I’ll be making predictions on all conference games and using them for the purpose of trying to select winners vs. the Vegas point spread. There are four games to look at this week. Three of them will easily be plays, all road teams which can be a bit daunting. Big week for me.
My current record: 1-1
Until gambling becomes legal in my state, I’m sticking with my regular source so I won’t know the point spread that’s available to me until game day, which will essentially be the closing line. So I’ll have to wait until then to see if I get the number I need to make a play (wager). At the bottom of my write-ups, I submit the number I’ll need to make a play, and how that number compares to the current line.
The oddsmakers don’t see quite as much separation as I do, but it’s difficult for me to not call for a blowout here given Rutgers recent struggles against marginal competition. Last season, Indiana won 41-0. So far, this is a better Indiana team than last season, and this is a worse Rutgers team than last season. Indiana let me down last week as I wagered on the Hoosiers and lost, and I will admit they aren’t quite as good as I thought, but I’m not going to downgrade Indiana too much. After all, they did hang tough with an upper echelon team. Rutgers, on the other hand, was getting thumped by a MAC opponent at home after getting thumped at Kansas the week prior. This prediction is more a result of Rutgers’ ineptness than my faith in Indiana. That having been said, anytime I see such a discrepancy between my prediction and the Vegas line, I tend to wonder what I’m missing. So let’s address the things that may be a concern: The game is at Rutgers. Yes, it’s a long trip for a young Hoosiers team, but not their first road trip. Indiana is coming off a disappointing loss against a high profile team and now they face a lower level team. Letdown? Yep, that’s always a legitimate concern in college football, but given the current state of both teams, I’ll take my chances here. Rutgers can’t play this poorly forever and will most likely pull their freshman QB, who has already thrown seven interceptions, in favor of a more experienced Giovanni Rescigno. It’s possible Rutgers could turn a corner, but to try and predict if and when that will happen is risky unless I see some indicators. So far, I haven’t.
As of now, Indiana is favored by 17 points so I’ll be taking Indiana in this one.
I think the average fan who isn’t watching quite as closely would look at the past performance of both teams and figure Michigan to win by more than what I’m calling for here. Michigan is coming off a lopsided win over an iconic Nebraska program, while Northwestern has lost two in a row, the most recent against a MAC opponent. But while I do think Michigan is a very good team, last Saturday’s victory over Nebraska was fool’s gold. Nebraska was terrible. This will be Michigan’s first legitimate test since the opener against Notre Dame. Northwestern has a history of turning in head scratching losses, particularly early in the season, but they also have a history of turning things around for the better when you least expect it. And, while not acceptable by any stretch, the loss to Akron doesn’t look quite so bad. The Zips are a decent team. Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson committed three key turnovers in the loss, something he is prone to doing every now and then. Thorson has been banged up a bit, and the offense is leaning on him more than ever this season, but he can be very good at times. And Northwestern has a solid team on both sides of the ball – I liked what I saw from the Wildcats in their season opening win. Liked ‘em enough to not call for a Michigan blowout here, anyway. And the game is at Northwestern, although Ryan Field isn’t exactly among the toughest places to play. All of this doesn’t mean I think Northwestern will win, though. Michigan’s excellent defense appears to be getting back to form after a slow start in the season opener. I figure Northwestern to have a very difficult time finding the end zone, except maybe some garbage scores after Michigan builds a comfort zone on the scoreboard. I figure the Wolves to pressure Thorson often, come up with strip sack or two, and maybe even a safety. But I also don’t believe Michigan will enjoy the same kind of offensive success they’ve had recently against some relatively weak defenses. It’s been too easy lately and the Wolves may need some time to adjust to a punch in the mouth from a legitimate Big Ten defense. Northwestern is coming off a bye week, they’ll be ready. But I do believe the Wolves will take advantage of good field position and the better talent often enough to put some points on the board. And QB Shea Patterson is coming into his own. I figure Michigan to be in control most of the game, but in a methodical, defense-oriented kind of way. A slow death for Northwestern.
As of now, Michigan is favored by 14 points, which is about how I see it, so I’ll be passing on this one.
