So. Yeah. Big 10 Football. Penn State playing a marquee, Senior Day game against Nebraska…….tell you what, lets look at this game from the strict vacuum of football matchups and pretend nothing else is going on.
Nebraska at Penn State. Lines, Brasker -3, O/U 42.5
After watching Nebraska lose to Northwestern and remembering various struggles they’ve had during stretches of other games, I can totally see this game going Penn State’s way. Everyone has been able to run right at Nebraska this year. Good luck with Silas Redd, Blackshirts. He’s only having one of the best campaigns of any Big 10 tailback this season, often carrying the Nits offense, and now going up against a Nebraska defense that allows 160.8 rushing yards a game. Meanwhile, the Huskers offense often stagnates, has a maddeningly inconsistent boom or bust rushing attack and is always under the threat of being betrayed once or twice from the small town high school looking passes of Tyler Martinez. All that seems to play into the hands of a Penn State defense thats ranked third in the country in defensive efficiency.
But I don’t think Penn State is that great. I still feel they wont win a game the rest of the regular season. If a Book would give me odds on that, consider me in line at the window. We know they will waste precious possessions with the Robert Bolden experiment. We know that it wont truly be all that much better with Matt McGloin, save for an assortment of nice looking plays down field. We know he’ll kill them once or twice with a mistake. We know it wont take a lot of points to beat them. In the four games on their schedule against teams that currently have a winning record, the Nits averaged just 12 points a game. I can bag on the Husker’s non vintage stop unit all day, but if Iowa and Temple can hold Penn State to 13 and 14 points respectively on this same field, then so to can the Huskers. The Martinez led offense might not look pretty, but its generally been able to put points on everybody its played. Their 34, 24 and 51 point outbursts against Ohio State, Michigan State and Washington are better than anything the Penn State offense has shown this season. You could probably add the 42 they put up against Fresno on that list. Statistically, they’re the 30th ranked team in offensive efficiency and have the 13th best rushing attack in the land. They are more than capable of overcoming the good PSU defense and nabbing the win in the end. Dont be surprised if freshmen Ameer Abdullah stakes his claim to player of the game by setting Nebraska up a few times with key field position with some nice gallops in the return game.
I’m still a little leery of laying the road chalk. That Northwestern outcome a week ago leaves a bad taste in my mouth regarding ’Brasker. I never like betting against teams in their final home game, and who knows what kind of emotion Penn State will play with? I do expect this game could go all the way to the final gun, and I generally like to have the points of the underdog in those instances. But I dont really feel like cheering for Penn State either, but I am still going to be able to enjoy a good, old fashioned looking Big 10 defensive slugfest. This has 17-13 written all over it. I will be waiting to see what the Silas Redd rushing props are, however. I’ve enjoyed watching him tote the football this year and he should go over the 100-yard mark against this defense with some ease. I see at least 130 yards.
The Pick: Nebraska -3
Silas Redd: Over 110.5 rushing yards
Wisconsin at Minnesota. Lines, Wisco -28, O/U 63.5
When the AXE is on the line, I guess you can throw the records. At least Minnesota endorses that idea. However, the Gophers come in to this one, uh, hot after upsetting Iowa two weeks ago and nearly pulling the same trick at Michigan State last Saturday. They appear to have found something with QB Marquis Grey. He’s completed 61-percent of his passes, averaging over 245 yards per game with four touchdown throws the last two weeks, inarguably the Gophers best two efforts of the season. This is not a coincidence. He’s also added 133 yards rushing. I think that gives them a puncher’s chance against the Badgers and certainly a great shot at covering the 28-point spread. Despite those points, its still hard to bet on them. I think the Badgers wreck havoc on their November schedule. They were the only favorite to cover a week ago in the league and it wouldnt be a total shock to see them pull the trick again. This should be a blowout, but if Grey can keep the Gophers close, then, I dont know, do we have the making of a 7-8 win team in 2012? They might stink this year, but I am already thinking they’re a 2012 Big 10 darkhorse. That counts as progess in Year One of Jerry Kill.
The Pick: Minnesota +28, Over 63.5……reluctantly. Some people are chalk eating motherfuckers, others are underdog whores. I am the latter, so I am grabbing this mess of points. Honestly? I’ll be happy if the Gophers have the ball once or twice in thr fourth with a chance at a back door cover. HOWEVA, we are also taking the over. We are bumping heads with the sharp minds at Conference Chalk on the Nebraska/Penn State, but we’re eagerly taking their advice on the Over in this contest. It’s also a good hedge attempt in case the Badgers blow this spread up as they could very well threaten the total all by themselves.
