(Earlier: Week Three Preview, Non B10 Edition)
Before getting into the meaty Big Ten schedule for the week, a quick announcement. We are taking a bye week. We need to regroup. Watch some games from the bench. So keep that in mind when reading my predictions for the week.
Wait. Hold On. It’s not really a bye week. We made a few future bets for Week 3 back in August. It includes the UCLA-Nebraska and Wisconsin-Arizona St games. In both cases, our early shopping paid off with much generous lines than game week. We’re laying less than a field goal, -2.5, with Arizona St over the Badgers. That’s such a nice spot compared to the -4 right now on a line that’s climbed as high as -5.5 in some places this week. I have a little more room for error with the Bruins on the +6.5 from August than the +4 today. I love taking points in games I expect to be close shootouts. The more merrier. Hopefully those early bird edges jumpstart the season for us.
Otherwise, its a fairly important weekend in the Big 10. There are a lot varying stakes in a lot of different places. Bowl hopes already ride in games in Ames and Bloomington. Ranked teams with Rose Bowl aspirations hook up in Lincoln. A Big Ten squad will try to outdraw a Pac-12 club at Soldier Field. Impressive Over and Chalk runs will try to continue in Ann Arbor and Evanston. Undefeated seasons are put at risk on the West Coast. Speaking of that, the intriguing connection this weekend are the four Big Ten vs. Pac-12 games: UCLA at Nebraska, Wisconsin at Arizona St, Ohio St at Cal and Washington vs Illinois in Chicago. Are any of them Rose Bowl previews? Let’s check it out.
BIG TEN – PAC 12 CHALLENGES
UCLA AT NEBRASKA, NOON, ABC
LINES: 8/28, NEBRASKA -6.5; TODAY, NEBRASKA -3.5, O/U 70
This is the B10 headliner of the day. And it wouldn’t be a total shock if we do get a rematch in the Rose Bowl. Nebraska is probably just a win away in Ann Arbor from stealing the Legends Division. UCLA might need to sweep Washington, ASU, at USC to close out the regular season to get into the Pac-12 Finals, but there is also a good chance they’ll be favored in all of those games. I wouldn’t put money on a Rose Bowl rematch, but there is no shock here if both are playing for their conference titles on 12/7. They both would be big underdogs: UCLA to Oregon or Stanford and Nebraska to Ohio State. But as far as this exercise goes, it’s the most likely of these four B10/Pac-12 challenges today to matriculate back to us on New’s Year Day.
It wouldn’t be the worst thing for neutral fans. This was a fun game a year ago, and I expect it to pick up where it left off with a lot of points going back and forth. I get into interesting Nebraska conversations. I love this offense. I don’t think they miss a beat without Rex Burkhead rushing the football. They have a dangerous set of big play of receivers. I actually like Taylor Martinez’s game right now, which for some people means I qualify for the Looney Bin. On the other hand, I cant say enough bad things about their defense. I’ve haven’t liked this side of the ball for the Huskers since they joined the B10, despite having players like Will Compton, LaVonte David and Alfonzo Dennard. This has been validated in almost every big game Nebraska has tangled in since their arrival in 2011. Now they don’t even have those guys. I was highly entertained by the Huskers spring game. When it was over, I realized how much it reminded me of the 2009 and 2010 Michigan spring games. We know what that foretold about those stop units.
I am not calling for them to be historically bad, but just another year of the ‘Blah Shirts’ that holds back a possible championship caliber offense. That will be the fate of this one. There’s interesting evidence that the Huskers are typically overvalued after a dominant win. They’re 24-51-2 ATS after a win of twenty of more points. The Bruins are a trendy road outright upset pick. And I buy it. Either way, somebody wins by a field goal. UCLA 38, Nebraska 35
WISCONSIN AT ARIZONA ST, 10:30, ESPN
LINES: 8/28, ASU -2.5; TODAY, ASU -4, O/U 55.5
A decent shot at being the Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils are 5/1 to win the Pac-12, making them the third favorite on the board after Oregon and Stanford and the shortest odds of anybody in the Pac-12 South. It’s hard to find any divisional odds already this late in the season, but I presume those odds make the Sun Devils the South favorite ahead of the LA schools. Wisconsin is the only true hope at keeping Ohio State out of the Big Ten Championship Game. I guess that makes them a contender.
These teams have combined to outscore their opponents 188-0 this year. As a result, they’re both hanging out at the top end of just about any offensive and defensive category you can find. But they’ve racked those stats up against UMass, Tennessee Tech and Sacramento St. Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of truth delivered during the course of this match. We’re getting a true first look at both as they go head-to-head in advance of compelling action for both. ASU plays at Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in the next three weeks. The Badgers play at Ohio State and host Northwestern during the next month.
