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Big 10 Conference Weekly Preview
by ASA - 10/19/2018
MICHIGAN (-7) @ MICHIGAN STATE, Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
MICHIGAN – The Wolverines had a much anticipated night game in Ann Arbor last Saturday. They faced off against the Wisconsin Badgers and rolled to an easy 38-13 win. The line move last week was surprising to many as Michigan opened as a 7-point favorite and went off at -10. The move was correct as they dominated the Badgers to get their first really big home win in quite some time. In fact, it was Michigan’s first win over a ranked Big Ten opponent since October of 2016 when they beat this same Wisconsin team 14-7. The Michigan defense continued to shine as they held Wisconsin’s offense to a season low 283 yards. The Badgers were able to run on this defense with 183 yards on 6.3 YPC. However, the pass defense, which ranks #1 nationally, held Alex Hornibrook and the Badgers to just 100 yards through the air. Believe it or not, they were actually better than those paltry numbers indicated. Wisconsin had just 25 yards passing on 3, yes 3, completions before their final offensive possession of the game. Wolverine QB Shea Patterson wasn’t great through the air with just 124 yards passing but they didn’t need it as Michigan gashed Wisconsin for 320 yards on the ground. It was the most rushing yardage Wisconsin has allowed since the 2011 season. Patterson had 90 of those yards including 81 on one run which set up their first TD. The 48 rushing attempts by Michigan was the most they’ve had this season. Now they travel to face a staunch MSU run defense on Saturday.
MICHIGAN STATE – As we mentioned above, the Wolverines decided to lean heavily on their running game in last week’s win but that strategy might be a bit tougher this week facing an MSU defense that ranks #1 nationally at stopping the run. It will be strength on strength this coming Saturday as Sparty’s stop unit allows only 62 YPG on the ground. The Spartans were allowing only 34 YPG rushing heading into last Saturday’s game vs PSU. The Nittany Lions were the first team to have any success vs Michigan State as they put up 200+ yards on the ground. However, that wasn’t enough as MSU pulled off the 21-17 upset in Happy Valley as 13-point underdogs. Trailing 17-14 with under 20 seconds remaining in the game, Spartan QB Brian Lewerke hit WR Felton Davis on a 25-yard TD pass to get the dramatic win. It wasn’t a fluke as Michigan State was +11 first downs, +21 yards, and +9 minutes time of possession. After losing @ home to Northwestern last Saturday, MSU head coach Mark Dantonio gave each one of his players a poker chip to bring to Happy Valley. He wanted to know if his players were all in after a rough setback a week earlier. Speaking of gambling, Dantonio showed his team he was all in as well as the Spartans pulled off a successful fake punt, attempted a fake FG, and decided not to settle for a potential tie and overtime in their final drive throwing for the endzone. It was a much needed win heading for a Michigan State team that has been somewhat disappointing this season.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Last year these two met in Ann Arbor and MSU pulled the upset 14-10 as a 13-point underdog. Sparty dominating this in-state series has been a common theme as of late as they are 8-2 SU the last 10 meetings and a perfect 10-0 ATS. They have beaten Michigan outright 4 of the last 5 times they’ve been tabbed an underdog. Michigan State is also 12-3-1 ATS the last 15 times they’ve played host to the Wolverines. It’s not often you see the Spartans as a home dog of 7 or more. It’s only happened 24 times since 1983 and they are 19-5 ATS in those games.
OHIO STATE (-13.5) @ PURDUE, Saturday at 7:30 PM ET
OHIO STATE – The Buckeyes handled Minnesota at home last week 30-14 but struggled, if you can call it that, for the third consecutive game. OSU was huge 30-point favorites vs the Gophs, who start a walk on freshman at QB, and came nowhere close to covering that lofty number. The 16-point final margin was the Bucks largest of the game and it was a 9-point margin with under 3:00 minutes remaining in the game. That was against a Minnesota team that lost their previous two games by 29-points @ Maryland and by 17-points @ home vs Iowa. That now makes the Buckeyes 0-3 ATS their last 3 games losing by a combined 22 points to the number (7.3 PPG). OSU outgained Minnesota by just 108 yards but also ran 20 more offensive plays so the Gophs actually had the edge in YPP production (7.0 to 6.6). Minnesota also had 3 turnovers (0 for the Buckeyes) yet were still able to hang in until the final minutes of the game. The running game continues to be a problem for Ohio State as they’ve averaged just 3.2 YPG, 3.2 YPC, and 2.9 YPC in their 3 conference games. They try to turn that around this weekend versus a Purdue defense that is allowing 146 YPG on the ground.