Ohio State at Purdue. Lines, OSU -7.5, O/U 46
What happened to the dream, nightmare season I had been hoping for with the Ohio State Buckeyes? When October began, it looked like the Bucks would need to tuck away auto wins over IU and Purdue just to have a chance at a bowl game. Instead, the Bucks all but control their own fate to win the
Leaders East Division of the conference. Basically, they need to win out and hope that Penn State also loses to either Nebraska or at Wisconsin down the stretch. Frankly, those are outcomes I wouldnt think twice betting on. Ohio State hasn’t lost a November game since 2007 and I’m not certain its happening this year either. Certainly not in this contest. Barring an upset, the Bucks will at least venture into Ann Arbor 14 days from now with some chance at a division title and spot in the conference championship. I had been hoping that a defeat that day would land them bowless with a losing record. But, you cant escape the overall high talent level on the Buckeyes roster. They finally settled with Braxton Miller at QB and are running an offense, short on passing, but long on plays that max out the freshmen signal caller’s best skills. Defensively, they are man eaters on the front line and their inexperienced back-7 has made tremendous strides since September. They put on a tackling display in their last outing, the upset over Wisconsin, constantly standing up Badger ball carriers just shy of the sticks to force punts. Its going to be interesting watching the Buckeyes win this by two touchdowns while not topping five completions. I just dont think the Boilers can muster any offense against this emerging Silver Bullet crew. They’re only favored by seven points. Thats just way to tempting to tease that down to a pick ‘em, if I can only find a second game to link that to. Or its to good to be true. I dont think so. This has 23-9 written all over it, with a Buckeye defensive score putting the game out of reach in the second half. The Pick: OSU -7.5
Michigan at Illinois. Line, MICH -1, O/U 48
I am disappointed, but hardly disillusioned in Michigan Football heading into this game. Look, they played their C-game, caught zero breaks and killed themselves in the red zone, but still had a chance to force overtime against Iowa. The team isnt talented enough to win without their A-game, but the fact that they could slog their way through, playing like crap and not get blown off the field like the last two seasons is enough progress. Well, it might not be enough progress, but its what we fans have right now. Besides, when the season began, my prediction was 7-3 through 10 games, unless they beat Notre Dame, then they had a shot at 8-2 through the first 10 games. After that, the true measure of progress would be how Michigan sized up against Nebraska and Ohio State to close the season. The last two years the swing games to close those years against Wisconsin and OSU were always inked as an ‘L’ in permanent marker weeks before the actual games. I dont think we can even pencil in any result in those games right now. They are coin flips, like this one, that could go either way. So they team might not look any better, but it will be much more competive in November that the previous two years, despite already being 0-1 this month.
Michigan has played three road games this season and have played exactly one good half of football in those games, the second half rout of Northwestern in Evanston. Despite that, they’re a smidge better executtion in the red zone combined with having some semblance of savviness and varying the snap count away from being undefeated. They’ve seen at least one offensive possession reach the edge of the end zone only to crash on the rocks with zero points in their three road games. If they can avoid that fate Saturday in Champagne, then I think Michigan will be able to do just enough to win. That said, Illinois’ defense is an elite sack outfit and can Michigan’s tackles handle the pressure. Taylor Lewan? Book It, he can. Mark Hugye? Eh, thats another story especially if he’s matched with Whitney Mercilus. Considering this game was 67-65 a year ago, this will sound odd to say, but I think Michigan wins this game on defense. Its actually a pretty good stop unit, going against a mediocre offense that cant really pass consistently and whose top tailback has struggled finding running room all season. Michigan’s defense was at the bottom of the heap a year ago. This year, they rank in the top third of the country in most traditional and advanced metric defensive stats. In 2010, Michigan was the 115th ranked defensive efficiency outfit. This season? They are 17th!! Given the turnaround, it makes me wonder if we can elect Greg Mattison president next November. Regardless, Michigan bottles up the Illini, Denard Robinson finds a way to be the best offensive force in this game and the Wolverines ease by Illinois, 20-13. The Pick: Michigan -1
Michigan State at Iowa. Line, MSU -3, O/U 47
A huge game to determine the true pecking order of the
Legends West Division heading into the final two weeks. A week after being the fifth favorite on the board at +450 to win the league crown, Michigan State travels to Iowa City as the current betting favorite to take the automatic BCS bid with a +200 payout. Iowa could win out and still play in the Big 10 Title Game. The Hawks and Spartans, along with PSU, are the only teams to control their own fate in the league title chase. Despite that, the Hawks are, well, the betting longshot, listing at +1800. Compare that to the +500 the Michigan pays out, a Wolverine team they beat a week ago and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with. It might not be a bad longshot ticket. They’re in a coin flip game here at home and have a very winnable road game at Purdue next week. The problem? The trip to Lincoln the day after Thanksgiving.
The Hawks are already listed as +9.5 dogs in that contest at sportsbook.com. So, dont book any tickets to Indy just yet. With a MSU win, the Hawks fall off the trail and then its just MSU and PSU who would control their own fate, although Nebraska would make this list with a win in Happy Valley. A Hawkeye win puts Michigan State, just weeks after their epic win over Wisconsin, in the needs help category the rest of the way. To me, this game is a perfect illustation of the szchophrnic world of the Big 10. So many of these teams are night and day different if they’re playing at home or on the road. Obvsiously, home field advantage has always been a huge deal in college football. But it seems the performance of teams this year in the Big 10 is as pronounced as ever when it comes to a majority of the conference’s teams. These teams are right at the top of the list. The Hawkeyes are undefeated at home and in wins over Pitt and Michigan looked to have every ounce of the Kinnick Stadium mojo thats drivens some of Ferentz’s best seasons in Iowa City. Of course, on the road, they are a train wreck. Michigan State has electrifying wins in the E.L. over Michigan and Wisconsin. On the road? They’re scored a total of 26 points and have yet to score more than one touchdown in any game outside the state of Michigan. Toss in the fact that they havent won in Iowa City in over a generation. And, that it would be a perfect statement of the 2011 Big 10 season that Iowa goes deep into November in the driver’s seat after a shaky September and October, it all tells me another Iowa home win is on the order. The Pick: Iowa +3
We’ll have some picks for the national games later this morning, so stay tuned, yo!