Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? It’s deja-vu all over again, Yogi. The calendar flips to Ocotber, my picks shrivel up into moldy jack-o-lanterns. Last weekend was a Halloween trick several weeks too early for my tastes and it played out like the JCB’s entire month of October did a year ago. Sigh. Let’s not dwell. To quote to great philosopher Mark McGuire, ‘we’re not here to talk about the past.’ Besides, I poured so much alcohol down my throat throughout the day, that I’ve misremembered most of the bad picks anyway. You need a short term memory with this hobby or else you’ll drive yourself insane. I find that Vodka helps in those spots. Among other things.
So, we’re not going to look back. We’re not going to wonder how in the world NC State did not cover despite staking out to a 17-point lead. We’re not going to try to comprehend how poorly Stanford imploded Saturday night after they too opened up a seemingly comfortable lead. We wont talk Clemson, Florida International, Texas or Wisconsin. Actually, that’s not true. We will talk about Wisconsin. Today, for the weekly review, sneak peak post, I’m just going to focus on the Big 10 slate and hope that just riffing about the teams I am most familiar with will help me rediscover the lost mojo that disappeared a weekend ago.
Purdue +9.5 at Northwestern, O/U 50.5
It was another Saturday, another close and a cigar victory for the Northwestern Wildcats. The Purple’s come-from-behind, 29-28 win over Minnesota makes them 17-6 under Pat Fiztgerald in games decided by a touchdown or less. That includes 3-0 this year, but unlike prior games against Vanderbilt and Central Michigan, who both scored late to force the Cats to hang on to victory, Northwestern spent much of this second half trailing and had to successfully complete two clutch fourth quarter drives to finally get this one done. Everybody likes to talk about Northwestern’s luck when they pull out a close one like this, but this game featured a little talked about notion about the Cats fortune: they’re a magnet for self destructive bad luck as well. They had three turnovers and constantly stubbed their own toe with penalties. Outside of that, Persa was fantastic, passing for over 300 yards and rushing for 99. Jeremy Ebert continued his breakout season with a 100-yard game and an acrobatic fourth quarter TD catch. Persa to Ebert already is one of the more dangerous QB/WR combos in the game.
Ebert is a guy I have already learned to love to watch. He’s collected 24 catches and five scores this year.
Better yet, he’s really stretching the field in this offense right now with an 18.7 ypc number. The junior was just the 91st WR in the 2008 recruiting class, but he’s bucking for a spot in the top-10 of his class at that position right now. He’s also another example of just how expert Northwestern has become in mining impact players out of talent rich Ohio. Ebert attened Hilliard Darby in the Dayton area. Darby plays football in the shadow of state power Hilliard Davidson and nobody sniffed out Ebert as a potential player. Purdue and Indiana showed some interest, but not enough to offer him a scholarship. Other than Northwestern, his other official suitors were Navy, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan. He was a fast, dominating at times QB for Darby, running a Rodriguez-style of offense, even pulling off a famous upset of Davidson his senior year. He’s a big game player. And he’s going to make a lot of Big 10 teams regret not recruiting him over the next two seasons. I would not discount 9 or even 10 wins out of Northwestern, especially if Ebert and Persa continue to call their shots on offense.
Next up is a Purdue team that is totally dishelved and injury riddled, begging the question of just how many Purdue fans walked under a ladder or broke a mirror this summer. The Boilers have not played since being whipped by Toledo two weeks ago. Boiler bloggers are already calling this a swing game, with bowl hopes going up in smoke if they add another loss to the docket this early. A look into the numbers show that Purdue’s offense shouldnt be able to keep up, and those numbers were all done when Robert Marve was the QB. I’ll you all at home figure out if thats a bad thing or a good thing. 50/50 it could be the later. Redshirt freshmen Robert Henry makes his first career start, on the road under the primetime lights. What does Purdue well? Thanks to Ryan Kerrigan, they have one of the more disruptive defensive fronts in the nation. If they hang with the Cats it’s because Persa is getting way too up close and personal with the Boiler defensive end.