PURDUE – A few weeks ago the Boilers season was spinning out of control and they were sitting at 0-3 with all 3 losses coming at home. Despite the losses, there was still plenty of positives for Purdue as those 3 setbacks came by a total of 8 points and they outgained all 3 opponents. They have since won 3 straight games to even their record and all of those wins have come by 13 or more points. Last Saturday was their best overall performance as they dominated Illinois on the road winning 46-7 and outgaining the Illini by 363 yards. Illinois scored on their 2nd possession of the game taking a 7-0 lead. The Boilers then proceeded to score 46 consecutive points scoring on 8 of their final 11 possessions. The offense racked up 611 total yards led by QB David Blough who continued his red hot run. Over the last 4 games Blough has completed 68% of his passes for an average of 393 YPG through the air. Purdue has averaged 39 PPG during that 4 game stretch with Blough throwing for 10 TD’s. On defense this team completely shut down an Illini rushing attack that had topped 200 yards rushing in every game this season. Last Saturday they had only 69 yards on the ground on 31 carries. Now the Boilermaker defense faces an OSU offense that is struggling to run the ball. A rare prime time night game in West Lafayette and a dangerous spot for the Buckeyes.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Believe it or not these two have not met since 2013. After starting 0-2 this year vs the number the Boilers have now covered 4 straight by a combined 64 points – average cover by 16 PPG. The Buckeyes have now failed to cover 4 of their last 5 games with their lone cover during that stretch coming by 5.5 points vs Tulane. The total on this game came out at 67. These two have gone 15 straight games without reaching 60 points. The last time these two combined for more than 60 points was way back in 1994.
MARYLAND @ IOWA (-9), Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
MARYLAND – The Terps come into Iowa City with a surprising 4-2 overall record including 2-1 in the Big Ten. Last week they took care of Big Ten doormat Rutgers in easy fashion by a final score of 34-7. It could have been worse as Maryland cruised to a 24-0 halftime lead and Rutgers only points came on a TD with just 43 seconds remaining in the game. The defense was outstanding as they held Rutgers to 2 completions for the entire game. That’s not a misprint as Rutgers completed just 2 of 17 passes for 8 yards. They had 3 more completions to the Maryland defense (5 interceptions) than they did to their own team. While their pass defense played lights out, the Terps pass offense was ultra efficient. QB Kasim Hill completed just 8 passes for the game but 3 of those went for TD’s. Maryland continues to rely heavily on their running game as Hill has failed to top 80 yards passing in 3 of his last 4 games. His 3 TD passes on Saturday equaled his total for the year coming into the game.
IOWA – The Hawkeyes come back to Iowa City off two impressive road wins beating Minnesota & Indiana. Their offense has taken off scoring 90 points in their last 2 games after scoring just 101 points their first 4 games combined. They covered each of their games @ Minnesota & @ Indiana by a combined 30 points. Last week’s 42-16 win over Indiana was another impressive showing with the offense racking up 479 yards, the 4th straight game they’ve topped 400 yards. To say QB Nate Stanley is playing the best ball of his career is a massive understatement. He threw for 320 yards and 6 TD’s in Bloomington last Saturday. After struggling his first 2 games of the season, Stanley has thrown for 1,200 yards and 14 TD’s over his last 4 games. The defense wasn’t bad either as they held Indiana to just 67 yards on the ground forcing Hoosier QB Peyton Ramsey to try and carry much of the load offensively. With four defensive starters out, the Hawkeyes held IU to just 16 points and 330 total yards on 4.9 yards per play. Those four starters are all on the verge of returning and in the meantime their back ups were able to get some much needed experience in the last 2 weeks. That can only help this defense moving forward.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – These two have met just twice since Maryland joined the Big Ten and the home team won both games (Maryland covered both). They have not met since 2015. This lined opened last Sunday with Iowa at -13 and has since dropped to -9 as of this writing. Iowa is 2-0 ATS this year as a home favorite of less than 10 points. However, heading into this season they were 4-10 ATS in that spot dating back to 2010. Maryland is 13-7 ATS as a road underdog of less than 10 points dating back to 2010.
