Week one is finally here and here are a few Big 10 football picks for you. There are a few big games and a few even bigger storylines as the Big Ten gets under way. Michigan opens with defending national champion Alabama in Dallas. Michigan State gets a program that has 50 wins over the last four seasons in Boise State. Penn State starts the recovery process and new coaches take over at Ohio State and Illinois. The conference has two very legitimate Heisman contenders in Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball. While the Leaders division appears to be Wisconsin’s to lose, the Legends division will be a dog fight into late November. Let’s get the season started.
Play of the Week
Michigan St -7 over Boise State
This is not the same Boise State that the country has gotten used to over the last 4 years (50-3). Kellen Moore and Doug Martin are gone. For a team that doesn’t return a single starter in the front 7, an opening week trip to East Lansing is not what the doctor ordered. Michigan State is also replacing a highly successful quarterback in Kirk Cousins, but 8 starters return on one of the nation’s best defenses. The Spartans are looking to take the next step to BCS contender and coach Mark Dantonio knows that starts in week one. This line is short due to the respect that Boise and Chris Peterson have gained recently. Michigan State will be able to run the ball and their defense will keep the Broncos in check. The line is currently -7. I will go 2 units at that number. If it jumps below that key number, make MSU a 3 unit play for me.
Alabama -14 over Michigan
Alabama is the defending champs but lost a lot of talent on defense and a top 5 draft pick at running back. Michigan returns what may be the most dynamic playmaker in the country in quarterback Denard Robinson. So why lay 2 touchdowns in week one at a neutral site game? Simple answer…. the matchup of Alabama’s offensive line against Michigan’s defensive line. How good is this Crimson Tide front? Good enough that last year’s Outland Trophy winner (Barrett Jones) moved from left tackle to center to make room for a sophomore. That sophomore (Cyrus Kouandjio) just happened to be the consensus top offensive line recruit in the country two years ago. The Wolverines lost 3 starters on their defensive line including its heart and soul in tackle Mike Martin. Look for the Tide to run the ball effectively. Michigan struggled to run the ball against good defenses last season and giving Nick Saban this long to prepare for Robinson and company, I feel the same will happen in Dallas Saturday night. At 14, this will be a 1 unit play. If 13.5 or lower shows up, this will become a 2 unit play.
Ohio State/Miami (OH) over 48
The Urban Meyer era opens in Columbus and the offensive players at Ohio State couldn’t be happier. Gone are the days of single digit completions (happened 8 times in 2011). Quarterback Braxton Miller is cut out perfect for Meyer’s spread attack. The Buckeyes are not eligible for a bowl, so I look for the new regime to try and send a message each and every week. That said, it takes two to cover an over in college football. Ohio State’s defense is loaded, but Miami will bring some offensive weapons into the Shoe on Saturday. The Redhawks return 9 starters from an offense that averaged almost 300 per game in the air last season. The running game was historically bad (74 yards per game) but they aren’t going to run the ball on the Bucks anyway. Quarterback Zac Dysert and receiver Nick Harwell are very good players. I look for Miami to put up a minimum of 2 scores. 1 unit on this total.
Ohio + 6 over Penn State
Northwestern -1.5 over Syracuse
Gun to my head (if I have to)
Minnesota -8.5 over UNLV
Illinois -10 over Western Michigan
Northern Illinois +10 over Iowa
Nebraska -20 over Southern Miss