Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, December 5, 2014 at 7:00 PM
The Big 10 Championship game set for Saturday Night in Indianapolis will provide one of the toughest challenges all season for college football handicappers. The Ohio State Buckeyes are dealing with an unprecedented combination of distractions…with the loss of their starting quarterback to injury and the shocking death of a teammate. While you root for the athletes to find their way through trying times, you can’t know for sure how those intangibles will affect their play.
And, the tangibles? Cardale Jones is a largely unknown quantity at quarterback for Ohio State, and a completely unknown quantity as a big game quarterback. He’s played well in very limited action this year, with most of his snaps coming at home against poor Illinois and Michigan. Can he perform in the team’s biggest game of the season in an NFL stadium? With a league championship and a possible berth in the national championship tournament on the line?
What about Wisconsin? They’ve been inconsistent all season, fluctuating between juggernaut and utterly lost. The Badgers crushed Nebraska 59-24, but were lucky to beat Iowa, and managed to win the Big 10 West despite an embarrassing loss to Northwestern. Which Wiscy version will show up Saturday Night?
Let’s see if JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats can provide any guidance…
Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
Ohio State: 11-1 (#60 schedule in USA Today)
Wisconsin: 10-2 (#61 schedule in USA Today)
As we saw with Oregon and Arizona yesterday, both teams have played extremely similar schedules in terms of strength even though they were in opposition divisions of their conference. Ohio State has the better record, and would have been the betting favorite if they hadn’t lost their starting quarterback in the second half last week vs. Michigan. We should note that the selection committee has an interesting test here. If Ohio State wins to reach 12-1…will that weak strength of schedule keep them out of the brackets? They wouldn’t have played a top 50 schedule…and their loss would have been to downtrodden Virginia Tech.
Ohio State: 6.9 on offense, 4.9 on defense
Wisconsin: 7.2 on offense, 4.4 on defense
Both of these teams tend to run up the stats when things are going well. Both head coaches believe in style points…and showing no mercy until a game is well out of reach. So, we have a +2.8 differential for Wisconsin, and +2.0 for Ohio State. Clear edge to Wisconsin considering schedule strength…and then an additional boost when you account for the quarterback change. The Badgers would have been a great stat sleeper pick as a dog if J.T. Barrett hadn’t been injured. Now, you have to determine whether they can turn those stats into a comfortable victory. Can Ohio State make it to 6.0 or 6.5 YPP with Jones? Or, will they fall down to a level that more closely matches what Wisconsin usually allows? Both defenses grade out well nationally…helped greatly by facing a soft schedule that featured a lot of inferior offenses.
Ohio State: +5
A few issues here. Wisconsin has a negative differential even though they were running an extremely safe run-heavy offense against a soft schedule. That’s a huge strike against them in terms of real quality. Ohio State had the edge before the QB injury. You have to assume the new quarterback will be mistake-prone under pressure if asked to do too much. Will this stat cancel out Saturday night? Can you lay the points with a team that couldn’t win turnover differential against a weak schedule?
Ohio State: 7-5 ATS
Wisconsin: 5-7 ATS
Ohio State peaked with a huge 49-37 win at Michigan State. That had them at 7-2 ATS for the season, and absolutely on fire after the Virginia Tech loss. They fell flat subsequently against Minnesota, Indiana, and Michigan…with close second halves against the latter two that were relative embarrassments given what had had happened prior. How can a good team trail Indiana at home in the second half?! Wisconsin plays well just often enough to trick the market into thinking they’ve got it figured out. Then, trouble! The best of Wisconsin is possibly a lock to win by at least a touchdown. The worst of Wisconsin will sputter around all game and lose. You never know for sure what you’re going to get.
Current Line: Wisconsin by 4, total of 53
The market has settled on Wisconsin by about -3.5 or -4 as the midpoint for all the question marks. But, as we’ve made clear, those question marks are so large and dramatic that anything could happen here. Ohio State could rally around the flag on the way to a big win that reminds everyone of what happened in East Lansing. Ohio State could be so down from recent developments that they’re unable to put up much of a fight,
JIM HURLEY has been working very closely with his Big 10 sources to get the right read on this game. There’s a chance NETWORK will have a major release here. But, with so many other games on the card, Ohio State/Wisconsin could turn out to be a pass because of the question marks. You can purchase the final word for Saturday in the morning before first kick off right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-888-777-4155 Saturday morning before the early games kick off.
Back to the NFL tomorrow in the NOTEBOOK. Here’s what’s coming up...
Sunday: NFL TV Preview…New England at San Diego on NBC
Monday: NFL TV Preview…Atlanta at Green Bay on ESPN
Tuesday: College Hoops TV Preview…Louisville at Indiana on ESPN
Wednesday: College Hoops TV Preview…Kansas at Georgetown on FOX1
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