ASA’s BIG TEN REPORT – For Games November 9th
PENN STATE (-7) @ MINNESOTA
IOWA @ WISCONSIN (-9.5)
MARYLAND @ OHIO STATE (-42)
PURDUE @ NORTHWESTERN (-2.5)
ILLINOIS @ MICHIGAN STATE (-14.5)
PENN STATE (-7) @ MINNESOTA
Penn State steps in with a perfect 8-0 record and they had a bye last weekend. Their most recent game was a 28-7 win @ Michigan State two weeks ago. It wasn’t an ideal spot for PSU as they were coming off a huge prime time win over Michigan while MSU was off a bye week. The Nittany Lion defense, which ranks 9th nationally in total defense, held the Spartans to 267 total yards and forced 4 turnovers. Weather played a major factor as the wind and rain held both offenses in check as the two teams combined for just 3.9 YPP. The Penn State defense has now held their opponents to 13 points or fewer in 7 of their 8 games. The only team that topped 13 points was Michigan and they had 21. That defense will be without starting DT Antonio Shelton who was suspended for this game by head coach James Franklin after he was ejected from their game @ Michigan State for spitting on a Spartan player. Penn State has played 3 road games this year, covering all 3 by a combined 69 points (covering by 23 PPG).
Minnesota also enters this game with an undefeated 8-0 mark and they are off a bye as well. The Gophers most recent game two weeks ago was a 52-10 home win over Maryland. They dominated as the final score would suggest outgaining the Terps by 288 yards and outrushed Maryland 321 to 79. Since holding on to beat Purdue 38-31 in their Big 10 opener, Minnesota has cruised to 4 straight easy wins by margins of 23, 27, 34, and 42 points. They’ve outgained those last four opponents by 932 combined yards (+233 YPG) and they’ve outrushed those teams by an average of 293 to 115. We’ll see if that continues vs a PSU defense that ranks 2nd in the nation allowing only 68 YPG rushing. Minnesota is a perfect 5-0 in Big 10 play both SU & ATS. How good is Minnesota? It’s hard to tell. They struggled with some inferior opponents early in the year but have really played well over the last month. The only Big 10 team they’ve played that currently has a winning record is Illinois who is 5-4. The other 4 conference teams they’ve played (Rutgers, Maryland, Purdue, and Nebraska) have a combined record of 12-24. The Gophs have also caught some breaks along the way as they have yet to face a starting QB in conference play. You read that correctly. All of Minnesota’s Big 10 opponents have been forced to use their back up QB or 3rd string QB vs the Gophs due to injuries to the starter. That changes this week with PSU and starting QB Sean Clifford come to town.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – None of the PSU players have ever played @ Minnesota with their last visit coming in 2013. The last time these 2 played was in 2016 when Penn State pulled off a 29-26 OT win at home. The Gophers are 1-0 ATS as an underdog this year (won @ Purdue) and they are 6-1 ATS in that role dating back to last September. Minnesota is 11-3 ATS the last 14 times they’ve been a home underdog dating back to 2013. Penn State is 3-0 SU & ATS on the road this year winning by an average score of 35-6. The Gophers have won 5 straight games ATS covering those by an average of 14.5 points per game.
IOWA @ WISCONSIN (-9.5)
This is a huge game in the Big 10 West with the winner having a decent shot as winning their division and the loser most likely out of the race. Iowa comes in off a bye after beating Northwestern on the road 20-0 two weeks ago. The Iowa offense continued to struggle with just 302 total yards on 4.5 YPP. They didn’t need to do much in this game vs a Northwestern offense that has been absolutely terrible. However, in their 2 Big 10 losses vs Michigan and Penn State, the Iowa offense scored only 15 total points. In conference play they are averaging just 18 PPG and that includes a 30 point effort vs hapless Rutgers. Their rushing attack was thought to be a strength entering the season has been bad. It also looks like their top WR Brandon Smith will miss this week as he continues to recover from a ankle/foot injury. Iowa is averaging just 98 YPG on 2.8 YPC in conference play. The defense has been stellar holding every opponent to 20 points or less this season and pitching 2 shutouts vs Rutgers & Northwestern. The Hawkeyes rank 6th nationally in total defense (266 YPG), 3rd in scoring defense (10 PPG), and 11th in defensive efficiency (4.46 YPP). As good as they’ve been, this defense has only faced one offense this year ranked in the top 50. That was Iowa State (16th nationally) and they held the Cyclones to 17 points in that game but ISU did have 418 total yards.