I give the edge to ASU. They’re playing at home. We all know about the Big 10’s 6-20 SU record in Pac-12 land over the last decade or so. Of the two today, this one isn’t Cal playing OSU. So we are playing the percentages there, amirite?!?! The matchup issue to watch is on the Badger passing downs. A sneaky flaw over the years with the Badgers have been they aren’t that awesome at pass protection. The one year Russell Wilson Era disguised it, but otherwise this has been a vulnerability. Now comes Arizona St, which had 52 sacks a year ago. DE Will Sutton and LB Carl Bradford are a scary sack duo and both are talking about breaking Terrell Suggs school record. This is where the game is won by the Devils. The Badgers are on a 3-8 ATS run on the road. Arizona St has covered six of its last eight home games. The Over has hit in 11 of 15 home games for the Devils and 20 of their last 28 overall. Arizona St 35, Wisconsin 27
WASHINGTON VS ILLINOIS (SOLDIER FIELD, CHICAGO), 6 PM, BTN.
LINES: 8/28, UW -12.5; TODAY, UW -10, O/U 63.5
This could have been a Rose Bowl in the 1980s. I bet you could totally convince somebody that it was. It wont be this year. This has no chance to play out again in Pasadena. Even though Illinois showed well a week ago, and my optimism about them has done a 180 since our B10 Leaders Preview, their slate is too rough drawing Nebraska, Northwestern and MSU from the other division. Washington is in the same division as Stanford and Oregon so that is the long hill they to climb.
I have to say I’m happy we talked Sunday during the MGoPodcast about the Bill Cubit impact on the Illini offense. That’s all I heard about during any preview segment I listened to over the last couple of days. Thanks for listening, everybody!
Was Illinois’ effort a true sign of resurgence. I’ve talked myself into Nathan Schellhase for the 23rd time over the last three years. Unlike those other times, will it last for more than a week? Washington hasn’t played since they dismantled Boise in the opener. They had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard receiver and a 100-yard rusher against the Broncos, all the while their D generally broke Boise into pieces. This game will be in Soldier Field but it might not be the huge home edge for the Illini you think. Whenever UW played near Chicago when I lived in the city, the place crawled with Huskie fans. I think they’ll have a large and loud presence of their own in this one. I suddenly have high hopes this will be a fun game to take in. Washington has too much explosiveness on offense for the Illinois D, low on playmakers, to handle. Eventually the Huskies put them away like they did to Boise. It’s hard to believe, but I think Illinois might have a better offense right now than Boise. As a result this game looks a little better aesthetically on the scoreboard. Washington 35, Illinois 21
OHIO STATE AT CALIFORNIA, 7PM, FOX
LINES: 8/28, OSU -19.5; TODAY, OSU -15, O/U 67
Even though this game involves OSU, this is also a Rose Bowl preview longshot. Cal will be lucky to qualify for a bowl game with their gauntlet of a schedule. They’re not ready to go through it without absorbing a series of losses. When the season began, I asserted that SDSU would be a tougher foe for the Bucks than Cal would be. The Aztecs lost to Eastern Illinois. OSU trounced them 42-7 a week ago. Like everything so far this year, it looks like I was wrong there.
Strangely, I feel Cal has a puncher’s chance at making us at least talk about this game as the evening goes along. I feel like they’ve replaced the playmakers who hit OSU with enough haymakers a year ago to make them sweat out a 35-28 win. Jared Goff might be a true freshman, but he’s not any worse a slinger than Zach Maynard, who might make a run at the Reggie Ball worst 4-year starting QB award except he played at two different schools. I think that disqualifies him. Somebody check the rules for us. Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper have been a dangerous duo, so the passing attack isn’t missing a beat without star Kennan Allen. Brendan Bigelow, who had 160 yards and an 81-yard run TD run against OSU last year, is now the starting TB. They’ll hit some big plays and stay in range for awhile against OSU.
The problem is they’ll give up plenty of big plays themselves. They’ve already allowed 18 plays of 20 or more yards this season. That’s trouble regardless if its Braxton Miller or Kenny Guiton playing at QB for the Bucks. I have a bad feeling Dontre Wilson will get his first collegiate TD, and the Buckeye enthusiasm in the aftermath will drive me to drink. And I think Gus Johnson will be on that call, so half the people I know will use it as their ring tone. The other half will splatter videos of the call on Facebook. You know what, I’m already drinking.
