We all know the Big 10 is mediocre this year. That might be puting it kindly after another uninspiring week of play here in September. But, the conference will still play a full league schedule, play a title game and determine a champion, who will summarily be put to death against USC, Oregon or, I suppose, even Stanford in this year’s Rose Bowl game. Outside of Michigan travelling to Notre Dame this Saturday, the Week 4 slate mercifully is light on tough, intriguing games for the league. Dont worry, I see you over there Minnesota-Syracuse, but please, for now, stay where you are and dont take any steps closer to me. Rather than breaking down such things as MSU-Eastern Michigan or OSU-UAB, lets insead begin putting our focus on the league games themselves. Those begin next week. Before shifting into any preview mode on those games, lets first take a look at how the Vegas lines have been adjusted for the Big 10 games over the next two months.
|Games||Golden Nugget, 6/11||5Dimes, 6/28||LV Hilton 7/15||Sportsbook, 9/18|
|OSU at MSU, 9/29||MSU -4.5||MSU -2||MSU -2||MSU -1.5|
|Wisco at Neb, 9/29||Neb -3||Neb -3||Neb -2||Neb -9|
|Neb at OSU, 10/6||OSU -2||OSU -4.5||OSU -4||OSU -7|
|UM at PU, 10/6||Not Listed||Not Listed||UM -8.5||UM -4.5|
|MSU at UM, 10/20||UM -6||UM -6||Not Listed||Not Listed|
|UM at Neb, 10/27||UM -2||Neb -3||Neb -1.5||Neb -4|
|OSU at PSU, 10/27||OSU -3||OSU -6.5||Not Listed||Not Listed|
|MSU at Wisco, 10/27||Wisco -5||Wisco -5||Wisco -6.5||MSU -3|
|Neb at MSU, 11/3||MSU -5||MSU -5||MSU -3||MSU -5|
|Minny at Illini, 11/10||Not Listed||Not Listed||Ill -13.5||Not Listed|
|OSU at Wisco, 11/17||Wisco -7||Wisco -5.5||Wisco -5.5||OSU -4.5|
|UM at OSU, 11/24||UM -3||OSU -2.5||OSU -3||OSU -7.5|
First: Have to mention one line that didnt make the chart. Sportsbook.com currently has Nebraska -6 on the road against Iowa. I didnt see anybody release a line on this game over the summer. And I hadnt even noticed it as a game on sportsbook’s board until double and triple checking the other lines for this post. Iowa’s O vs Nebraska’s D the day after Thanksgiving? Well, I guess its better than shopping. Maybe. I really cant say for sure at this point. It would depend on the sales really, so lets hold off a call on this one.
Those shifts in the Wisconsin lines jump right off the page. Their offensive collapse is probably storyline #1 as it pertains to the rotten start by the Big 10. After scoring 41.46 and 44.14 points per game in each of the last two seasons (good for national rankings of 5th and 6th respectively), the Badgers have only scored five touchdowns through their first three games in 2012. They’ve only found paydirt twice against FBS competition as three of those scores took place in the opener against FCS Northern Iowa. At 16.33 points per game, they rank 113th nationally in scoring. They cant convert second or third down and shorts with their Heisman candidate Montae Ball. They cant earn first downs. Instead of lethal play from the QB position that they received each of the last two years from Scott Tolzien and Russell Wilson, they’ve already benched their starter. Will it be Danny OBrien or Joel Stave when conference play begins next week? Wisco head coach Bret Bielema is being coy on the situation. They’re adjusting expectations in Madison right now, while oddsmakers are adjusting the current betting lines to reflect the suddenly impotent Badger attack. All three of their future games have seen significant movement now that it looks like the 2012 Badgers are a shell of their former self. I cant get my head around that Nebraska line for next week. I dont think the Huskers are any good, yet that line has moved a full touchdown since the July LV Hilton release. Nebraska’s D vs Wisconsin’s O is such a cripple fight, who would you trust? I vote for nobody. Perhaps on account of the flaws we’ve seen already with the Huskers, the Wisco-Nebraska line moved the least of its three future games. They’ve gone from home chalk to home dogs in those matches vs MSU and OSU with 9.5-point swings in both contests from the mid-July early pointspread. That’s insane. Yet at the same time, do those numbers make betting Wisconsin more attractive? To me, it doesnt. Another weird thing about the odds on Wisconsin: Per Sportsbook.com, the Badgers, at +225, remain the betting chalk to win the Big 10 Championship. To be sure, its a tight race per the odds with the Badgers followed by Michigan +230, MSU +300 and Nebraska +300, but its still hard to believe they remain the betting favorite. Welcome to 2012 Big 10 Football!
