week 35-21. We were on MSU last week and felt it was a very good spot after they blew a double digit 4th quarter lead @ Arizona State before their bye week. As per usual, they were led by their defense which held Indiana to just 7 points through the first 3 quarters. They also shut down IU’s running game, which has accumulated 200+ rushing yards in each of their first 3 games. IU had just 29 yards on the ground and has given up just 98 yards rushing this SEASON (1st in the nation)! Speaking of the running game, MSU has struggled in that area this year. They had just 130 yards on 40 carries and 75 of those came on one run late in the game. They now rank 13th in the Big Ten in rushing ahead of only Northwestern. The Spartans top RB LJ Scott missed much of their game @ Arizona State and didn’t play at all vs IU last Saturday. They hope he can return from a hamstring injury this week to jumpstart the rushing attack. We wouldn’t be surprised if they kept him out vs CMU to get him ready for the meat of the Big Ten schedule starting @ Northwestern the following week.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – These two in-state teams have met 10 times since 1990 and surprisingly CMU has won 3 of those games outright (1991, 1992, and 2009). The Chippewas are 3-1 ATS this year with their lone spread loss coming at home in a 31-7 loss to Kansas. Since Vegas starting putting spreads on MAC teams back in 1998, Central Michigan has been a 4 TD or higher underdog 9 times and they are 2-7 ATS in those games. Since those MAC spreads went live in 1998, Michigan State is 21-1 SU vs MAC teams (13-9 ATS).