Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog TheWizofOdds.com.
From Marengo, Iowa, to Mechanicsburg, Pa., summer has begun its decline into fall. A chill permeates the night air as thoughts turn to beer, brats and Big Ten football.
This past Saturday, a different kind of chill swept through the upper Midwest. It was the icy feeling that the Big Ten would once again stink it up worse than an Iowa hog farm.
League teams went 2-5 against the spread, and two of the four teams that played Division I-AA opponents escaped by the narrowest of margins.
Now that a week of games against creampuff opponents has passed, the picture has become sharper. There are indications that this season could turn ugly quickly for the Big Ten.
And come Saturday, the red warning flags from last weekend may begin flapping frantically. For starters, when was the last time traditional powers Ohio State and Michigan have been home underdogs on the same weekend? Also, Minnesota and Wisconsin play host to capable opponents and Purdue and Iowa are on the road, never a good spot for Big Ten teams in nonconference play.
This will be a make-or-break Saturday for the Big Ten. Here’s a look at some of the key games and why league teams are likely to take it on the chin a la Byron Hout:
USC at Ohio State: The Trojans opened as 4.5-point favorites, but the number has been rapidly climbing and is settling in around 7. Last year, the Buckeyes were 10.5-point underdogs and were blown out at the L.A. Coliseum, 35-3.
USC lost a ton of talent on its defensive front seven and has a freshman quarterback playing his first road game. Generally this is a recipe for disaster, but the pointspread indicates the lack of faith the public has in the Buckeyes in big games.
Seriously, if Terrelle Pryor can’t beat the Trojans with his running, he’s certainly not going to do it with his passing against arguably the best defensive backfield in college football.
Notre Dame at Michigan: A week ago, the Wolverine program, coming off a 3-9 season, appeared ready to implode. Rich Rod was accused of having his players practice day and night and on top of that, word leaked that the coach was being sued over a real estate venture gone bad.
Now, for some unexplained reason, there is newfound respect for Michigan. The Fighting Irish opened as a 5-point favorite but the line has dropped to 3.5. Notre Dame has plenty of firepower on offense, and now it appears to have a defense. Something is not right here.
Air Force at Minnesota: The Golden Gophers play their first game in TCF Bank Stadium. Given the way Minnesota played in its opener at Syracuse, the only people making deposits Saturday will be the ones taking the Falcons and the points.
Fresno State at Wisconsin: Pat Hill is likely out at the end of the season and Bret Bielema’s posterior will be firmly planted on the hot seat. Hopefully for Bielema, the Badgers aren’t caught looking ahead to next week’s game against Wofford.
Purdue at Oregon: OK, the Boilermakers rolled up 535 yards and 52 points in dismantling Toledo, but they also gave up 493 yards. This is not a good spot for Purdue, facing an angry Duck team at Autzen Stadium.
Iowa at Iowa State: The Hawkeyes are favored by 6.5. Iowa hasn’t covered in the last five games against the Cyclones and the visitor has lost the last five games in the series. Any questions?
Western Michigan at Indiana: We’re throwing this one out there because the Hoosiers were so wretched in squeaking past something called Eastern Kentucky. Seriously, if you’re going to take Indiana in any game this season and give points, please seek help immediately.
Central Michigan at Michigan State: The Spartans play at Notre Dame next week and in the past two seasons under Mark Dantonio, have failed to cover the spread in the game before playing the Fighting Irish.
Syracuse at Penn State: Last week in this space, I mentioned five teams to worry about because of a low number of combined starts by their returning offensive linemen: Oregon (20), West Virginia (25), Oklahoma (29), Penn State (39) and Alabama (50). Yes, there is reason for concern in Happy Valley.
Eastern Michigan at Northwestern: The Wildcats were mentioned in my debut Covers column as being one of six undervalued and unappreciated teams entering the season. That’s considerable pressure I’ve put on Northwestern, but being the fine academic university that it is, I believe the Wildcats will make me proud.
Illinois State at Illinois: Thankfully, no line, so everybody who continues to drink the Ron Zook Kool-Aid can take the week off.