I have no idea why the LV Hilton released the Minnesota/Illinois match on its games of the year board. Sportsbook isnt offering it, but, man, I would take those 13.5 points with the Gophers all day if somebody would give it to me now. I bet the Gophers a week ago and they are slowly, but surely becoming our sleeper team on the MGoPodcasts. All that means is Syracuse will probably embarass the league more by pulling the slight upset and beating the Gophers on Saturday. But forget about the negative right now. The Gophers might be a bit banged up as summer turns to fall, but their defense, after harassing WMU Alex Carder into one of his worst games in his career, might be the most improved unit in the Big 10 right now.
Notre Dame’s 3-4 defense stoned MSU last weekend, giving the Big 10 another failed mark in yet another big game this year. Despite their loss at home to the Irish and despite all their issues on offense ranging from shaky offensive line to the worst set of WRs the program has trotted out on to the field in a long time, Michigan State remains an attractive bet in their Big 10 games. They’re still chalk against OSU and Nebraska, although those lines have shrunk a bit, and they’ve rolled from underdog to favorite in the aforementioned game with the Badgers. Both in 1987, their last Rose Bowl year, and last year, MSU got spanked by the Irish and rebounded to be among the best, if not the best, team in the conference. The best thing going in this league right now remains the MSU defense. We’ll see if they can carry this offense. In a down Big 10, I think they can. However, I can say with certainty that, right now, I have no effing clue how that game with OSU will go next week. You could throw any result at me, and I’d shrug and say, that sounds about right. If you want to bet this game, please make sure you are flipping the best lucky coin you have in your in your pocket.
The missing elephant in the room is the disappearing Michigan-MSU line. Where did it go? I dont know why the LV Hilton didnt release a line in July on this game or why sportsbook.com (and all the other Books) currently isnt–or hasnt for well over a month–listing the game either. My guess is that the opening line of UM -6 was too many points to be laying, a ton of MSU action came in and instead of re-adjusting the line, they just pulled it altogether. That is just a guess. I dont think this game should be bigger than a field goal spread, and I would take MSU +6 all day if that ends up as the real line come game week.
Everybody is betting on Ohio State, in love with the Urban Meyer Revolution and all that. Everybody is betting against Michigan, because, well, obviously, if Alabama can beat them, so too can everyone else. Michigan has gone from short chalk to 4-point underdogs against Nebraska. Gimme those points, plze. While that Purdue line, after hovering at -6 all last week, has fallen even more now to just UM -4.5.
Obviously, I am burying the lede. Ohio State is now more than a touchdown favorite over the Wolverines. I didnt buy the Wolverines as favorites in this game when the Golden Nugget released UM -2 way back in something called June. I expected that line to move to where OSU, just by dint of home field, would be the favorite. But I am a little surprised that this line continues to climb. The Bucks were -6 on the sportsbook.com games of the year board last week. Now it’s even a point and a half higher. I know Michigan doesnt look as good or as charmed as last year. But the ills the Buckeyes had a year ago are hardly solved. They’ve played one offense with a pulse, that being Cal, and the Golden Bears pretty much went up and down the field on them. If they didnt self destruct the way Cal usually self destructs, they roll back to NoCal with a W. Michigan has better weapons than Cal. They also finally have the expectation and confidence they can win this rivalry after getting off the schnide a year ago. The Buckeyes will solve some of their problems between now and 11/24, but so too will the Wolverines. I’m not saying Michigan will win, but I am perplexed that anybody would have watched that OSU/Cal game and concluded ‘yes, I will gladly lay more than the 6 points offered last week with OSU in the Michigan game.’ If anything, that game showed to me that if you put a competent offense opposite OSU right now, I will gladly take whatever pointspread head start you will give me with the underdog. The funny thing is, this line might even grow between now and the end of the month should Michigan lose in South Bend and OSU goes up to East Lansing and beats the Spartans next week. Those results would just intensify the public perceptions already cooking.