Looks like I’ll be betting against Nebraska for the second week in a row. Check that, I’ll most definitely be betting against Nebraska for the second week in a row. It’s going to be a theme in this post, but discrepancies this large between my prediction and the Vegas line make me wonder what I’m missing. But as far as I can see, Nebraska is horrible and I’m going to ride the gravy train until it stops. Granted, Purdue ain’t exactly a juggernaut, but I do think the Boilermakers are better than their current record indicates. Especially now that David Blough seems to have a firm grasp on the QB position. Elijah Sindelar easily has the better arm, but Blough is the better competitor, I think. And Blough has been hotter than firecracker lately. Nebraska is a work in progress as the players adjust to a new coach and a new system, so they’ll get better. Especially if freshman QB Adrian Martinez is fully recovered from injury, which is reported that he is. But I don’t think the Huskers have the level of talent most might think, and right now the Huskers are reeling. They have no choice but to carry on, but reading between the quote lines it seems as though the players and the coach are trying to talk themselves into the idea that everything is going to be OK. And I do think Nebraska will show a little better offensively than last Saturday – this ain’t Michigan’s defense they’ll be facing. Quite the contrary. The Purdue defense had its best outing last Saturday in an upset win over Boston College, but prior to that has been porous at times. Particularly in pass coverage. And I hate to use such a harsh word, but the Boilers have been downright stupid at times on the defensive side of the ball. Expect a couple of unnecessary roughness calls and maybe an unsportsmanlike conduct call or two for excessively celebrating a simple tackle. I do like the Purdue DC, though, so maybe last Saturday’s strong defensive performance will be the rule rather than the exception from here on out. And speaking of porous, the Nebraska run defense has been non-existent at times. Certainly last Saturday and most painfully during a game-clinching TD in the closing moments of a loss to lowly Troy. This doesn’t bode well for the Huskers in this game. Purdue has a couple of good, bruising RBs in Markell Jones and D.J. Knox. And then there’s freshman phenom Rondale Moore who could probably score against this shoddy defense any time HC Jeff Brohm decides to give him the ball. In fact, it’s this phase of the game more than anything else that has me thinking Purdue by way more than the single digit cushion the oddsmakers are calling for.
As of now, Purdue is favored by 3.5 points so I’ll be taking Purdue in this one.
Again I have a slam-dunk play in this one. Vegas has Ohio St. by only four? And that number is dropping? Did anybody see Penn St. struggle for three quarters last Friday against lower level Illinios? (Maybe not, and I’d applaud that. Friday night conference games is bad idea and an insult to high school football.) Was Penn St. flat? Probably. Did Penn St. go vanilla so to not show too much coming into this crucial matchup? Probably. But does anyone think that if Ohio St. approached a game against Illinois in the same manner, that the Buckeyes would be trailing in the second half and only leading by four points going into the fourth quarter? Probably not. Ohio St. is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, more so on offense, I think. The Buckeyes have more than a couple of players that can put the ball in the end zone at any given moment, from any given distance. When I think of Penn St., I think of QB Trace McSorley – who will be the best competitor on the field, btw- and RB Miles Sanders. After that, I’m grasping for notable players. I understand this will be a “white-out” night game in one of the most intimidating environments in college football. And I remember what happened a couple of seasons ago. But I don’t think that will be enough to overcome the amount of raw talent the Buckeyes have on the roster this go around. So again, I have to wonder what would make John Q. Public move what I think is a small Vegas line even more to the Penn St. side. Both teams have played a soft schedule so far, so there’s no marquee wins to point to separate one team from the other. And on paper, Penn St.’s win over Illinois looks in line as the Nittany Lions exploded in the fourth quarter to eventually win big. But after that I got nothing. I like Ohio St. to be in command of this one by halftime.
As of now, Ohio St. is favored by 3.5 points, so I’ll be taking Ohio St. in this one.
My method is to begin making my predictions for the upcoming week on Sunday while Saturday’s games are still fresh in my mind. I don’t look at the Vegas point spreads until I’m done handicapping all of the games. If the point spread that I predict for a particular game differs from the closing line by seven or more points, I consider it a “play”,—i.e. a game that I would wager on. If the difference is less than seven points, I back off. I’ll also back off if a report comes out during the week (after I’ve already handicapped the game) that there is an issue involving the starting quarterback (an injury I did not know about) or the head coach (health issues, scandal, etc.).