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Big Ten: Week 4 Preview

Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini has made it a very interesting week.

Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini has made it a very interesting week.

The Big Ten is certainly no stranger to headlines but this week’s page-toppers have been something else altogether.

First, Nebraska blew a 21-3 lead at home, allowing UCLA to score 38 unanswered points in what turned out to be a massacre in Lincoln. The shock result was followed by the release of an expletive-laden video in which head coach Bo Pelini called Cornhusker fans “f***ing fair-weathered”. While the video itself is some two years old, there’s more than a few Nebraskans calling for his head to roll. Bookmakers are listening too; Bovada has Pelini at -500 to be coaching the Huskers at the start of next season.

The furor in Lincoln was followed by a suspect ending in Tempe, Ariz. Trailing Arizona State by two points with time winding down Wisconsin marched up the field looking to get into field goal range. Badgers quarterback Joel Stave appeared to put the ball on the ground at the Sun Devils’ 15-yard line to stop the clock but officials allowed the play to continue leaving the Badgers with no time to kick what could have been a game-winning field goal. The controversial ending, made more controversial by the presence of Pac-12 officials overseeing a Pac-12 home game, left Wisconsin players, coaches and fans with a bitter taste in their mouth.

Meanwhile, a different kind of headline was made as Minnesota defeated FCS school, Western Illinois. The Golden Gophers’ head coach Jerry Kill suffered a seizure during halftime and was rushed to a nearby hospital. Kill, who suffers from epilepsy, was subsequently released and has confirmed he is “doing fine.”

What all of this proves is that even during a week where there is not a huge amount of headline appeal on the field, there’s still more than enough to talk about. Which brings us to this Saturday’s Big Ten Schedule.

Michigan State at No. 22 Notre Dame

Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, IN

Connor Cook looks to have secured the Spartans' starting QB job.

Connor Cook looks to have secured the Spartans’ starting QB job.

This week’s feature attraction in the Big Ten sees Michigan State (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) travel to South Bend to take on last year’s BCS finalists, Notre Dame (2-1).

So far this season the Spartans have feasted on a soft schedule and will meet their first real test in Saturday’s game against the Irish. Wins over Western Michigan, South Florida and Youngstown State are nothing to boast about, but head coach Mark Dantonio is hoping the nation’s top defense will give the team something to cheer following this one.

Notre Dame meanwhile hasn’t exactly blossomed after their championship loss to Alabama.  The Irish got the better of Temple in Week 1 before being outplayed by Michigan in Week 2. Last week’s rivalry game with Purdue saw the Irish narrowly escape what could have been a huge upset. Now Brian Kelly’s team is faced with bettering Michigan State, a task that may be easier said than done.

Notre Dame is favored in this one, but the spread – which opened at 6 – has slipped to 5 since opening. The Spartans (1-2-0 ATS) haven’t been great against the spread this season but the Irish (0-3-0 ATS) has been worse; Kelly’s team has yet to cover the spread.

The over/under opened at 43 and has subsequently slipped to 42. Michigan State (1-2-0) has favored the under this season while Notre Dame (2-1-0) has favored the over.

Notre Dame leads the all-time head-to-head 34-27-1; is 17-13 at home against the Spartans; and has won the last two – and three of four – games against Michigan State. Last year’s game, played in East Lansing, Mich., finished 20-3 as the Irish defense took control of the game.

Purdue at No. 24 Wisconsin

Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI

Joel Stave and the Badgers are hoping for a happy ending in Week 4.

Joel Stave and the Badgers are hoping for a happy ending in Week 4.

No. 24 Wisconsin (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) will look to forget last Saturday’s controversy as the Badgers host a Purdue (1-2, 0-0 Big Ten) side also looking to rebound from a loss.

The game marks the Big Ten opener for both teams, and the conference as a whole.

Wisconsin kept a clean sheet in each of its first two games of the season before Saturday’s frankly bizarre finish in Tempe. The Badgers will be looking to assert their defensive dominance over Purdue on Saturday afternoon, while also getting a solid outing from an offense that has averaged 41 points per game so far this season.

Purdue meanwhile will be looking to avoid its worst start to the season since 2009, when the team went 1-3 en route to a 1-5 start and a 5-7 overall record. The Boilermakers blew a 17-10 fourth quarter lead but still came within a touchdown of in-state rival Notre Dame on Saturday, despite rushing for just 38 yards.

Wisconsin is a heavy favorite heading into this one. The spread opened at 23 but has slipped to as low as 22 with some sportsbooks. The Badgers (3-0-0 ATS) are perfect against the spread so far this season, while Purdue (1-2-0 ATS) has struggled.

The over/under opened at 48 but actions sees it anywhere between 47.5 and 49 ahead of kickoff. Both the Badgers (1-2-0) and Boilermakers (1-2-0 ATS) have favored the under early this season.