While there is not a ton to like about Purdue on paper, be careful laying those points with Northwestern. While the Cats are money in close games under Fitz, they’re money burners as chalk, especially at home. They’re just 4-19 ATS as favorites in that role since their magical 2000 campaign. They’re 0-1 this year as home chalk, failing to pass the -7 in a 5-point win over Central Michigan. Fitz has only covered twice as home chalk, both in 2008 against Syracuse and, well, look at this, the Purdue Boilermakers. Interesting. Still, I’m thinking caution here on the heavy chalk. It does not matter if it says Wisconsin, Iowa or Eastern Michigan on the other team’s jersey, the Cats play right at the level of their opponents.
Michigan State +4.5 at Michigan, O/U 64
It’s one of the most important MSU/UM games in the history of the Paul Bunyan Rivalry. Here’s why Michigan will win. I like the sound of all of that, but from a capping perspective, I’m inclined to like the points here. Michigan does not have the defense that screams chalk covering machine. This line is up from -3 this summer, and I really dont know why. Yes, the public loves offense and Denard is RAD, but its not like this defense in Ann Arbor is a a secret to the betting public either. Besides, my rule of thumb is always play the underdog in regular season games involving a pair undefeated teams this late in the campaign. This game screams shootout and last team with the ball wins. When the teams appear even, as they do in this one, I like the head start in those type of contests. Think about it this way, lets project a worse case scenario for MSU and they’re down 11 or 12 late in the game. Isnt this Michigan D the perfect, uh, stop unit to allow a back door cover? I just think taking these points is the smart move.
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, I’ll give you a key to each side.
For Michigan, its simple. Establish a physical identity on offense up front. The last two years, the MSU defensive front whipped Michigan’s offensive line. Badly. Total mismatch. This year, Michigan brings a different OL to the table, one that, unlike a year ago, has all-conference caliber center David Molk in the lineup. He missed last year’s game due to an injury. They’ve also upgraded the talent with the insertion of Patrick Omameh and Taylor Lewan on the line, neither of whom played a year ago. My gut tells me Michigan’s offensive line might just win this battle this time around. It also helps that pyhsical players like Orien Wilson and Trevor Anderson, both of whom Michigan hadnt blocked in two years on the MSU DLine, are no longer on the Spartan team. Honestly, if Michigan’s offensive line cant punch back this year against MSU, when will they?
For the Spartans, everyone is talking about them being the best defense that Michigan has seen this year. There’s Jerel Worthy up front who could see a lot of head to head time with the aforementioned Omameh.
Oh course, stud Greg Jones leading one of the nation’s top LB corps. But they aren’t the only important players here. I say keep an eye out for cornerback Johnny Adams. I touted this kid back in the summer as an underrated addition to MSU’s D after losing most of 2009 to injury. The redhirt sophomore has not disappointed. He flashed a great all around game against the Irish, making a couple game swinging plays and provided excellent coverage throughout the day against Wisconsin. He’s been a regular Biggie Winner. Anyway, the Michigan offense will get theirs. But, will Adams get his? When Robinson throws his way, will those be the big gainers Michigan has seen so far this year or will Adams be able to break up and even pick those chances off? Robinson has been one of the more accurate passers this season and only has one pick. If he can burn Adams, then this offense wont be stopped all day. I will have a lot more to say about this game in the Over/Under post I’ll do at Mgo on Friday.
Indiana +22. at Ohio State, O/U 57.5
The Bucks struggled last week against the Illini, again showing their sometimes clunky offense. Then Terrelle Pryor missed a couple of series due to an injury, actually opening the door for an upset. But, Tressel brought his We Can Win This 24-13 Blueprint, followed it to near perfection and ran the football almost every play in the second half after the Pryor injury to sneak out of Illinois with victory. Frankly, if Illinois had any compentency of their own at the QB position, then this game might have turned out differently. Some of the post game comments from Pryor were revealing, by the way. He relays to us that his mates in the huddle were urging him to be their leader and take them down the field. Of course, due to being dinged up, Pryor could not do that upon his return. Does anybody buy these exchanges? Not to claim that the kid is a fibber, but I just cant see all the blue chippers surrounding TP begging him to lead him to the promised land. In fact, the JCB sources in Columbus confirm these were just some of the comments overheard as Pryor returned to the huddle.
