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Big Ten Report – Week 8

Indiana (4-3) at Michigan State (7-0) – ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET
Current Line: Spartans -16.5
Opening Line: Spartans -16.5

The Indiana faithful were giddy a few weeks ago after starting the season 4-0. Only two more wins and they were heading to a bowl game for the first time since 2007. It would be just their 2nd bowl appearance since 199#! Oops. Now the Hoosiers sit at 4-3 after losing their first 3 conference games. And now they get to face MSU on the road before a much needed bye. After that the Hoosiers face Iowa & Michigan so they are staring at an 0-6 start in the Big Ten barring a big upset. It very well could come down to IU having to win their last 2 games of the season at Maryland & at Purdue in order to be bowl eligible. It could have been much different had they simply held onto their huge lead last week at home vs Rutgers. IU led 52-27 with just 2:30 remaining in the 3rd quarter and were getting ready to celebrate their 5th win of the season. The Knights scored the final 28 points of the game including a FG with no time left to pull out an incredible 55-52 win. IU became the first team in college football this year to blow a 25 point or more lead and lose (121-1 record).

MSU was obviously on the other end of the spectrum as they were almost assuredly going to take their first loss of the season when the “Miracle in Michigan” happened. A block punt and return TD with no time left gave MSU the win. Those two results make this a very interesting (and difficult) game to handicap. Sparty is bound to have a letdown after winning a rivalry game in that fashion. Not only that, MSU is 0-4 ATS at home losing to the number by nearly 50 points! However, how does Indiana get back off the deck after the way they lost last week? We thought this line might come out a bit higher than it did.

Remember just a few weeks ago Ohio State was a 22-point favorite at Indiana which means they would have been right around -30 at home. That’s 2 full TD’s higher than this number is currently. IU QB Sudfeld was back in the line up last week after missing the week before with an ankle injury. However, their top RB Howard has not been on the field since the Ohio State game (ankle) and they’re hoping he returns on Saturday. Offense may not matter if Indiana’s defense continues on their terrible run. They’ve given up more points (246) and more yardage (3,529) than any other team in the league. After last week’s results you might have to have a doctorate in psychology to figure this one out.

Northwestern (5-2) at Nebraska (3-4) – ESPN2, 12:00 p.m. ET
Current Line: Cornhuskers -7.5
Opening Line: Cornhuskers -6.5

Here we have possibly the best 3-4 team in the nation against a 5-2 team that is falling fast. That’s why the team with the losing record is favored by more than a TD. Nebraska’s 4 losses have been well documented. All came basically on the final play of the game and all were against solid teams (Wisconsin, Miami FL, BYU, and Illinois). The Huskers are literally only a few plays away from potentially being a perfect 7-0. We weren’t sure how Nebby would respond after losing ANOTHER back breaker a week earlier vs Wisconsin. They responded well dominating Minnesota on the road for much of the game. Once the Huskers took a 24-14 win with 3:00 minutes left in the first half, they led by double digits from that point on (48-25 final). Offensively they put up 7.1 YPP while allowing Minnesota just 5.5 YPP. That’s been the tale of the tape for this team – good offensively but not so much on defense.

They may not need much defense to contain this reeling Northwestern offense. The Cats have lost 2 straight games to Michigan & Iowa after starting the year 5-0. Their offense has really looked poor in those 2 outings scoring only 10 total points while getting outgained by over 500 yards! In those 2 games combined the Cats gained 366 total yards on 127 offensive plays – just 2.8 YPP. On the season, NW is averaging only 4.4 YPP, everyone else in the Big Ten except Purdue is averaging at least 5.0 YPP. We’re not sure it will be much better here as they are not equipped to take advantage of Nebraska’s defensive weakness as the Huskers are last in the league in pass defense. However, NW is also dead last in the Big Ten in passing yards per game.

Because of the lack of offensive production, the NW defense looks like they are starting to wear down. Entering their game vs Michigan, the Wildcats led the nation allowing just 7 PPG and they had allowed only 3 offensive TD’s in their first 5 games. It has all come crashing down as they allowed 78 points in their last 2 games (after giving up 35 total in their first 5) on almost 900 yards of offense. The Cats were throttled at home vs Nebraska last year 38-17 and have lost 3 of their 4 meetings with the Huskers. Their last visit to Lincoln in 2013, NW lost 27-24 on a Husker Hail Mary TD pass to end the game, a feeling Nebraska knows all too well.

