The Big Ten Report - Week Four
by Max - 09/26/2006
Conference play opened with a bang last week as the chalk emerged victorious in three of the four Big Ten games. The lone upset occurred in West Lafayette, where Purdue emerged victorious over Minnesota despite being slight underdogs. The conference appears to be a three-team race and next week will go a long way in separating the field. The following will recap the highlights from last week and preview a very important week ahead:
- Our "College Game of the Year" went into the books as a push, although 20 percent of our customers won the game. Michigan gave up an early score when they turned the ball over near midfield and set up a short touchdown drive for Wisconsin. QB John Stocco converted it into a 29-yard touchdown pass to give the Badgers a 7-0 lead. Michigan could not muster much offense in the first half and thus only put 10 points on the board, three of which were aided by a botched punt by UW's Zach Hampton. Wisconsin should have taken a lead into halftime; instead the score was tied at 10 apiece.
The second half was a different story, as the Badgers could not muster any offense and the Michigan defense took the game over. It was just a race against the clock to see if Michigan could score enough on offense to cover the two-touchdown spread. We appeared to be in great shape when Garrett Rivas kicked a 32-yard field goal with less than six minutes remaining to give Michigan a 27-10 lead.
But then something miraculous happened; the Badgers mustered not only their initial first down of the second half, but they actually sustained a drive that led them to a first-and-goal. Michigan stuffed Wisconsin the next three plays and Coach Bielema was faced with a fourth down decision on the nine-yard line.
Most coaches would have gone for the touchdown but instead he chose to kick the field goal to cut the deficit to 14 points. The kick went down the middle of the posts and thus the game ended, 27-13. Personally, I would have rather seen them gamble for the touchdown and either lose by 17-points or 10-points, thus our selection would have had action. The Michigan defense was strong throughout and QB Stocco would have been blitzed and forced to dump the ball off short of the endzone.
But that is not what happened and, therefore, most of us received a push on the game. That one early touchdown drive for Wisconsin is the only thing that stood in the way of a complete rout. Taking a 7-0 lead gave the Badgers a little confidence and allowed them to stay tied with Michigan through two quarters. Had the Wolverines gone up 7-0, there is no doubt in my mind this would have been a 40-point blowout.
Next up for Wisconsin is a road trip to Bloomington to take on the struggling Hoosiers. The Badgers enter this game as a 10.5-point favorite and it will be interesting to see how they respond playing back-to-back road games. Indiana is coming off two devastating losses at home and their confidence has to be shattered. Michigan is also on the road traveling to the Twin Cities to take on the Gophers. If Michigan is going to struggle before Columbus, I expect it to come here. The oddsmakers are inviting a Minnesota pick since they are getting over a touchdown at The Dome.
- The Buckeyes got revenge on 2005 co-champion Penn State, but it did not come as easy as many experts thought it would. Penn State dominated the first half and took a 3-0 lead when Kevin Kelly was given a second chance to make a chip shot field goal. The Buckeyes finally got on the board in the third quarter when RB Antonio Pittman took it to the house from 12-yards out. The second half was also dominated by the defenses, as the Buckeyes returned two interceptions for touchdowns for a 28-3 lead. The result was as expected. However, the stats in the game certainly were not.
QB Troy Smith took a step back in his quest for the Heisman Trophy. He completed just 12 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown. He threw two interceptions in this game and Ted Ginn Jr. was non-existent with just two receptions. One has to suspect State was looking ahead to a showdown with the Hawkeyes next week. A similar performance like this and they will see their hopes of a National Championship go down the drain. Penn State put forth a good effort in this one but it is apparent their offense has fallen back to the early 2000s, where they cannot throw the football whatsoever.
Next up for Penn State is a home game with Northwestern. The early line has State as a 16.5-point favorite. The Wildcats have struggled outside of the conference and I could see this game getting ugly. Ohio State will head to Iowa City for the ABC Saturday Night Game of the Week. The Buckeyes enter as a touchdown favorite, but I believe the pink locker rooms might doom them in. Iowa has had this game circled for quite some time.
Finally, the game of the night took place in a rainy East Lansing. Michigan State proved once again why they'd never be considered a top-notch program, blowing a 16-point fourth quarter lead at Spartan Stadium to allow the No. 12 Irish to escape with a three-point win. This was a season saving victory for Notre Dame, as it kept their chances of a BCS Bowl alive and now they can still afford a loss to USC.
The Irish still cannot run the ball effectively and are left throwing the football on every down. I mentioned last week that one must consider playing the over in all of their games and this one certainly validated that point. A total of 77 points were put up between the programs and 754 yards of total offense. The teams combined to convert just 4-of-25 attempts on third down, yet big plays easily compensated for this statistic.
Two late turnovers were the difference, the final one being returned for a 27-yard touchdown by Terrail Lambert to give Notre Dame the lead for good. Michigan State moved the ball to midfield with under one minute to play, but a fluke interception occurred when the ball bounced off three people and was caught by Lambert for his second pick of the game.
Next up for the Irish is their final game against the Big Ten, when they welcome in-state rival Purdue. The early line has ND as a 16.5-point favorite. I would expect the Irish to play a complete game in this one like they did earlier this year with Penn State. Michigan State gets another home game against Illinois to open up conference play and I would expect them to have no problems with the Illini. This is a team that can beat anybody on any given day and I would not be surprised if they pull the straight-up victory against either Michigan or Ohio State. The talent is there; it is just the mind games that continue to plague them.
In other action, Purdue picked up a nice victory at home against Minnesota coming back from an early deficit. This is typical for Minnesota to get off to a good start before collapsing as the season progresses. It looks like another trip to Nashville may be in line for them.
Final Thoughts from Around College Football
1) The Big East deserves a bowl bid this year and may challenge for a National Championship if West Virginia can topple Louisville on Nov. 2. That Thursday night affair should be must-see TV.
2) What happened to ASU last week? They took a 7-0 lead before letting the Bears run off the next 35-points. They have a must-win game against Oregon in Tempe and this will make or break the season for my alma mater.
3) Congrats go out to Clemson Kicker Jan Dean who made all seven of his extra points against UNC last week. It is good to see he has found his form after having three kicks blocked in the previous two weeks.
We will come strong this week with a top play winner from the Big Ten and encourage you to jump on board with one of our many packages. Free Pick. Take Over 54 in Stanford at UCLA. That's it for this week!