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 seven games to look at this week. Looks like only one of ‘em will be a play, and I have some concerns about that one.
My current record: 4-5
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.
When I looked at the Purdue schedule prior to the start of the season, I didn’t think twice about circling a win for the Boilermakers here, but now I don’t think the Illini will be an easy out. Illinois has been steadily improving in just about all phases of the game, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. And I think Illinois is a little bit hungrier for a victory. But the Illini are rebuilding from the bottom the pack, so “improvement” doesn’t mean upper level, and even mid-level would be a stretch. Purdue on the other hand, is struggling to match last season’s success, although doing so is still not out of the question. The strength for both of these teams is on the offensive side of the ball, and the weakness for both is on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, statistically, these are the two worst defenses in the conference. So I’m expecting a shootout. Both teams have a good running game and will most likely be successful in that aspect, but I give the edge to Purdue and QB David Blough in the passing game. In fact, I give a slight edge to Purdue in overall talent, except for maybe the defense. Purdue is awful on defense. So I’m calling for the teams to trade scores often, with Purdue maintaining a lead throughout most of the game, but the Boilermakers won’t be able to put the Illini away. That defense can’t put any team away. But I think the clock will. I’m calling for Purdue to score the game winner in the last couple minutes, and for the young Illini to not be capable of answering without making a mistake. Look for big games from the offensive players in this one. For the Illini: RBs Reggie Corbin and Mike Epstein and QB AJ Bush. For Purdue: Blough, RBs D.J. Knox and Markell Jones. And the real difference maker, WR Rondale Moore. Moore should have a career day against this defense.
As of now, Purdue is favored by 10.5 points. I would need at least 14 points to take Illinois, so I’ll most likely be passing on this one.
Indiana has been getting closer to that breakthrough win against a next level opponent, and they have a decent shot here. I thought they’d breakthrough when they played Michigan St. at home earlier in the season and it cost me. My comments after that game basically were that Indiana just wasn’t as talented as the Spartans and they weren’t quite ready for prime time just yet. I feel the same way about this game and consequently am calling for the Iowa win, but an Indiana win sure wouldn’t surprise me. Either way, I think this game will be close. Iowa has been playing great defense, but has been hit with injuries and didn’t look so good in their win against Minnesota last Saturday, particularly in the secondary where they started two freshman corners for the first time. And Iowa has yet to turn in their annual clunker, i.e. that head scratching blowout loss that comes out of nowhere. And Iowa didn’t run the ball so well last week, which is unusual for the Hawkeyes. But that was just one game. This is a game Iowa should win. But as you can see by my predicted score, I expect Indiana to give the Hawkeyes all they can handle. Indiana QB Peyton Ramsey is a smart player who has been playing really well lately. But Ramsey will have to play well in this game also; the Hoosiers don’t have much of a running game aside from when Ramsey takes off running from the pocket. And the Hoosiers can at times play good defense, most notably against the run. I look for this game to be close throughout, and for Indiana to take the lead a couple of times. But, as opposed to when I predicted the Hoosiers to beat Michigan St., a team that I feel is basically on the same level as Iowa, I just can’t bring myself to call for the Indiana win here.
As of now, Iowa is favored by 5.5 points, which is pretty close to how I see it so I’ll most likely be passing on this one.
As I explain below and in all my “prediction” posts, I handicap the games before I look at the spread and bet on the games where the Vegas spread differs from my prediction by seven or more points. When I got done handicapping this one I figured this game would be a play because I’ve got a 3-2 Maryland team winning by four touchdowns. But Vegas pretty much sees it the way I do. Rutgers isn’t good at all and Maryland has some explosive players. Maryland has the athletes to compete with just about every team in this conference, but they lack that certain “it” factor that wins games. The Terps lack discipline and self-control, the QB play could and should be better, and some (not all) of the players tend to give up when things aren’t going well. But when things are going well, this team has the talent to pour it on. And there’s no reason to think things won’t go well against Rutgers, especially when playing at home. The Scarlet Knights are struggling, to say the least. They can show signs on offense, but defense has been non-existent. I figure Maryland’s playmakers to score from long distances. I also figure Rutgers to score a couple of touchdowns, but not until Maryland has a comfortable lead. Rutgers QB Artur Sitkowski has a good arm, and Raheem Blackshear is an excellent RB, but Sitkowski has a penchant for throwing to the wrong team. Maryland has a good defense and can pressure the QB, so I’m calling for three interceptions from Sitkowski in this game. Despite all I’ve said about Rutgers, they actually are improving. But they still have a long way to go to compete in this conference. You could say this is a must win for Rutgers if they’re to avoid an 0-fer in conference play, because the schedule gets even more brutal after this game. Stranger things have happened, but I don’t see Rutgers getting anywhere close to a win in this game.
