The Gambler: Big Ten Gambling Discussion for October 5

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.

We haven't done a gambling column in a while; let's see how long we can get this one to last.  As always, the gambling information provided herein is for entertainment purposes only, unless you happen to live in a place where placing friendly wagers is legal.

I'm going to use ESPN, since they have a nice page aggregating lines and odds from several different sources.

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(all images can be embiggened by clicking on them)

The Iowa-Michigan State line has been a bit of a mess all week; first Iowa was a slight favorite, then Michigan State was a slight favorite, now... well, now it's practically a pick 'em.  (Also interesting?  When the earliest lines came out for this season, back in June, Iowa was a 9-point underdog.)  The more fascinating number is the over/under, which is either 38 or 38.5, depending on the source.  Remember, that's the combined point total for the game. That's easily the lowest O/U of the week; the next-closest is Arkansas at Florida, which has an O/U of 42.5 or 43, depending on the source.  Not surprisingly, that game features a team coached by Bret Bielema (about as B1G as it gets) and another team coached by Will Muschamp (who has a B1G soul... and I mean the Big Ten, circa Woody and Bo).  If Iowa and Michigan State doesn't provide the most blood-caked example of MANBALL on Saturday (and it might not, if Dantonio digs deep into his bag of trick plays or Greg Davis' evolved Iowa offense gives Sparty some fits), Arkansas and Florida will surely pay loving homage to MANBALL Saturday evening.

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From the lowest O/U of the day to the highest (in the Big Ten, at least): Vegas is banking on points, points, and a few more points from this game.  That's not a bad call where Indiana is involved; they tend to score a lot of points (44.5 ppg, 11th best in the NCAA)... and give up a bunch, too (32.8 ppg, 98th "best" in the nation).  So far this season, all but one of their games (a 42-10 win over Bowling Green) would have comfortably cleared an over-under of 65.5 or 66.  (Indiana covered that themselves against Indiana State, scoring 73 points.)  Penn State brings a pretty stingy defense into the game (14.5 ppg, 13th in the NCAA), but they haven't faced a murderer's row of offenses, either -- Syracuse (37.5 ppg, 36th), Eastern Michigan (17.8 ppg, 112th), UCF (33.8, 50th), and Kent State (16.8 ppg, 116th). What do you think?  Is there a shootout on tap for Bloomington tomorrow?

And who wins?  Penn State has never lost to Indiana, but the three closest games in the series' history have all taken place in the Hoosier State: a 27-24 PSU win in Indianapolis in 2000, a 22-18 PSU win in Bloomington in 2004, and a 36-31 PSU win in Bloomington in 2007.  Two of those games came during Penn State's "dark ages" (2000, 2004) and the other featured the best Indiana team in the last few decades (2007).  I don't think this Penn State is as sorry as those "dark ages" teams, but this Indiana team doesn't seem quite as good as the '07 crew, either.

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What have we here?  Well, just the first meeting between these two programs since 1986.  Gonna go out on a limb here and say that the series history is not particularly relevant to this game.  There's more wiggle room in this line, ranging from Nebraska -8.5 to Nebraska -10.  Illinois is coming off a sandblasting of Miami (OH), 50-14 (probably not even that close), while Nebraska had a bye week to a) get Taylor Martinez's turf toe-afflicted foot healed up and b) figure out how to tackle someone.  The jury's still out on both issues, although if Martinez can't go (or is limited), Illinois starts to look awfully tempting to cover that spread.

The O/U, ranging from 60 to 62, is also pretty tempting, since this team features a pair of teams who are quite good at racking up yards (Nebraska is #19 in total offense, 496.3 ypg; Illinois is #34 in total offense, 478.5 ypg) and points (#15, 43.3 ppg for Nebraska; #25, 40.3 ppg for Illinois)... and not so good at stopping teams from racking up yards (Nebraska is #109 in total defense, 463.8 ypg; Illinois is #92 in total defense, 432 ypg) and points ( #75, 27.0 ppg for Nebraska; #62, 24.8 ppg for Illinois).  I think it's fair to expect a lot of points in this one.

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Should Michigan be an almost-20 point favorite over anyone at this point?  They pulled out wins over Akron (at home) and UConn (on the road) by the skin of their teeth (and certainly came nowhere close to covering the 37- and 18-point spreads, respectively, in those games).  Or is the better question here: just how bad is Minnesota anyway?  Iowa thumped them last week and exposed that 4-0 record for the fraudulent paper tiger mark that it was, built on the back of favorable scheduling... but how bad are they, really?  They have an opportunistic defense that (until last week) was good at forcing turnovers (and scoring off them); this week they're playing one of the most turnover-prone players of the year so far (Michigan QB Devin Gardner).  Will his generosity be enough to keep Minnesota close -- or close-ish -- in this game?  I dunno, but an almost-20 point spread seems like a lot for this particular Michigan team right now.

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Finally, we've got the Big Ten's showcase game of the night.  It's another one where Vegas is expecting quite a few points -- dig that over/under between 60.5 and 62.5 -- and one with the biggest road favorite of the day, with Ohio State either a 6.5 or 7-point favorite, depending on your service of choice.  The echoes of the 2006 Iowa-Ohio State game are unmistakable with this game.  Like that year, a highly-ranked Ohio State is the visiting team.  Like that year, the home team is a team coming off a strong season the year before, with high expectations this year.  Like that year, College Gameday is setting up shop on the home team's campus and the game itself is an ABC primetime national telecast.  That year, Ohio State ended up being around a 5-6 point favorite over Iowa.  As for the game itself... well, it did not go well for the home team.  Is history going to repeat itself this year?  Is Northwestern not as good as their 4-0 record might suggest?  Or is Fitzgerald going to shock the world and lead Northwestern to its biggest win in years?

Give us your thoughts/predictions/random musings in the comments.  Let me know what sort of features you'd like to see here, too.  Would you like some sort of polling option(s)?

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