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After deflating loss, Buckeyes open as dogs for first time this season
Defending national champion Ohio State had won 23 consecutive games heading into Saturday’s home contest against Michigan State. The Buckeyes hadn’t lost since the second week of the 2014 season, and by the oddsmakers’ estimates, it sure looked like No. 24 was all but guaranteed.
Ohio State was a hefty 14.5-point home favorite, but had a dismal offensive showing and lost outright to the Spartans, 17-14. That put a severe dent in any chance the Buckeyes (10-1 SU, 4-7 ATS) might have at not just the Big Ten title, but a return trip to the four-team national championship playoff.
Now, in the regular-season finale, Ohio State has to travel to archrival Michigan, where the Wolverines will be eager to add to the Buckeyes’ newfound misery. Michigan (9-2 SU, 6-5 ATS) has bounced back since suffering its own stunning loss to Michigan State, winning four in a row SU, including Saturday’s 28-16 victory as a 3.5-point chalk at Penn State.
Johnny Avello, executive director of race and sports for Wynn Las Vegas, said both teams’ situations – both still have an outside shot to reach the Big Ten title game – made it tough to handicap this game. Avello sent Michigan out as a 2.5-point favorite.
“I looked at this game a few times trying to decide what to make this opening number,” Avello said. “Ohio State is probably out of the playoff mix and somewhat deflated after the Michigan State loss, but this is still a huge rivalry and recruiting game.”
Iowa (-3) at Nebraska
Arguably as stunning as Ohio State’s loss is the fact that Iowa (10-0 SU, 6-5 ATS) represents the Big Ten’s best shot to make the four-team playoff. On Saturday, the Hawkeyes eased past Purdue 40-20, though they failed to cash as a big 23-point home favorite.
Nebraska (5-6 SU, 6-5 ATS) has had an awful season by its standards, but did pull off a home upset of Michigan State earlier this month and enters the regular-season finale off a bye week. The Huskers followed up the 39-38 win over the Spartans as a 3.5-point home underdog with a 31-14 Nov. 14 victory at Rutgers laying 7.5 points.
The border rivals are on a slightly shorter week, playing Friday.
“This is not the easiest of regular-season closing games for an undefeated Iowa team,” said Avello, noting the Huskers’ three home losses came by a total of nine points. “Nebraska is 3-3 at home this season, and when you take a closer look at the scores of those games, you can sense this is going to be a close one.”
Oklahoma (-4) at Oklahoma State
It’s the Bedlam Game, and it could certainly create just that with regard to the four-team playoff picture. Oklahoma State had everything pointing in its favor – an unbeaten SU record and all key opponents having to travel to Stillwater. But the Cowboys (10-1 SU, 6-5 ATS) got outgunned Saturday, going off as a 3-point home pup to Baylor and losing 45-35.
Oklahoma, meanwhile, has a chance to play itself into the playoff. The Sooners (10-1 SU, 8-3 ATS) have won six in a row SU, failing to cover only once in that stretch, in Saturday’s 30-29 victory over Texas Christian as a stout 18-point home fave.
“If Oklahoma wins this, I believe they have a very good shot at the playoff,” Avello said. “It is concerning that you will get lapses from this Sooners group during the 60-minute timetable, and it happened again this week as a Trevone Boykin-less TCU crawled back in the game and almost spoiled the Sooners’ season.”
Notre Dame at Stanford (-3)
The Fighting Irish (10-1 SU, 7-4 ATS) have held it together with duct tape and bailing wire this year, and might just find their way into the four-team playoff if they can do that for one more week. Notre Dame had five turnovers in the first three quarters Saturday against Boston College, but mustered a 19-16 victory giving 14.5 points on a “neutral” field – Boston’s Fenway Park.
Stanford can play big spoiler and wrap up its spot in the Pac-12 title game by beating the Irish. The Cardinal (9-2 SU, 8-3 ATS) bounced back from an upset home loss to Oregon by beating California 35-22 as a 10-point home chalk Saturday.
“If Notre Dame turns the ball over five times this week, it will be lights out for the Irish,” Avello said. “They did however survive, and now this may be the last hurdle to become part of the four-team playoff. Stanford has different plans and will try to avenge last year’s 17-14 loss at South Bend.”