ILLINOIS @ WISCONSIN (-25), Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
ILLINOIS – The Illini played their worst game of the season last week as they were routed at home 46-7. They came into the game with the 3rd best rushing attack in the Big Ten averaging 260 YPG but ran for just 67 yards vs a previously weak Purdue defense. The Boilers entered the game allowing almost 450 YPG (13th in the Big Ten) but held the Illini to only 250 total yards. After scoring on their 2nd offensive possession and taking a 7-0 lead, Illinois was forced to punt on 8 of their final 10 possessions with the other two ending in a missed FG and a turnover. They gained less than 25 yards on 10 of their 12 possessions. Starting QB AJ Bush has not completed more than 13 passes in any game this season so stop the Illinois running game and they are probably in trouble. Just ask Purdue. Defensively they were gashed by the Boilers for over 600 yards. Illinois now sits dead last in the Big Ten in total defense allowing 504 YPG which is 60 yards more than Nebraska who ranks 13th in the league.
WISCONSIN – The Badgers simply put had not been playing up to their expectations through their first 5 games of the season and it caught up with them last week. They opened as 7-point underdogs @ Michigan and the number moved all the way to -10 by Saturday. Wisconsin came into the game having only lost 2 games by more than 10 points since the start of the 2010 season. Those 2 losses came vs Ohio State & Alabama. You can now add Michigan to that list as they dominated Wisconsin last Saturday 38-13. The game was tight at half with the Wolverines leading 13-7 but they kicked it into high gear in the 2nd half scoring 25 unanswered points in the easy win. The UW running game was solid averaging over 6 YPC but their passing game was of almost no help. QB Alex Hornibrook played the worst game of his career as he had completed only 3 passes for the game heading into Wisconsin’s final offense possession. The defense played fairly well but wore down in the 2nd half as Michigan held the ball for 38:00 of the 60:00 minutes. The Badgers remain banged up on that side of the ball as at one point last Saturday they had all freshmen in the defensive backfield. Top DL Loudermilk sat last week and will miss this weekend’s game as well. Starting strong safety and captain D’Cota Dixon also missed last week’s game and may have to sit out again on Saturday.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – The Badgers were favored by 28.5 points @ Illinois last year and won 24-10. This year at home they are laying 3+ points fewer than they were last year on the road. Since 2003, Wisconsin is 12-1 SU in this series (7-6 ATS). Since 1980, the Badgers have been favored by more than 21 points in this series just 4 times with 3 of those coming in the last 4 seasons. They are 4-0 SU in those games but just 1-3 ATS. This will just be the second time this season that Illinois is playing a road game. They won their lone road tilt this year but that was @ Rutgers where everyone wins. However, coming into this season, the Illini were 4-24 SU (11-17 ATS) their previous 28 Big Ten road games.
PENN STATE (-15.5) @ INDIANA, Saturday at 3:30 PM ET
PENN STATE – It will be interesting how the Nittany Lions respond on the road after completely taking themselves out of a possible college playoff berth last week with a home loss to Michigan State. After winning their first 4 games of the season, PSU has now lost back to back home games by a combined 5 points. They led both games in the fourth quarter only to lose. Holding onto leads as become a problem for PSU as they led in the fourth quarter in each of their last 5 losses dating back to 2016. This was a game they needed to win. It was at home and the Nits had 2 full weeks to recuperate and bounce back from their 1-point loss to Ohio State. That didn’t seem to matter as they looked flat and uninspired in their 21-17 loss to the Spartans. The 17 point output was Penn State’s lowest since they lost @ Michigan 49-10 in September of 2016. The running game actually was solid as they topped 200 yards on the nation’s top rush defense. However 126 of those yards came on two runs by RB Miles Sanders and they gained just 80 yards on the ground on their other 30 carries. The defense played very well slowing the Spartans to just 123 yards rushing, holding QB Brian Lewerke to less than a 50% completion rate, and shutting the door on 3rd down (just 5 of 20 for MSU). After a disappointing setback, the Lions now leave the state of Pennsylvania for just 2nd time this season. Can they right the ship after two heartbreaking home losses?