Mike Brewster: “Just run Tressell’s play, you prima donna game manager. We got this one.”
Justin Boren: “That would never last a day in the plow business”
Devier Posey: “Do they have QBs who specialize in the arm punt in the NFL? This playcalling sucks.”
Dane Sanzenbacher: “We have old ladies with mental problems haning on the street corners in the 504 that have it more together than this guy.”
The winning with Tressel Ball tour will more than likely continue this weekend when the Bucks host Indiana. Fresh off their heartbreaking loss to Michigan, Indiana does have NFL talent on the offense with Chappel, Doss, Belcher and Harris. They have nothing on defense. The Hoosiers might be 6-3 ATS in their last 9 Big 10 games, but this is clearly not a good matchup for them. The Bucks rarely go back to back weeks without a cover. Chappel will throw all day, all the way to the end, even if its a blowout. The Bucks need to be up by more than 4 TDs in order to keep the back door cover closed and with Chappel’s ability to get the ball down the field, you could see a 45-17 game turn to 45-24 in the closing seconds. While Pryor’s injury isnt that serious, conventional wisdom in Columbus calls for a four quarter bout of Tressel Ball against the Hoosiers. There’s no way the Bucks throw more than 15 times. On one hand, that could keep it close. But, on the other hand, IU’s defense is pretty JV. Boom Herron and Brandon Saine could each go over the centruy mark. I dont see myself playing a side. But thats because as most of you know, I’m not a big chalk player. But if you are, I think the Bucks will be a solid front runner. Tressel Ball aside, I do think the Bucks have a big number in them. If the Hoosiers prove an adequate offense and put up at least a couple scores, the Over could hit with some ease.
Minnesota +22 at Wisconsin, O/U 58
Minnesota has two rivals on the western frontier of the Big 10. One, with Iowa, which seemingly is a blowout loss every year. And another with Wisconsin, which lately has been giving us one of the more exciting games in league play during recent seasons. Five of the last seven contests have been high scoring affairs decided by a touchdown or less. Of course, just because these games have been close doesnt mean the final result isnt any different than the Iowa contests for the Gophers. It’s still a loss. Minnesota has not defeated the Badgers since 2003 and have not won in Madison since 1994, ironically the Badgers break through first Rose Bowl season under Alvarez. Even though the Badgers might be losing their identity, it’s hard not seeing them adding another Minnesota win to their annals with a nice bounce back after last week’s disappointment in East Lansing. But given how close these games have been recently and that the average total score over the last ten games is 67 points, we could be rolling with one of our Underdog, Over specials.
Illinois +7.5 at Penn State, O/U 42.5
This game just screams Under. Who is going to score here? The Lions dont look good at all on offense and as long as Marquez Wilson is running sideline to sideline, the Illini will have enough defense to keep things in check. Of course, the Illini will be lucky to get into the teens themselves. In a season where I think we’ll see great QB battles every weekend in the Big 10, this wont be one of them. I do kinda, sorta like Robert Bolden’s upside longterm and within the vacuum of these four quarters a bit more than the Illini’s Scheelhase, and he’s at home with better talent around him. That should be enough. The Illini lost 24-13 a week ago. Sounds like a good score for this game as well.
As of now, I’m thinking MSU +4.5, Minny +22, Miny/Wisco Over 58, Purdue +9.5 (All Northwestern does is play close games), OSU/IU Over 57 and I’m not touching the Penn State-Illinois game. Talk me out of these or into any other games in the Big 10 or anywhere else in that matter.