As of now, Maryland is favored by 24 points. I would need the line to drop to 21 points or less to take Maryland, so I’ll most likely be passing on this one.
This is the Big Ten marquee game of the week. Both teams come in nationally ranked and undefeated in conference play. I’d say these teams are about equal when comparing offenses, but I give the edge to Michigan when comparing defenses. A few weeks ago I might have given the offensive edge to Wisconsin, mostly because of the running game behind Wisconsin’s perennially excellent O-line, but not so much now because Michigan QB Shea Patterson is beginning to live up to his pre-season hype. Wisconsin’s defense did not look good at all in the second half of last Saturday’s win over Nebraska. The Badgers have a lot of injuries in the secondary and will be without one starting DB in the first half of this game as he was kicked out of last Saturday’s game for tackling…er, I mean targeting. I figure Patterson to be able to take advantage of this by throwing to a group of very good receivers, which should open up the running game for RB Karan Higdon. Michigan’s defense is among the best, but they will be tested against the Wisconsin running game. This is the most difficult aspect to predict – will Wisconsin be able to run against this Michigan defense? I think they’ll have some success, but not as much as they’re used to. This should be a great battle where both sides will win some and lose some. Which leads us to another big question mark: Can Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook be successful against this Michigan defense? Again, I think Hornibrook will have some success, but not as much as his counterpart (Patterson) will. This isn’t Hornibrook’s first rodeo; he’s performed well enough in more than a few high profile games, so he won’t be rattled mentally. But he doesn’t have a big arm when it comes to the deep passes, and he can be inaccurate at times. I figure Hornibrook to throw the game’s only interception. And Hornibrook isn’t particularly mobile, either, which doesn’t bode well against a fast Michigan defense. I’m also calling for a Hornibrook turnover via a strip sack. The last impression I have of Wisconsin is last Saturday’s game against Nebraska, and as I said, I found the Badgers defense to be poor in the second half, and I also thought Hornibrook’s performance was pedestrian. But the Badgers had the lead early and probably took their foot off the gas some, so I don’t want to let that impression cause me to underestimate. This is Wisconsin after all, most certainly one of the big boys in this conference. So this should be a good, competitive game, but that having been said, I feel confident that Michigan is going to get the win here.
As of now, Michigan is favored by 9.5 points. I would need the line to drop to 5 points or less to take Michigan, so I’ll most likely be passing on this one.
Penn St. comes off a bye week so they’ve had time to digest the heartbreaking loss to Ohio St., as opposed to last season when the Nittany Lions were upset by the Spartans one week after the same kind of loss to Ohio St. And this season, the game is at Penn St. But, these are young college kids who probably don’t put as much weight into what happened last season as we might think, who read and watch football news so they may still be taking Michigan St. a bit lightly, given the Spartans loss last week to 2-3 Northwestern. But Penn St. HC James Franklin sounded pretty serious about not letting that happen in his post-game press conference after the Ohio St. loss. So I do figure Penn St. to win, but I also think the game will be interesting throughout. The Penn St. offense has some receivers who are starting to step up, but I couldn’t tell you their names without looking them up. I do think Miles Sanders is an excellent RB, but after that, no other player comes to mind other than QB Trace McSorley. My point being, McSorley is pretty much the whole show for this offense. As McSorley goes, Penn St. goes. Which is most always enough to get the win and will be in this game as well. Michigan St. has a good, but not great defense, so I think the Spartans will at times make things tough for McSorley. The Michigan St. offense finally discovered WR Felton Davis in last Saturday’s loss. I look for Davis to have a big game if the Spartans utilize him as much as they did last Saturday. QB Brian Lewerke won’t be the best QB in this game, but he has a good arm and can make some plays with his feet. He tends to occasionally throw it to the wrong team, though, so I’m calling for two Lewerke interceptions in this game. I’m not entirely sure if RB L.J. Scott will return from injury for this game. The Spartans could use him, because they really don’t have a threatening RB. Scott is considered to be that type of back, and most indications are that he will play. But whether he plays or not doesn’t affect my prediction much. I’m not as high on Scott as most are. The Penn St. defense showed me more than I expected against Ohio St., so I don’t think moving the ball will be easy for the Spartans, but I do expect the Spartans to put some points on the board. Just not as many as Penn St. I figure the Spartans to get within one score of Penn St. a couple of times in the second half, making for an entertaining game. But Penn St. has more swagger/confidence right now and gets the win at home.