Despite scoring a bunch on Northwestern, the Bears struggled controlling the line of scrimmage in passing situations. They allowed four sacks and five passes to be blocked by the DL. That will haunt them against OSU and it could deliver the play that distances OSU away from upset alert. Is it worth mentioning Cal is on an 0-7 ATS run? And Ohio St is 28-10-1 ATS in recent seasons on the road? Probably, just a little. For Cal to really push OSU, they need to conjure up a sequence like they did against Northwestern when they had a third quarter 30-11 play advantage, thanks to a special teams turnover and a strategic three and out on D. They wont. OSU 45, Cal 24
THE BIG TEN UNDERCARDS
IOWA AT IOWA ST, 6PM, FOX SPORTS ONE
LINES: 8/28, IOWA ST -2; TODAY, IOWA -2, O/U 49
Is this the most boring rivalry in college football? Quick name your favorite Iowa-Iowa St memory. Maybe the Seneca Wallace-Brad Banks duel in 2002 that eventually kept the Hawks from an undefeated season? Outside of that, I cant think of a memory steeled into MY mind. Do all the internet forum meltdowns in the wake of Iowa losses to the Clones count? But that all blends together these days since ISU won the last two meetings. It hasn’t captured the imagination because it hasn’t been a rivalry on the playing on even terms sense until recently. ISU only had nine wins from 1899 to 1997 over the Hawks (they didn’t play between 1934-1974), but has nine wins since 1998. As a result, they’re 13-2 ATS against the Hawks in that same time span.
Don’t expect the loser to score many points. In the last 15 years, the loser in this game has only scored more than 14 points three times. The Under has cashed in seven of the last eight meetings. These days the Hawks are a terrible investment on the road, where they are 3-13 ATS in their last 16, and off a win, when they’re 2-12 ATS in their last 14. They’ve also been playing down to their competition lately going 0-5 ATS against teams with a losing record. Nevertheless, the Hawks have moved from slight dog to slight chalk since the summer. I guess that’s what a resume that includes a loss to Northern Illinois and a struggling win over Missouri St does over one that includes a loss to Northern Iowa. Iowa 16, Iowa St 13
BOWLING GREEN AT INDIANA, NOON, ESPN2
LINES: INDIANA -2.5, O/U 64.5
Well, Indiana, my dear Alma Mater, it’s now or never. You probably have no shot at getting to a bowl if you lose this game. You’re not going to be able to make up games once your challenging B10 slate begins. You lost to Navy for a second straight year last week. Let’s try not to lose to a MAC team for a third straight season.
The problem is BGSU is a solid MAC club. It might be the best team in the league outside of Northern Illinois. They smashed Tulsa in the opener 34-7 and almost doubled up last year’s #MACtion darling Kent. Do you want to talk about something wild? The Falcons are wins in this game, at Missisippi St, vs Ohio and at Toledo from probably getting to a possible MAC Title Game match against Northern. Defense is the Falcons calling card. They’re 20th in total D and 23rd in rushing D on the young season after finishing 10 and 12th respectively in those categories a year ago.
Every B10 fan knows the Hoosiers deal is offense. Sophomore Nate Sudfeld has taken over the QB duties. In this game, he should surpass his season total from a year ago in pass attempts. He has a 72.9% completion rate, 9.86 yards per attempt and an 8-2 TD-INT ratio. He was outstanding last week against Navy, but his one mistake was a pick in the end zone that kept IU in a big hole starting the second half. Keep an eye on RB Tevin Coleman. I think he can be a really good runner for IU, but only had 8 carries for 34 yards last week. He was pretty much put in the barn after IU fell into a 17-0 hole.
