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Big Ten Outlook

Big Ten Outlook

Big Ten Outlook
By Judd Hall

Every Big Ten team will be on the field this Saturday as the conference season officially begins. The odd team out of league play this week will take on one of the most famous programs in college football. There’s plenty of action to break down so let’s get to it.

Minnesota at Ohio State (-18, 48) 12:00 pm EDT

The Golden Gophers look like a completely different club in Tim Brewster’s second season as head coach. Their offense is averaging 36.3 points per game against admittedly lesser programs. Yet quarterback Ben Webber is making a case to be the most improved player in the league with seven passing touchdowns to just one interception. Minnesota’s defense has also come through this year with 13 takeaways; they had 14 for all of last season.

Ohio State should have its first string offense on the field at the same time for the first time since playing the Penguins to start the year. That means Beanie Wells will be back on the field against a defense that he’s gained 206 rushing yards and three scores off of 39 carries. This will also be his first time running behind newly minted starter Tyrell Pryor. He’s tossed four touchdowns to just one pick last week against Troy. Pryor’s success will be predicated on how well he avoids turning the ball over against a Gopher defense that has shown a propensity to take the ball away.

Minnesota is confident they can win this game since the Bucks have proven to play down to their opponents this season. A Gopher victory would fly into the face of history as OSU is 7-1 SU and 5-3 ATS in the last eight head-to-head meetings. Also, Ohio State is 7-1 SU and 5-2-1 ATS in Big Ten openers. The ‘under’ is on a 3-1 run in this game as well.

Michigan State at Indiana (+8½, 52) 12:00 pm EDT     

It’s not everyday that a team will consider that their season is on the line in the league premier, but that is where the Hoosiers are right now. Indiana got blasted for 224 yards by Ball State last week in a 42-20 loss. That doesn’t bode when you have Javon Ringer set to mow you down after averaging 241.5 rushing yards in his past two starts.

Michigan State is set for another showcase of its defense. After getting torched by Cal in the season opener, the Spartans have allowed 17 points the three games since. Their last two games have seen 98 total rushing yards, 16 alone by Notre Dame last Saturday.

The Spartans have owned Indiana over the past few years going 5-1 SU and ATS. MSU has posted a 4-3 SU and 5-2 mark in the last seven league openers. Combined scores has went ‘under’ the closing total in five of those meetings as well.

Northwestern at Iowa (-8, 43) 12:05 pm EDT

The Wildcats are coming into this tilt a perfect 4-0, but it isn’t because of an offense that returned many of the skill positions. Instead, they’re walking tall because Pat Fitzgerald’s defense has gotten their act together by sacking opposing QBs 15 times this season; they only had 18 all of last year. Northwestern is bound to use that to their advantage this Saturday as Hawkeye signal callers Ricky Stanzi and Jake Christensen has been sacked eight times. The ‘Cats do have some questions on offense with gunslinger C.J. Bacher (finger) and Tyrell Sutton (leg) were hobbled last week against Ohio.

Iowa will be sending Stanzi out to start his third game under center. Yet the Hawkeyes’ success will be directly linked to how Shonn Greene performs out of the backfield by gaining 126.5 YPG on the ground with four touchdowns in as many games. He’ll be going against a Northwestern defense that gave up on four yards on the ground last week…FOUR! Although Iowa’s defense is no slouch either seeing as how they’re fifth in the country for scoring defense by averaging just 7.25 PPG in four matches.

Given the quality of the defenses the ‘under’ should improve on the 3-0 run it currently is on in head-to-head meetings.

Purdue at Notre Dame (-1½, 46) 3:30 pm EDT

This game will no doubt be an aerial extravaganza given that the Boilermakers rack up 251 YPG passing, while Notre Dame is averaging 208.7 YPG through the air. Where the match will be won, however, is on the ground. The Fighting Irish were supposed to have a better running game with Robert Hughes in the backfield. But they could’ve fooled me with just 78 rushing yards per game. Purdue’s Kory Sheets has to be chomping at the bit after watching Javon Ringer roughing Notre Dame up for 201 yards on the ground.

If you like to play totals here, consider taking the ‘over.’ Notre Dame has seen the ‘over’ go 17-14-1 when playing against Big Ten foes.

Wisconsin at Michigan (+6, 42) 3:30 pm EDT

There’s no doubt that the Wolverines are still dealing with growing pains as they learn Rich Rodriguez’s new system, but it is coming along. Steven Threet has laid claim to the starting QB role at Michigan as he’s not thrown an interception in 55 pass attempts and has grasped the zone spread the best. Threet’s partner in the backfield is true freshman Sam McGuffie with his 50 carries for 213 yards in three games. While the offense has stuttered, the Wolverines’ defense has been fantastic…especially against the run where they rank 12th in the nation by allowing 65.3 YPG.

Wisconsin is going to need a big outing out of P.J. Hill to come away from Ann Arbor with a win. Hill ranks ninth in the country with his 379 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Yet he’s never competed great against the Big Ten’s elite clubs. Case in point is his effort last year against Michigan where Hill carried the ball five times for 14 yards before succumbing to a foot injury. If Hill can’t put up the numbers, senior QB Allan Evridge will need to connect via the air. It’s not like Evridge will not get time to make passes as he has yet to be sacked…give the credit to a veteran o-line for that nugget.

The Badgers have fared well spread-wise against the Maize and Blue recently as evidenced by their 5-0 ATS record. You shouldn’t discount Michigan to keep this close as it is 22-1 SU and 14-8-1 ATS in Big Ten openers.

Illinois at Penn State (-15, 55½)

The Nittany Lions have been clicking this season as they lead the Big Ten in scoring offense (52.8 PPG), total offense (538.5 YPG) and total defense (222.3 YPG). Impressive numbers despite the quality of opponents they’ve faced. Now we’re going to see Penn State run its offense against a good defense for the first time this season…or are they?

Illinois was a hot team to a lot of people prior to season starting, but its defense was a spot of bother. While the 4-3 setup has come along nicely, the Illini still have a long way to go. This a unit that allowed 52 points to start the year against Missouri, then played down to Louisiana-Lafayette and Eastern Illinois.

Penn State is 4-0 SU but just 1-3 ATS when hosting Illinois. Another note of interest for us here is PSU looking to exact some revenge here after the 27-20 loss in Champaign last season. The problem with that is that the Nittany Lions are 0-5 ATS when playing in a conference revenge game after a non-conference match.

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