Wisconsin also had a bye last week and after starting 6-0 they lost back to back weeks heading into their week off. One was completely unexpected (24-23 loss @ Illinois) and one was expected (38-7 loss @ Ohio State). After allowing a TOTAL of 19 points through their first 6 games, the Badger defense gave up 62 points in their two losses. Their game at OSU two weeks ago was close for awhile with OSU leading 10-0 at half and 10-7 with 9:30 remaining in the 3rd quarter. From that point on, the Buckeyes had 4 straight TD drives of 75, 53, 55, and 45 yards to put the game out of reach. The Badger offense struggled all day with just 78 yards in the first half and 191 for the game. All American RB Jonathan Taylor was held to just 52 yards on 20 carries. Their only TD came on a 30 yard drive following a blocked punt. Of Wisconsin’s 11 offensive possessions, 6 resulted in 10 or fewer yards. The defense was locked in early as we stated but OSU had their way in the 2nd half with 270 yards which is more than Wisconsin was allowing per game heading into that one. Even with the poor effort, the Badger defense still ranks #1 nationally in total defense, #2 in defensive efficiency, and #4 in scoring defense. With both defenses so highly ranked, the oddsmakers expect a low scoring battle with the total set at 38.5, the lowest total on the board for Saturday.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – This number opened with Wisconsin favored by -9.5 and dropped fairly quickly to -8.5 and -8 but has bounced back up to the opening number. Last year the Badgers were favored by 3 in Iowa City and won 28-17. It was their 6th win in the last 7 meetings with the Hawkeyes although Iowa has won 2 of the last 3 in Madison. The road team in this big rivalry has covered 9 of the last 12. This has been a low scoring series with 12 of the last 15 meetings failing to top 50 points. After going 0-14-1 SU in this series between 1980 and 1996, Wisconsin has since won 13 of the last 20 meetings outright. The Hawkeyes are 0-2 ATS as an underdog this year (losses to Michigan & Penn State) however entering this season they were 25-10-1 ATS their last 36 games as an underdog.
MARYLAND @ OHIO STATE (-43)
The Terps were toasted again last week losing at home 38-7 to Michigan giving them 6 losses in their last 7 games. The Wolverines returned the opening kickoff for a TD and never looked back. The only points for Maryland came on a kickoff return as well so the offense was held scoreless. Speaking of the offense if you take out their games vs Howard (FCS), Rutgers (98th in total defense), and Syracuse (115th in total defense) the Terps are averaging just 12 PPG. One positive for the offense is they did get starting QB Josh Jackson back last week after he had been out since early October. The bad news is, he looked very rusty completing only 9 of his 20 pass attempts for just 97 yards. QB play has been spotty at best for a number of games now and head coach Mike Locksley decided to give freshman Lance Legendre his first action since their season opener vs Howard. While he only threw 2 passes, Legendre ran for 39 yards on 7 carries. With back up Tyrell Pigrome injured, if Jackson can’t find his rhythm we wouldn’t be surprised if Locksley uses Legendre more often in the final 3 games. Speaking of their final 3 games vs Ohio State, Nebraska, and Michigan State, the Terps would have to win all 3 to be bowl eligible. Obviously that’s a huge longshot as their post-season hopes almost positively come to an end this weekend.
Ohio State had a week off last week after rolling over Wisconsin 38-7 two weeks ago. In a game that was scoreless with under 7:00 minutes to go in the first half, the Buckeyes offense kicked it in gear scoring points on 6 of their last 8 possessions. They tallied 392 yards on 56 plays (7 yards per play) over those final 8 possessions which was extremely impressive vs a Wisconsin defense that was allowing only 3.4 YPP coming into the game. As good as OSU’s offense has been, it’s the defense that makes this team a strong National Championship contender. They held Wisconsin to just 191 total yards and RB Jonathan Taylor had just 50 yards on the ground. The Badgers lone score came on a short drive after a blocked punt. They have allowed a grand total of 6 offensive TD’s in 8 games this year. The Bucks are #1 in the country in scoring defense allowing 7.9 PPG. After allowing 21 point to Florida Atlantic in their season opener, Ohio State has not allowed more than 10 points in their last 7 games. They are also a perfect 7-0 ATS since their opener covering those 7 games by 141 combined points (an average cover of 20 PPG).
NOTE – Ohio State’s Chase Young was suspended for this game after the article was posted.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – OSU opened here as a massive 43 point favorite. Last year the Buckeyes were 13.5 point favorites @ Maryland and held on for a 52-51 win in OT. OSU scored a TD with just 40 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 45-45 and send it to OT. These two have met 5 times since Maryland joined the Big 10 and they’ve averaged 79.4 point in those 4 outings with the lowest point total being 65. Ohio State has been a Big 10 favorite of 40 or more just 3 times since 1980 (2-1 ATS), once in 2017 vs Illinois, once in 1982 vs NW, and the final was in 1981 vs NW. This is the largest spread in a Power 5 conference match up since 2003 (Oklahoma vs Baylor).
