October 14, 2010
Perusing the weekly lines in search of a shocker or two.
The Line: Ohio State (–4) at Wisconsin.
History says: The Badgers are 0-3 against Ohio State under Bret Bielema, but have acquitted themselves fairly well on defense the last two years, forcing then-freshman Terrelle Pryor to drive for the winning touchdown in the closing minutes of his first road start in 2008 and outgaining OSU by 184 yards last year, a game decided by three non-offensive touchdowns by the Buckeye defense and special teams. The last time Ohio State came into Madison as better than a field-goal favorite, it left with its 19-game win streak busted in 2003 by unlikely Badger backup Matt Schabert, beneficiary of Robert Reynolds' infamous trachea shot on starter Jim Sorgi.
I'm feeling lucky. The Buckeyes' typically dominant numbers against the run don't include a game yet against a competent power running game, of which Wisconsin's burly attack remains one of the few anywhere. The goal remains to pound out a living among the nation's foremost time-of-possession fiends, which they've achieved three of the last four years.
Junior thumper John Clay is back on top of the Big Ten among runners who aren't Denard Robinson, with five 100-yard games and nine touchdowns in the first six behind a wizened line with 130 career starts among the front five. The "lightning" half of the backfield, true freshman James White, has added a rare big-play dimension with 361 yards and eight touchdowns over the last three weeks alone.
Reality check. Ohio State's offense currently leads the Big Ten in scoring at 43 points per game, but you don't have to have faith in the Buckeyes' newfound explosiveness to acknowledge their edge in this case: Where Wisconsin has allowed at least 20 points in 15 of its last 18 Big Ten games going back to 2008, the Buckeyes have held a whopping 29 of their last 34 conference foes below 20 points since 2006. Midway through this season, the Badgers have already been gashed for well over 400 yards by Michigan State, while OSU ranks in the top six nationally in every major defensive category – including takeaways.
Moment of truth: Straight-up, against the spread or take the chalk?
Bottom line: Wisconsin hasn't come within two touchdowns of a top-10 team since 2003, much less beaten one. They were throttled by 10 points by MSU despite a +3 advantage in turnover margin that mitigated an even uglier final, and only beat Arizona State on a blocked extra point in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, haven't been challenged. And even if a wild home crowd at night is worth the few points the oddsmakers are assuming, the only way Wisconsin should come within four here is on a late score when only the gamblers are still paying attention. Ohio State will cover with relative ease.
Missouri (+3) over Texas A&M (in College Station). Not that the Aggies can't shoot it out with just about anyone, but I'd take Blaine Gabbert throwing against Texas A&M's secondary in any locale known to man.
Maryland (+14) over Clemson (in Clemson). It's about time for the Terrapins' annual "Do we really have to take this team seriously?" upset to move to 5-1. They've already stunned the Tigers as double-digit 'dogs three of the last four years.
Kentucky (+5) over South Carolina (in Lexington). South Carolina was the classic trap game for Alabama last week; now the Gamecocks are the hunted going into the same environment where Auburn's undefeated season nearly ended last week and all-purpose dynamo Randall Cobb is liable to put a dagger into anybody.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.