By Joe Ostrowski—
If the Spartans can survive their only tough test remaining, all the discussion in Big Ten country will be whether or not a team that goes undefeated in this conference deserves to leapfrog a Boise St and/or TCU to play in the BCS Championship. Looking ahead, after this weekend Michigan St is left with the bottom of the Big Ten…Minnesota, Purdue, & Penn State. The Iowa Hawkeyes are looking for some revenge from last year. Iowa started the season 9-0 before their loss. They’re out to ruin Sparty’s undefeated dream. This will be a matchup of two very efficient quarterbacks in Kirk Cousins & Ricky Stanzi. Over the last couple years, 16 points is the most a team has scored in this matchup. In Big 10 play, Michigan St has played it close in the 1st half, with just a 4-point advantage. In the 2nd half, they’ve made their adjustments & outscored opponents 82-31. “Experts” like to say the Spartans live too much on the edge. Yes, they trailed most of the game against Northwestern and did what they had to for a nice conference road win. The Notre Dame fake FG game was 6 weeks ago! They’ve controlled all of their other 6 victories. Kinnick Stadium is a very tough place to play. If the Hawkeyes win, we have Big Ten chaos. Very difficult to imagine Iowa losing back to back weeks in Iowa City. But, I can’t believe the #5 team in the nation is getting 6.5 points. This will be close. Take the points.
PICK: MSU +6.5
At first glance, Illinois’ 4-3 record may not be that impressive. But, if you’ve watched this Illini team, the strength of their defense & running game has impressed many. That defense had a pair of interceptions for touchdowns last weekend & is 15th in the country in points per game. Their 3 losses are to highly ranked Missouri, Ohio St, & Michigan St. You can make a case for Illinois running the table to finish out the season. This game won’t have the signal callers flinging it all over the field. Quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase & Rob Henry both have more picks than touchdown passes. Purdue is trying to bounce back from a 49-point embarrassment in Columbus. The Boilermakers have been awful on 3rd down. Opponents have converted 47% of the time. Purdue has beaten Illinois 5 straight times. Vegas is looking at another Illini blowout. They win, but not by 17.
PICK: PUR +17
Once again, the Wildcats are trying to become bowl eligible. With their visit to Indiana, Northwestern is looking to avoid a 3 game losing streak. The Wildcats are coming off a heartbreaker vs Michigan St & the Hoosiers got smoked in Champaign a week ago. Expect a shootout in Bloomington. NW quarterback Dan Persa is 25th in the nation in passing yards per game. Indiana’s Ben Chappell has thrown for 17 touchdowns. He’s already tied his mark from last year. In their 3 conference games, the Hoosiers have given up 40 points per contest. In their last 3 matchups, the games have been very close & decided by 3 points or less. Northwestern is 9-3 ATS in their last 12 road games. The Cats finally become bowl eligible.
PICK: NW –3.5
This is being called USC’s bowl game. Both teams are rested up. The Trojans are coming off a bye & the Ducks haven’t played since last Thursday’s 60-13 trouncing of UCLA. USC has been speeding up practices to give them a shot at keeping up with Oregon’s super turbo pace. Ducks RB LaMichael James is #2 on most Heisman contender lists. James has led the nation’s #1 offense averaging over 160 rushing yards per game. USC’s offense has also lit up the scoreboard. The Trojans are gaining almost 500 yards a week. Matt Barkley has quietly thrown for 20 touchdowns & just 4 interceptions. It will be interesting to see how Monte Kiffin’s defense plans to attack Oregon’s 55-ppg offense. These matchups are usually a blowout. The Ducks aren’t getting blown out by anyone.
PICK: ORE -7
Even with last week’s impressive win over Oklahoma, it still doesn’t seem like Nebraska has the respect of college football. Mizzou QB Blaine Gabbert hasn’t thrown an interception in the Tigers last 3 games. Gabbert is fun to watch since 95% of their passes come in sets with 4 or more wideouts. Missouri’s 7-0 record is their best start in the last 50 years. The Tiger’s defense is 5th best, giving up only 13 points per game. Nebraska QB, Taylor Martinez, will run, run, & run. Martinez has 870 rushing yards on 100 carries. Missouri is 14-5 ATS in their last 19 road games & Nebraska is 0-3-1 ATS at home this year. The #6 team in the country a 7.5-point dog? I’ll take those points.
PICK: MIZZ +7.5
It’s tough to prediction how this will go following the tragic death of Declan Sullivan. I’m not sure how my emotions would be after being there for something so awful. I’m 31 years old. We’re talking about a lot of kids that aren’t old enough to legally drink. This is the 1st ever meeting between Notre Dame & Tulsa. The injuries continue to pile up for the Irish. DL Ian Williams will miss the next 4-6 weeks. WR Theo Riddick is doubtful & WR Michael Floyd is probable after missing the Navy loss. Tulsa’s offensive numbers should scare Irish fans. Their offense ranks 8th, scoring 38 a game. The two quarterbacks have very similar numbers. Dayne Crist & GJ Kinne both have throw 15 touchdowns & complete 60% of their passes. Tulane’s defense isn’t just bad, it’s bottom of the barrel. Their pass defense gives up 330 yards a game, good for 120th in the nation. The Golden Hurricane scores enough to keep it close & maybe pull off the upset. Notre Dame’s defense seems to be getting worse.
PICK: TUL +9
Joe Ostrowski is the executive producer of The Laurence Holmes Show, co-host of The Joe O & Rock Show on Saturdays 8pm-midnight, & is a scoreboard update anchor.