Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! If you’re anything like me, and if you’re reading this, that’s a pretty safe assumption, football is a big part of this holiday weekend as your favorite side dish. And we’re serving up some winnersâfingers crossedâfor your consumption.
After a shaky start with the noon slate, we finished strong to edge over .500 (4-3) in Week 12, including a 2-1 mark on team totals to increase the overall record for the season to 42-27, which is identical to a particular score that’s very relevant this week in the Big Ten.
Overall Record: 42-27 overall (+13.5 units) | ATS: 23-16 | Team Totals: 19-11
Onto this week’s picks. Scared money, don’t make money. Let’s eat!B1GGEST Bets (2 Units):
Last Week: 1-0; Season: 5-5 (Even)
No B1GGEST Bet this week.B1GGER Bets (1 Unit):
Last Week: 3-2; Season: 30-18 (+12 Units)Michigan +7.5 OHIO STATE
Money Line: Michigan +235 | Ohio State -295 | Total: 56.5
Time: noon ET; TV: FOX | Location: Ohio Stadium | Columbus, OH
Michigan: 11-0 | CFP: 3 | AP: 3 | Coaches: 3 | SP+: 3 | PFF: 4
Ohio State: 11-0 | CFP: 2 | AP: 2 | Coaches: 2 | SP+: 2 | PFF: 2
The consensus among most prognosticators and pundits is that the Ohio State Buckeyes are better in 2022 than in 2021 when they lost to the Michigan Wolverines. But are they?
If you watch them play, you know the offensive line isn’t as talented, and they can struggle along the interior. They’ve taken a step back at guard, which sometimes is a problem. The running game has been less effective (even when healthy), and the wide receiver corps isn’t as deep.
Oh, but you mean the defense. Have I seen the job Jim Knowles has done?
They’re better, for sure. Some numbers are far improved. I’m aware of them. But they’ve also played a different schedule than they did in 2021. One that included four offenses ranked 27th or better in rushing the football (the next best opponent was ranked 48th in rushing).
If you took out their games against Minnesota (31 points), Oregon (35 points), Michigan (42 points), and Utah (45 points), Ohio State allowed just 15.9 PPG in their other nine games. Do you know how many points OSU is giving up this season? They’ve allowed 16.9 PPG through 11 games.
Do you know how many top 35 rushing offenses the Buckeyes have faced this season? None. Zero. Zilch.
The Big Ten crossover schedule is also very different from a defensive perfective. Last season, OSU played Minnesota (25.5 PPG), Nebraska (27.9 PPG), and Purdue (29.1 PPG) from the B1G West and replaced them with Northwestern (14.7 PPG), Iowa (17.5 PPG), and Wisconsin (27.5 PPG).
How about five B1G East common opponents?
That’s easy enough to check: Rutgers (2021: 13 points, 2022: 10 points), Maryland (2021: 17 points, 2022: 30 points), Indiana (2021: 7 points, 2022: 14 points), Penn State (2021: 24 points, 2022: 31 points), and Michigan State (2021: 7 points, 2022: 20 points).
Do you see it? Because I don’t.
Both are national title contenders, and the metrics indicate they’re pretty darn even.
Ohio State is No. 1 in EPA Margin, Michigan is No. 2. Ohio State is No. 1 in Net Points/Drive, Michigan is No. 2. Michigan is No. 1 in Eckel Ratio, Ohio State is No. 2. Ohio State’s offense is fifth in success rate, Michigan’s defense is fifth. Michigan’s offense is eighth, and Ohio State’s defense is tenth.
It legitimately can’t get closer.
There’s no debate that Ohio State has the better quarterback, receivers, and passing game. Michigan’s O-line was better last year and is improved from 2021, as is the running game. The Buckeyes are more explosive, and the Wolverines are more physical and stronger in the trenches.
Where I give Michigan the edge is head-to-head…horses for courses.
Unlike three and four years ago, when OSU blew the Wolverines out of the water and fired decorated DC Don Brown, the current edition from Ann Arbor matches up well with these Bucks, as their strength lines up with OSU’s weaknesses.
The point spread, by the way, backs up the notion that Michigan has closed the gap from a year ago. The spread is nearly identical despite a location change from the Big House to the Horseshoe. We’d be talking around two touchdowns if they played in Columbus in 2021.
If you give me more than a touchdown, I will gladly gobble up the points like Thanksgiving Day leftovers. There are, of course, several unknowns in the health department heading into Saturday, with no more significant x-factor than the status of Heisman candidate Michigan running back Blake Corum.
If the Wolverines were at 100 percent, this would be my B1GGEST bet of Week 13, but either way, I’m backing the Maize and Blue.Northwestern UNDER 11.5
Money Line: Illinois -650 | Northwestern +650 | Total: 37.5
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET; TV: BTasN | Location: Ryan Field | Evanston, IL
Illinois: 7-4 | CFP: NR | AP: NR | Coaches: NR | SP+: 23 | PFF: 26
Northwestern: 1-10 | CFP: NR | AP: NR | Coaches: NR | SP+: 111 | PFF: 116
Do you want basic numbers?
Illinois has held six opponents to ten points or less this season, and they will be playing the worst offense they have faced all year to close out the season. Northwestern scored in single digits five times this year, all in conference play and in each of their past three games.
Over the past three games, Northwestern hasn’t had a single 100-yard passer. With Ryan Hilinski and Brendan Sullivan banged up (both are listed as questionable), sophomore Cole Freeman managed just 78 passing yards last week at Purdue.
Do you want to get analytical?
The Illini’s defense is No. 3 in SP+, sixth in EPA, third in success rate, and seventh in net points/drive. Meanwhile, Northwestern’s offense is No. 121 in SP+, 127th in EPA, 116th in success rate, and 126th in net points/drive.