INDIANA – We’ve seen this before from the Hoosiers. Roll up big numbers during the non-conference slate only to struggle as soon as the Big Ten schedule hits. IU was routed 42-16 at home by Iowa last week as they fell to 1-3 in conference play with their win coming by a TD @ Rutgers. Even that win is a bit alarming as they struggled to beat a Rutgers team that has lost 6 straight games with 5 of those setbacks coming by at least 3 TD’s. The defense has fallen off a cliff since entering conference play. In the non-conference IU allowed just 17 PPG but they have since given up 35 or more points in 3 of their 4 league games including 49 & 42 points the last 2 weeks. The pass defense has been shredded for almost 800 yards and 12, yes 12 TD’s, the last two games alone. Facing one of the Big Ten’s top QB’s this weekend in PSU’s Trace McSorley won’t help improve those poor pass defense numbers. On a positive note QB Peyton Ramsey has really become a solid QB as he ranks 4th in the Big Ten in passing YPG (conference games only). He’s thrown for at least 260 yards in all 4 conference games this season. He’ll need to continue to play well as IU’s running game has struggled averaging just 85 YPG in league play.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – PSU (-19) rolled up an easy 45-14 win at home vs IU last season. However the Nittany Lions only outgained the Hoosiers by 18 yards in the game. PSU had 2 defensive TD’s to help them cover by just 2 points. These two have met 21 times since 1993 and Penn State is 20-1 SU on those games (12-8-1 ATS). Indiana is 1-9 SU at home in this series but only 2 of those losses have come by more than 14 points. PSU is 11-1-1 ATS the last 13 times they’ve been a road favorite of -14 or more dating back to 1999.
NORTHWESTERN (-20.5) @ RUTGERS, Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
NORTHWESTERN – After playing two physically and emotionally draining games against Michigan & Michigan State, the Cats were set up for a letdown last week facing a winless Nebraska team. Bettors agreed with that thought as the Cats opened as more than a TD favorite with the line dropping all the way to -3.5 by game time. The move looked dead on as Nebraska led by 10 points with under 3:00 minutes remaining in the game. The Cats responded kicking a FG with 2:27 remaining and then capped off regulation with a 99-yard drive scoring the game tying TD with just 12 seconds left. The Huskers continued their implosion by throwing an interception on their first possession of OT followed up by a Northwestern FG to win the game 34-31 (Huskers got the half point cover). While the Wildcats pulled out the win, they must find a way to improve their non-existent running game. They were outgained 231 to 32 yards on the ground last Saturday. They are averaging just 58 YPG on the ground in their 4 Big Ten games. They currently sit at 3-1 in the Big Ten West but we have a feeling that lack of a rushing attack will come back to bite them soon. Probably not this week vs Rutgers but it will sometime soon.
