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Vegas Knows Best: Things Get Less Exciting

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This is an experimental post in which we'll look at the Big Ten lines and try to make some sense out of them.  Format is subject to change, but for now I will give an initial reaction to the line, mention some of the relevant points, and then see if, after a deeper look at the matchup, I can reconcile my view with that of Vegas.  Note that this isn't a picks post or some kind of attempt at tying to outsmart the books; consider it a case study in public perception.  Added from last week's review is a public consensus number, take it with a grain of salt.  It represents a rough average of a couple different sports betting sites.

Toledo @ Michigan
Michigan -15.5
Public Pick: Michigan (55%)

Initial Reaction: I've only watched one Toledo game (Fresno), and based on the way Michigan is playing I wouldn't have expected this to be more than 14.

Further Review: That Toledo game I did watch, a two OT loss to Fresno State, left me somewhat impressed with this particular member of the Ohio minor leagues (sometimes abbreviate as "MAC").  They were moving the ball well and actually looked like the better team most of the game.  Since then, though, they've lost two more games, including one to airport-extraordinaire Florida International.  Fresno State also proved a pretender.  Michigan appears to be headed downward as well.  The Wisconsin game was a good win, but it appeared to be more circumstantial.  They were utterly owned by Illinois, failing to move the ball after the first quarter and taking a hit on defensive reputation (and coaching reputation?) by allowing Juice Williams to play well enough to ear the USA Today Player of the Week award.

Can I Get There?  No, this one is going to be ugly and probably painful to watch for both Michigan and Toledo faithful. 

Iowa @ Indiana
Iowa -5
Public Pick: Iowa (55%)
Initial Reaction:  I would have guessed closer to a pick.  On the surface it's hard to distinguish these two teams.

 Further Review: Indiana went down last week to a surprisingly proficient Gopher passing game.  They also fumbled twice on drives that, up until the turnover, showed some rhythm.  The defense has been terrible all year, giving up close to 350 yards per game, a stat that includes games against Western Kentucky, Murray State and Ball State.  Yes,  Ball State is ranked but they aren't supporting a single win better than that against the Hoosiers.   Iowa, on the other hand, is all over the place.  They looked ok against "rival" Iowa State, but are currently riding a three game losing streak (Pitt, Northwestern and Michigan State).  They did hold Ringer under 100 yards, but seem to kill themselves with turnovers, including a ridiculous five giveaways against Northwestern and three more against MSU.  If they can curb this trend and get some consistency out of the offense, they may be a decent team.  Turnovers don't trend as much as other stats, so you have to look at talent here instead of where they rank nationally in fumbles.

Can I Get There? Yes, Iowa is a much better team.  This line would probably be a lot higher if they wouldn't have given away a couple of games already this year.

Minnesota @ Illinois
Illinois -12.5
Public Pick: Illinois (65%)

Initial Reaction: Minnesota beat Indiana but they are still Minnesota.  With is being in Champaign I would have guessed closer to 14.

Further Review: If this thing does play out it like the line indicates then maybe the whole "Illinois is back!" conclusion after last week's stomping of Michigan was a bit premature.  Minnesota looks like they have become a somewhat competent football team, but they couldn't really compete with OSU two weeks ago and didn't exactly dominate an Indiana team that is struggling right now.  The one thing that is worth noting is that Illinois' defense isn't exactly a brick house.  Their stats are skewed because they've faced two of the more powerful offenses in the nation (Missu and PSU), but even Michigan was able to punch it in three times last week.  I can see a situation where the Illinois offense rolls all day but their lack of urgency on defense keeps the score closer than the game.

Can I Get There? I'm really close but I can't get over the hump.  Right now I'm stuck on 14+.

Purdue @ Ohio State(11)
Ohio State -19
Public Pick: Purdue (60%)

Initial Reaction: I'm fine with this.  Ohio State is much better than Purdue and it's going to be a challenge for Tiller to ruin the field when the game is in Columbus.

Further Review: Tressel has to realize by now that getting Pryor as many snaps as possible is going to pay very big dividends.  It was clear last Saturday night that TP's abilities were pretty much in line with the hype.  His passing looked hesitant, but his elusiveness in the pocked, combined with the time and space that Wells' presence creates, means I'm terrified of how good he could become.  What I'm trying to say is that I don't expect Ohio State to shy away from "running it up" and I know for a fact Purdue doesn't have the defense to keep them from scoring.  If Purdue can match offensive production, this could be a game, but they are in a bit of disarray right now and even have somewhat of a quarterback controversy.  Yes Purdue has played Ohio State tough in the past, but it's hardly the rule and, to be honest, not really relevant.

Can I Get There? Yes.

Michigan State(19) @ Northwestern(22)
Michigan State -1.5
Public Pick: Michigan State (60%)

Initial Reaction: I'm surprised this isn't at least at MSU -3.

Further Review: MSU is clearly a team fueled by Javon Ringer’s ridiculous workload and I'm not sure that Northwestern is capable of stopping the inevitable 35-45 carries he is getting on Saturday.  NW is currently ranked 35th in the nation in rush defense, not bat at 101 yards/game, but they also haven't faced anyone with MSU's ground stats.  MSU was demoted in public perception after what was probably too close a game with Iowa; they were out-gained by roughly 30 yards and enjoyed a favorable turnover ratio of 3 to 1 but only managed a small win.  Maybe this means MSU isn't well rounded enough to be the spoiler all of their fans are hoping.  Ringer had a below average day and, as a result, they needed a bit of luck to outscore one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten.  As LTP confirms, MSU is very much dependent on Ringer success.

Can I Get There? After a closer look at MSU, this game is probably a lot more like a pick.  The 1.5 is, I'm sure, just a compensation for the Spartans being ranked higher in a totally arbitrary poll.

Penn State(6) @ Wisconsin(24)
Penn State -5.5
Public Pick: Penn State (60%)

 PSU, as per the general rule of keeping your own team out of your betting world, won't get the usual treatment.  It's worth pointing out, however, that the summer line had Wisconsin as a three point favorite.  Wiscy hasn't been this big of a dog in their own house since they hosted Ohio State in 2003.