We’re talking about an absolute mismatch.WISCONSIN UNDER 19.5
Money Line: Minnesota +138 | Wisconsin -166 | Total: 35.5
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET; TV: ESPN | Location: Camp Randall Stadium | Madison, WI
Minnesota: 7-4 | CFP: NR | AP: NR | Coaches: NR | SP+: 17 | PFF: 30
Wisconsin: 6-5 | CFP: NR | AP: NR | Coaches: NR | SP+: 43 | PFF: 37
Do you want basic numbers?
Minnesota has held eight opponents to 13 points or less this season, including in their past four games. Against the top four defenses Wisconsin has faced, Washington State (14 points), Ohio State (21 points), Illinois (10 points), and Iowa (10 points), they’ve averaged 13.8 points per game and reached 20 just once (fourth-quarter TD in 52-14 game).
In those four losses, Wisky QB Graham Mertz has completed 52.5 percent of his passes with five touchdown passes to six interceptions (compared to 14 TDs to three INTs in his other games). He’s also been miserable in November: 40.8%, 4.7 yards per attempt, two touchdown passes, and three interceptions.
Do you want to get analytical?
Minnesota’s defense is No. 6 in SP+, 17th in EPA, eighth in success rate, and sixth in net points/drive. Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s offense is No. 69 in SP+ (nice), 94th in EPA, 72nd in success rate, and 76th in net points/drive.
The way the Gophers ran the ball last week against Iowa, they’re capable of playing keep away against Wisconsin, so their defense is off the field and fresh. They have the kind of ball-controlling offense (second in time-of-possession nationally) Wisconsin (44th in the country, sixth in the B1G) used to have in its heyday.Nebraska UNDER 13.5
Money Line: Nebraska +320 | Iowa -420 | Total: 38.5
Time: 4:00 p.m. ET; TV: BTN | Location: Kinnick Stadium | Iowa City, IA
Nebraska: 3-8 | CFP: NR | AP: NR | Coaches: NR | SP+: 77 | PFF: 87
Iowa: 7-4 | CFP: NR | AP: NR | Coaches: NR | SP+: 19 | PFF: 14
Do you want basic numbers?
Iowa has played 11 games, and only two opponents have scored more than 13 points, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan. Their opponent, Nebraska, has scored 14 or less in six of their past eight games and has averaged 10.6 PPG against the top five B1G defenses they’ve faced this season.
Do you want to get analytical?
Iowa’s defense is No. 2 in SP+, 9th in EPA, 12th in success rate, and third in net points/drive. Meanwhile, Nebraska’s offense is No. 78 in SP+, 73rd in EPA, 79th in success rate, and 104th in net points/drive.
We’re talking about an absolute mismatch.IOWA -10.5 Nebraska
We’ll also throw some scratch on the Hawkeyes, laying the points.
As bad as Nebraska’s offense is, their defense might be worse: No. 72 in SP+, 107th in EPA, 116th in success rate, and 88th in net points/drive. Iowa’s offense has been pretty bad for most of the season, but they are playing better football of late.
Quarterback Spencer Petras has three touchdown passes to no interceptions in the past four games (all Iowa covers), compared to two touchdowns and five interceptions in the first seven games. He’s completed at least 60 percent of his passes in three of four games after doing so twice in the first seven games. And three of his highest passing games on the season have come in the past four games.
The running game has also been improved due to an offensive line that has jelled, as well as an increased role for freshman running back Kaleb Johnson, who leads the Hawkeyes with his 653 yards, 5.2 yards per carry, and five rushing touchdowns. The kid has some burst, which they’ve lacked for years.
Then let’s factor in the special teams. Nebraska is 84th in SP+ and 116th in net field position compared to sixth in SP+ and 16th in net field position for Iowa.
With the way Iowa’s defense wins in early downs, expect a lot of second- and third-and-longs for the Huskers, which could translate to turnovers.
We know Iowa wants to be there and has something to play for. As for Nebraska, who knows? It’s been a rough year for them, more than a year from some. They might be ready to turn the page. It’s not the reason for the handicap, but it could play in our favor.B1G Bets (1/2 Unit)
Last Week: 0-1; Season: 7-4 (+1.5 Units)PENN STATE -19 Michigan State
Money Line: Michigan State +740 | Penn State -1350 | Total: 52.5
Time: 4:00 p.m. ET; TV: FS1 | Location: Beaver Stadium | University Park, PA
Michigan State: 5-6 | CFP: NR | AP: NR | Coaches: NR | SP+: 66 | PFF: 61
Penn State: 9-2 | CFP: 11 | AP: 11 | Coaches: 10 | SP+: 6 | PFF: 6
I get it. Michigan State is 5-6 and needs a win to become bowl-eligible, and Penn State has little to play for. I don’t care. I felt a strong finish coming from the Nittany Lions with how they handled Minnesota coming off a bad defeat. They’ve covered every game since, four since we’ve been on them, and five, if you include the Gophers.
Other than the Ohio State game, Penn State has won the other four by at least 28 points. They’ve scored at least 30 in every game (41.2 PPG in their past five) while holding their past four opponents, not from Columbus, to 41 points total in their past four.
Penn State’s elite defense will make things difficult on MSU’s mediocre offense. At the same time, I expect the Nittany Lions to break off some big plays against a poor tackling Sparty D. What PSU lacks in consistency, they make up with explosiveness.
PSU is 36th in plays of 20+ yards, 30th in plays of 30+ yards, and 28th in plays of 40+ yards, including 13th in rushes of 30+ yards and fourth in rushes of 40+ yards. On the flip side, MSU’s defense is 121st in plays of 30+ yards, 111th in plays of 40+ yards, and 102nd in plays of 50+ yards.
Get the ball in the hands of Nicholas Singleton and watch him go.