A fun offense vs. defense battle also gives us a classic Over-Under duel. The Over is 34-16-2 in Hooiser games and its also tilted on a 19-6-1 run when they play teams with a winning record. Bowling Green is on a run where the Under has hit in 11 out of 14 games. They’re also on a 9-2 ATS run overall, but we’re fading that. I figured the Hoosiers would have a lot of trouble defending that Navy option. They wont shut down BGSU, but they wont be at its mercy and fall into another hole. I think it’s their offense that sets the pace with an early haymaker and later gives IU enough gas to pull away in the end. Indiana 38, Bowling Green 28
WESTERN MICHIGAN AT NORTHWESTERN, 9PM, BTN
LINES: NW -30.5, O/U 59.5
This has to be the first time Northwestern has ever been favored by more than 30 points. I don’t think we even need to look that, let’s just call it FACT and move on. Let me repeat the numbers I brought up on the MGoPodcast. Northwestern is on a 15-1 ATS run, have covered 8 in a row as chalk and have won 4 straight games by at least 14 points since 1930. Bookmakers have had enough of that covering as chalk business and are setting this bar high. It’s not high enough. Northwestern 45, Western Michigan 10
AKRON AT MICHIGAN, NOON, BTN
LINES: MICHIGAN -38, O/U 59
Michigan is 16-0 at home under Brady Hoke. They’re averaging 41 points per game in those contests. That number is on the uptick. The Wolverines have averaged 43 points per game in the last 12 at home and 45 points per game in Devin Gardner’s four home starts. Over the last 12 home games, Michigan has scored at least 40 points in eight games, including hitting that mark against Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio State and last week against the Irish. As a result, the Over has hit in eight of those last dozen homers as well. During the Rich Rod tenure, Michigan games overall were hitting the Over two out of every three times too. Many of those mushroomed over the total thanks to a defense that gave out free touchdowns. These Overs in the Hoke Era are the result of Michigan scoring a bunch often threatening the Over themselves, while their opponent squeaks out just enough points to push past lower totals being set due to Michigan’s major turnaround on defense since the hiring. That was mouthful. I don’t know even know if it made any sense. This total vs Akron is the second highest during Hoke’s run with only EMU ’11 (62) having been set higher. Both those went under the total. This one wont unless Michigan decides its needs field goal practice and they dont pull out their best stuff in the red zone. Even then, Michigan is good for a six pack of TDs. Michigan 51, Akron 10 Y
OUNGSTOWN ST AT MICHIGAN STATE, 2PM, BTN
LINES: MSU -23.5, o/u 40
Connor Cook starts in the on-going four(ish) QB derby in East Lansing. Will we finally get a Damien Terry experience? I say yes and before the first quarter ends. One piece of news this week lost in the discussion and comedy behind the QB roller coaster was Mark Dantonio’s update on DL Lawrence Thomas’ status. He said the junior is finally available to play this year, but wasn’t sure where. He hinted he knows some positions on offense. What does that mean? I am now expecting him at Left Tackle, Tight End or even QB. Who knows, maybe he’s getting ready to play the point for Izzo. Nothing would surprise me now with the MSU offense sailing towards the Tyson Zone. How bad has this offense been? There are 27 receivers across the nation with more receiving yards as an individual than the Spartans have as a team. That includes Big 10 pass catchers Tony Jones, Allen Robinson and Jeremy Gallon. If you limit it to just WRs, then that number skies to 59. I already cant wait to pour through boxscores as the day goes on tomorrow to see how those numbers change. Meanwhile, MSU’s great defense pitches a shutout. Booooooring!!!Michigan State 23, Youngstown St 0
CENTRAL FLORIDA AT PENN ST, 6PM, BTN
LINES: PENN ST -5.5, O/U 50
UCF is a legit challenge for Penn State. They won 10 games a year ago and return most of the quality parts from an offense that was top-25 nationally. It would be a good measuring stick for most of the B10 contenders. A big win against the Golden Knights is something that would make me taKe my expectations of you up a notch. Penn St is replacing a lot of quality defenders this season. So far, so good, allowing a total of 24 points. But UCF is a step up from Syracuse and Eastern Michigan. Blake Bortles can play at QB. He’s a borderline pro prospect, completing 69.8 percent of his passes with a 12.98 yards per attempt. Rannell Hall and Breshed Perriman average 25.9 and 30.1 per catch and they can pound with Storm Johnson who has 188 yards rushing in two games. Make no mistake, playing Penn St will be a major step up for them. But they’re talented enough to test the PSU defense and I’m interested to see how the Nits respond to finally playing a competent, experienced offense. PSU has allowed just 4.8 yards per pass, but the Syracuse and EMU QBs don’t compare to Bortles. It’ll be a fun challenge to track PSU CB Adrian Amos and Jordan Lucas, the latter playing every down for the first time in his career this season. As for Penn State’s offense, it’s game 3 in the Christian Hackenberg Era. I didn’t see much of their game last week, but I did catch the opener vs the Orange. He looked alright, but in a choppy first half just couldn’t make enough plays to sustain drives. Enter Allen Robinson, who didn’t play in the first half, and all of a sudden they were able to put touchdowns on the board. Robinson has to contend for conference player of the year honors if the Nits are going meet or exceed last year’s eight wins. He’s had back-to-back 100 yards games. He needs to flirt with 130 yards or so every week for the Nits to beat good teams, including this one. I think he makes enough plays for PSU to hold off the Knights. Penn St 24, UCF 20