PURDUE @ NORTHWESTERN (-2.5)
Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm has definitely had some rough luck this year when it comes to his QB’s. His starter Elijah Sindelar was injured earlier in the season and it’s looking more and more like he may not return this year. His back up, true freshman Jack Plummer, was getting solid experience and improving to the point where they felt that he was looking like their QB of the future. Plummer broke his ankle in last week’s 31-27 home win over Nebraska and he is now out for the season. That leaves 3rd stringer walk on Aidan O’Connell, who was thrust into a very tough situation last week and came through big time. Plummer was injured in the 4th quarter with Purdue ahead of Nebraska 24-20. The Huskers scored a TD with just over 4:00 minutes remaining in the game to take a 27-24 lead. O’Connell was forced to enter the game for Purdue’s final drive and he led them on a 12 play, 82-yard TD drive which took just over 3:00 minutes and gave the Boilers the 31-27 win. The sophomore signal caller has appeared in 3 games this year completing 15 passes for 133 yards. With Purdue’s lack of a running game (129th nationally ahead of only Akron), O’Connell will immediately be thrown into the fire for a Purdue team that has attempted more passes than another other team in the Big Ten and 3rd most in the nation behind Washington State & Hawaii. He’ll have to earn it this week as they face a Northwestern defense that ranks 27th nationally vs the pass allowing only 191 YPG.
While the Cats are solid defensively, the same story continues on a weekly basis with this team and that is their offense simply stinks. There’s no way around it. They have not scored a TD in 3 straight games. Not one. After last Saturday’s 34-3 loss @ Indiana, the Northwestern offense has now scored ONE TD in their last 54 offensive possessions. They are now officially dead last in college football in scoring offense averaging 9.8 PPG. If you take out their 30 point outburst vs a bad UNLV defense, this NW team has scored only 48 points on the season! Head coach Pat Fitzgerald decided to stick with Aidan Smith at QB despite his recent struggles and he proceeded to fumble on the first play of the game which led to an Indiana TD drive. A few possessions later Fitzgerald brought back the Wildcats original starting QB Hunter Johnson who was benched after the Wisconsin game because the offense wasn’t productive while he was under center. Johnson took his first snaps since September last week and struggled again going 7 for 17 for 65 yards. The poor offense week in and week out looks like it’s starting to take its toll on a solid NW defense as well. The defense knows they have to play perfect in order for this team to get a win which is a tough situation to be in every game. Over the last 3 games in which Northwestern failed to score a TD, the Cat’s defense has allowed an average of 35 PPG on 400 YPG so it looks like they might be running out of steam on that side of the ball.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Purdue opened as a 2 point favorite in this game and it has flipped to Northwestern -2.5. Some of that happened after Purdue stated their QB Plummer will be out for the year. Last year the Cats were a 1-point dog @ Purdue and won 31-27. Northwestern has won 5 straight in this series and 7 of the last 8. This is just the 2nd time this season that the Wildcats have been favored and they are 0-6-1 ATS the last 7 times they’ve been favored.
ILLINOIS @ MICHIGAN STATE (-14.5)
Don’t look now but the Illini have won 3 straight games. It started with their upset of Wisconsin a few weeks ago. They followed that up with a win @ Purdue and last week they handled Rutgers 38-10 moving them to within one win of bowl eligibility (current 5-4 record). After the game head coach Lovie Smith told his team “You know what we’re playing for next week right? A bowl game!” Smith didn’t hesitate to call this game his team’s biggest game since he’s been at Illinois and they are approaching it as such. The Illini have covered 4 straight games and the defense has come alive holding their last 3 opponents to an average of 13 PPG. Offensively they are leaning very heavily on the run as of late. In their 3 wins Illinois has completed a TOTAL of 18 passes, or an average of just 6 completions per game. They’ve run the ball 132 times during that 3 game stretch for an average of 44 carries per game. They will be facing an MSU defense that allows just 117 YPG on the ground on 3.3 YPC so the Illini may have to air it out more than they are accustomed to this Saturday.
In a weird scheduling quirk, the Spartans have played only one game since October 12th. They had a bye after their 38-0 loss @ Wisconsin, then lost to Penn State 28-7 two weeks ago and that was followed up with another bye last weekend. The Spartan offense continues to struggle as they have not topped 10 points since September. Their running game has been poor (118th nationally) averaging only 112 YPG which puts a lot of pressure on QB Brian Lewerke who has been inconsistent at best. Lewerke is barely completing 50% of this passes on the year for just 192 YPG in Big 10 play. Head coach Mark Dantonio actually used 3 QB’s in their most recent game vs Penn State searching for anyone to get the offense going. Back up Rocky Lombardi and 3rd teamer Theo Day both took snaps in hopes of giving the offense a boost. Whoever is under center on Saturday they’ll be without top WR Darrell Stewart who is 2nd in the Big 10 averaging 87 YPG receiving. Stewart has accounted for nearly 40% of MSU’s receiving yards on the season so he is a big loss. That’s not it for the Spartans. Starting C Matt Allen will not play in this game and their best defensive player and leading tackler LB Joe Bachie tested positive for PED’s and is suspended. It will be interesting to watch MSU’s confidence and effort level coming off the bye. It’s team that expected to be much better than their current 4-4 record and they have a huge game with Michigan on deck.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – These 2 teams have not met since 2016. The Spartans have won 12 of the last 14 games SU in this series and they have covered 13 of the last 17 meetings. MSU opened -11 in this game and it has been pushed all the way up to -14.5 as of this writing. The Illini have been a double digit underdog just 6 times in this series (since 1980) and they are 4-2 ATS in those games. Interesting that the Spartans are favored by more than 2 TD’s here and they haven’t even scored 14 points in a game period since September.