Wisconsin leads the all-time head-to-head 43-29-8 and hasn’t dropped a game to the Boilermakers since October 2003, a stretch of seven games. The Badgers’ average margin of victory during that stretch is 23.7 points.

Around the Conference

Regardless of who starts at QB, OSU should win big on Saturday.

Regardless of who starts at QB, OSU should win big on Saturday.

Saturday’s Big Ten schedule is rife with what on paper at least are seriously lopsided games.

Having defeated California last week on the arm of backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, No. 4 Ohio State (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) will be a heavy favorite against Florida A&M (1-0, 0-0 MEAC), regardless of whether Guiton or Braxton Miller starts the game. Playing a FCS school is hardly going to impress the AP voters, so Urban Meyer’s team is going to need to post some gaudy numbers to get anything out of this one. The spread opened at a gargantuan 57 in favor of Ohio State (2-1-0 ATS).

No. 15 Michigan (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) was far from convincing in a 28-24 win over Akron (1-2, 0-0 MAC) last week. The Wolverines will need to play much better against Connecticut (0-2, 0-0 American) if they’re to start climbing the AP poll again. The spread opened at 52, a number Michigan (2-1-0 ATS) is likely to struggle to cover based on last week’s observations.

No. 18 Northwestern (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) hosts Maine (3-0, 0-0 CAA) in another game that looks as one-sided as it gets, but avoiding slip-ups is all part of the College Football package. Northwestern (2-1-0 ATS) is a 24-point favorite heading into this one.

After being  unceremoniously dumped from the AP Top 25 following last week’s loss to UCLA, Nebraska (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) will look to make short work of South Dakota State (3-0, 0-0 MVC) before commencing Big Ten play next week. Imagine the tirade that would rain down from Bo Pelini if the Cornhuskers were to be upset by the Jackrabbits. The spread opened at 24.5 in favor of Nebraska (1-2-0 ATS).

Penn State (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) will look to rebound from last week’s surprise 34-31 loss to Central Florida, welcoming Kent State (1-2, 0-1 MAC) to State College. The Nittany Lions are 3-0 all-time against the Golden Flashes, including a 24-0 win in September 2010. The spread opened at 14.5 in favor of Penn State (1-2-0 ATS) with the over/under at 54.

Iowa (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) will look to build on last week’s rivalry win over Iowa State by handing a loss to Western Michigan (0-3, 0-0 MAC). While bookmakers are favoring the Hawkeyes, history favors the Broncos, who have won the only two meetings between the schools. The spread opened at 19 but has slipped as low as 16 as Iowa (1-2-0 ATS) fails to convince betters.

Not every game on the schedule looks like a whitewash though. Minnesota (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) will look to give Jerry Kill a boost by defeating San Jose State (1-1, 0-0 MWC). While the Gophers play in the superior conference this one could be a close game, as advocated by the 5.5 opening spread. The Golden Gophers (2-1-0 ATS) opened as favorite over the Spartans (2-0-0 ATS), but the spread has slipped from 5.5 to 4. The over/under currently stands at 51 with most sportsbooks.

Indiana (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) will look to claim an SEC scalp in the form of Missouri (2-0, 0-0 SEC). The Hoosiers (2-1-0 ATS) are the only Big Ten side out of conference to open as an underdog this week, with the spread at 3 in favor of the Tigers (2-0-0 ATS). The game marks the first time the schools have met since September 1992, when Mizzou was a Big 8 team. Indiana leads the all-time head-to-head 6-2-2, and has not lost to the Tigers since October 1954.

Finally, Illinois (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten), beaten by No. 19 Washington last week, is idle this week. The Fighting Illini recommence play next week, hosting Miami (OH).


Week 4

Saturday (All times ET)

12:00 San Jose State (1-1, 0-0 MWC) at Minnesota (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) (matchup)

12:00 Western Michigan (0-3, 0-0 MAC) at Iowa (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) (matchup)

12:00 Florida A&M (1-2, 0-0 MEAC) at No. 4 Ohio State (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) (matchup)

3:30 South Dakota State (3-0, 0-0 MVC) at Nebraska (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) (matchup)

3:30 Kent State (1-2, 0-1 MAC) at Penn State (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) (matchup)

3:30 Purdue (1-2, 0-0 Big Ten) at No. 24 Wisconsin (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) (matchup)

3:30 Michigan State (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) at No. 22 Notre Dame (2-1) (matchup)

3:30 Maine (3-0, 0-0 CAA) at No. 18 Northwestern (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) (matchup)

8:00 Missouri (2-0, 0-0 SEC) at Indiana (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) (matchup)

8:00 No. 15 Michigan (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) at Connecticut (0-2, 0-0 American) (matchup)

Bye: Illinois

For a comprehensive list of College Football odds, click here.

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