Wisconsin (5-2) at Illinois (4-2) – Big Ten, 3:30 p.m. ET
Current Line: Badgers -6.5
Opening Line: Badgers -7

Illinois comes into this game off a bye week. Wisconsin enters off a 24-7 win at home vs Purdue. The Badgers rolled up 418 yards of total offense while holding the Boilers to just 191. The Badger offense continues to be “pass happy” as QB Joel Stave threw for 322 yards for the second consecutive game. Wisky hopes to be more run oriented moving forward as starter Corey Clement is getting closer & closer to returning. We’d expect him to get some carries this week although reports from down the street are he isn’t yet able to open up full speed after his hernia surgery. Wisconsin continues to be one of the top defenses in the nation holding opponents to 272 YPG (7th nationally) and just 11 PPG (3rd nationally). Since their season opener when they allowed 35 points to Alabama, Wisconsin’s defense has given up just 5 offensive TD’s in 6 games.

Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell called it “the best defense we’d faced” and Purdue has already played Michigan State & Virginia Tech. Speaking of defense, Illinois has improved as much as anyone in the nation on that side of the ball. The Illini are allowing 332 YPG which is good for 30th in the country. Last season this Illinois team gave up 463 YPG which was 112th in the country. The Illini are 4-2 but they are “this close” to being 2-4 on the season. After two easy wins to start the season over Kent & Western Illinois, U of I has lost at the hands of Iowa & UNC, while barely getting by Middle Tennessee State (by 2 points) & Nebraska (by 1 point). MTSU missed a game winning field goal as time expired while the Huskers actually led Illinois 13-7 late and botched the clock management giving up the lead with just 10 seconds remaining in the game. Wisconsin has dominated this series winning 9 of the last 10 games with 8 of those wins coming by at least 10 points.

Penn State (5-2) at Maryland (2-4) from Baltimore – ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET
Current Line: Nittany Lions -6.5
Opening Line: Nittany Lions -8

Maryland takes the field for the first time minus former head coach Randy Edsall who was fired after their loss at Ohio State two weeks ago. The Terps had last week off to gather themselves and get ready for this game being played in Baltimore. The interim head coach is offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who has some head coaching experience at New Mexico where he had a 2-26 record before being fired in 2011. Since their last win vs USF back on September 19th, the Terps have lost 3 straight to WVU, Michigan, & Ohio State and have been outscored 122-28 in those 3 games. The problem with Maryland continues to be turnovers. They are -11 turnovers on the season (last in college football) and -1.83 turnovers per game (last in college football).

Penn State is off a huge game at Ohio State last weekend and they stuck around for a while. The Nits were within striking distance down 21-10 entering the 4th quarter and OSU closed it out with 17 points in the final stanza for a 38-10 win. After attempting 39 passes a week earlier in a win over Indiana, PSU QB Hackenberg only put the ball in the air 13 times at Ohio State completing 7. They tried to shorten the game by running the ball a lot (40 times) and it kept them close until the 4th quarter. The two teams (PSU & OSU) ran the ball 90 times in the game while attempting only 32 passes. These two have met just one time since 1993 and that was last season. Maryland pulled the 20-19 upset in Happy Valley as 3.5 point underdogs. The game featured very little offense as the two teams combined for only 413 total yards (just 75 yards rushing).

Ohio State (7-0) at Rutgers (3-3) – ABC, 8:00 p.m. ET
Current Line: Buckeyes -21
Opening Line: Buckeyes -21

Well they did it. Ohio State, despite winning 22 straight games, has made a switch at QB. JT Barrett will take over for Cardale Jones at Rutgers on Saturday night. The Bucks simply look better and more efficient on offense with Barrett at the helm and the numbers bear that out. This year with Jones at QB the Buckeyes averaged 5.8 YPP and with Barrett that climbs to 7.1 YPP. Jones has led OSU to TD’s on just 23% of his offensive drives while Barrett has done so in 39% of his drives. We think Ohio State will start to look much better on offense after this switch. And while many consider the Buckeyes to be “struggling” this year, let’s keep that in perspective. Their average winning margin is 21 points per game and they have outgained every opponent by at least 100 yards.

Rutgers comes home with some momentum after rallying from 25 points down at Indiana for a 55-52 win last Saturday. Their most recent home game the Knights gave Michigan State all they could handle losing 31-24 with Sparty scoring the game winning TD with just 43 seconds remaining in the game. Rutgers top offensive weapon, WR Carroo, injured his ankle last week and was not practicing as of Tuesday. His status is very important in this one. He did not practice on Wednesday so his status is still up in the air. Since returning from his suspension, Carroo has 14 catches for 191 yards and 6 TD’s in just TWO games. These two have met just one time since 1980 and that was last season. OSU dominated in a 56-24 win in Columbus. The Buckeyes have been a road favorite of -21 or more 25 times since 1980. They are 25-0 SU in those games and 16-9 ATS. Rutgers has not been a home underdog of this magnitude (+21 or more) since the 2003 season.