As of now, Penn St. is favored by 13.5 points, which is pretty close to how I see it so I’ll most likely be passing on this one.
This is yet another game that appears to be an easy Ohio St. victory. I’d say Ohio St. might be flat, but hey, they can’t be flat for every game, right? As it stands now, there doesn’t appear to be a game left on the schedule where the Buckeyes won’t be double digit favorites, with maybe the exception of Michigan at the very end of the schedule. But even if the Buckeyes do put it on auto-pilot at times, there’s still enough talent to get a big win, especially at home. And HC Urban Meyer is always working on improving his team’s weaknesses, so I expect he’s been calling out his defense to perform well for this one as the Buckeyes have been struggling some on that side of the ball. I won’t go into naming all the explosive players on the Ohio St. offense. I’ll just leave it as saying there will be some explosive plays from the Ohio St. offense. Minnesota is having a decent season by Minnesota standards, although they’ve lost their last two games, both were conference games and they are now looking at going 0-3 in the conference. But they are improved from last season; the Gophers have been playing fairly good defense and seem enthused and organized as a team. The offensive play calling and overall game plan seems sound, and the QB, who is just a freshman, ain’t bad (although he does throw too many interceptions). So in general, HC P.J. Fleck seems to be rowing his boat in right direction. And after this game, the schedule lines up nicely with a series of games they could possibly win. Not saying they will, mind you, but they’ll have a good enough chance. So it’s possible that, unless the Gophers can garner some kind of success in this one, Minnesota may go into “survival mode” to protect its young QB, who has been nursing an injury, and look to future games. I’m calling for Ohio St. to be up by three TDs by halftime and coast to an easy victory from there.
As of now, Ohio St. is favored by 29.5 points, which is pretty close to how I see it so I’ll most likely be passing on this one.
It looks like this game will be my only play this week, and as I said in my opening comments, I have some concerns about this one. I always do my handicapping before I look at the Vegas lines because I don’t want to be subconsciously influenced. And once I’m done handicapping and do look at the Vegas line, I never change my prediction. I may decide not to bet on a game if I find out about significant information that I was unaware of while handicapping, but otherwise, I don’t vary from my final prediction. What concerns me about this play, is that the Vegas line is so much different from my 18 point spread. I need a seven point differential before I make a play, and most of my plays only go beyond seven by a few points. I’ve got a 13.5 point differential in this one, as the Vegas line is currently at 4.5 points and was as low as 3 points. Those folks in Vegas usually know what they’re doing, as do the sharps who moved the opening line down from 9 points in a couple of days. So this kind of difference always throws me into a “what am I missing?” thought process. As far as I know, Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson is healthy. Well, as healthy as he was last Saturday anyway, when he turned in an outstanding performance. Thorson carries the Northwestern offense. The Wildcats won’t win without him. They also most likely won’t win if Thorson plays poorly either, which can’t be ruled out. Thorson has been prone to turning the ball over throughout his career, and more than his usual one to two interceptions a game could spell disaster for the Wildcats. I guess if I was to start picking at my prediction I’d say my score for Northwestern may be a bit high. The Wildcats haven’t scored 42 points in any game this season. But my number speaks more to the Nebraska defense than it does the Northwestern offense. Nebraska’s D has been lousy all season, particularly against the run. Which could be something I’m missing- Thorson is a great passer but Northwestern is lousy running the ball, so maybe Nebraska’s defense won’t look so bad in this one. And Nebraska’s offense is improving. QB Adrian Martinez is a dangerous threat as a runner, and was very successful throwing the ball against Wisconsin last Saturday. In fact, Nebraska’s offense played its best game of the season last Saturday against a ranked opponent, so maybe that’s the reason for the tight Vegas line. But what I saw in that game was a very poor defensive effort from Wisconsin, particularly in the second half after the Badgers built a comfortable lead. And Wisconsin was missing most of its secondary to injury, and rarely sent more than four players after Martinez in the second half, and those four players weren’t getting anywhere close, so Martinez had lots of time to find wide open receivers. Northwestern hasn’t been great against the pass, but they’re not as bad as what I saw from Wisconsin. And the Wildcats have been very good against the run for most of the season. It’s been my experience that when the Vegas line looks too good to be true, it usually is. Something’s up and it’s not entirely out of the question that it’s something fishy. In fact, based solely on the way the line has been moving, it wouldn’t surprise me if Nebraska won outright. But based on what I’ve seen in watching both teams play all season, I like Northwestern to easily get the cover here, so that’s what I’m going with.
As of now, Northwestern is favored by 4.5 points. I would take Northwestern minus 11 points or less, so it appears this will be a play.
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.).