RUTGERS – What can we say about the Scarlet Knights? Nothing positive that’s for sure. This team lost their 6th straight game last week getting destroyed @ Maryland 34-7. Five of those six losses have come by at least 21 points. Last week their lone TD came with under 1:00 minute remaining in the game. Their QB situation is simply abysmal. Freshman starting QB Artur Sitkowski looked like he might be turning the corner two weeks ago when he completed 29 passes for 267 yards vs Illinois. Well so much for that. In last week’s loss @ Maryland Sitkowski was 2 for 16 through the air for 8 yards! Yes Rutgers had 8 yards passing. Not only did Sitkowski complete only 2 passes to his teammates, he completed 4 to the Maryland defense. I can’t remember the last time, if ever, we’ve seen a QB throw more interceptions than he had completions. As bad as the Rutgers offense is, the defense isn’t much better. The lone bright spot on that side of the ball is their pass defense which ranks 2nd in the Big Ten. The problem is nobody has to pass on them because they can’t stop the run. They are last in the league allowing 238 YPG on the ground and because of that teams have attempted just 189 passes on them this year which is the 3rd least in the Big Ten. Thus, why their pass defense looks OK. They have played one fairly solid game @ home this year giving Indiana a run for their money so who knows as they host Northwestern on Saturday.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – These two have not faced each other since Rutgers joined the Big Ten. Their last meeting was way back in 1991. The Cats have NEVER been a road favorite of more than 20 points prior to this weekend. The highest road number in history was back in 1986 when the Cats were favored by 18 @ Princeton! That being said, the Wildcats are 6-1 ATS as a double digit road favorite dating back to 1997. This is the first time in Big Ten play the Knights have been a home dog of more than 20 to anyone other than Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State. They are 7-16 ATS in that role (home dog of 20 or more) going back to 1980.
MINNESOTA @ NEBRASKA (-3.5), Saturday at 3:30 PM ET
MINNESOTA – The Gophers gave Ohio State all they could handle last week in Columbus. They were 30-point underdogs and lost 30-14 easily covering the number. Minnesota was actually lining up for a FG with just 1:00 minute to go in the 3rd quarter to cut the lead to 20-17. They missed that attempt and OSU then kicked a FG to make it a 9-point game midway through the fourth. They definitely had a shot in this game but mistakes killed them with missed 2 FG’s and had 3 turnovers which led to 10 Buckeye points. The offense is being led by a freshman walk-on QB Zack Annexstad and their top RB is also a freshman Mohamed Ibrahim but they are getting better on that side of the ball. They actually moved the ball very well last week averaging 7 YPP vs the Buckeyes. They’ve averaged nearly 6 YPP the last 2 games combined vs solid defenses (Iowa & OSU). Ibrahim had 157 yards on the ground on nearly 7 YPC last week as this offense rounds into form. That upward trend should continue this week vs a Nebraska defense that has allowed 33 points or more in every game but one this season. RB Shannon Brooks, who was supposed to be one of the main ball carriers this year, has been medically cleared to play for the first time this season but was arrested last weekend on a domestic abuse charge so his status is up in the air. Minnesota has played just 2 games on the road so far this season and lost both. They have now lost 8 straight on the road in Big Ten play.
NEBRASKA – The 0-6 Nebraska Cornhuskers opened as a 6-point favorite and that lined quickly dropped after it was released. As of this writing they now sit as a 3.5 point favorite. Are you ready to lay points with a team that has lost 10 straight games dating back to last season? Let’s be honest the Huskers are much better than their 0-6 record. They are simply making key mistakes at bad times which has contributed to many of those losses. That includes last week as they led Northwestern by 10 points with 2:30 remaining yet still lost 34-31 in OT. Again Nebraska mistakes were key. They had 3 turnovers, one a fumble returned for a Wildcat TD and another in OT which gave Northwestern their opening to win the game. They also had 90 yards in penalties which was actually an improvement for NU as it was the first time this season they didn’t have 100+ yards of penalties. The defense continues to get shredded on a weekly basis. In their four Big Ten games this season, the Huskers have allowed 56, 42, 41, and 34 points. They’ve also allowed 481, 533, 516, and 491 yards in those games. The offense looks like they are good enough to pick up a few wins down the stretch if they slow down on some of the mistakes. The defense, not so much.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Last year’s match up between these two was in Minnesota and the line was pick-em. The Gophers rocked the Huskers 54-21. That has been the theme of this series as most of the 7 meetings since Nebraska joined the Big Ten have not been close. Only one has been decided by less than a TD and the average margin of victory in this series is 15 points (last 7 meetings). The Huskers have been a terrible home favorite as of late going 4-15-1 ATS their last 20 in that role (0-2 ATS this year). Minnesota is 11-21-2 ATS as a Big Ten road underdog of 7 points or less dating back to 1980.