How much do we really know about the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines and No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes? They are a combined 22-0 with 19 of those victories by double digits, but can we really project much when they have faced subpar competition most of the season?
Prior to last year, we routinely felt confident the Buckeyes were superior and would handle their business. After all, Michigan's Jim Harbaugh had lost every single one of his five rivalry games and Ohio State's Ryan Day had yet to lose to a single Big Ten opponent. Sure, the 2016 showdown needed double-overtime and involved a questionable spot, but for the most part, we trusted the Buckeyes.
Michigan's victory last season changed everything for me. Ohio State was no longer the same as Clemson and Oklahoma, and we could not merely assume they would reach the College Football Playoff. They lost their deference. The Wolverines had arrived, dominating the trenches and rushing for 297 yards, while only trailing for a brief stretch in the second quarter.
The Buckeyes are installed as 7.5-point home favorites, but so much hinges on Michigan star running back Blake Corum. The Heisman Trophy hopeful injured his knee last week and his status is unknown as of press time.
"I'd almost rather Corum not play. His backup at 100% is better than him at 60%," professional bettor Jay Romano told ESPN. "And when you're facing five-star guys, you need to be at full strength."
If Corum is officially ruled out, the point spread will likely move a half-point or full point higher. However, given the common margins of victory in football, a move from 7.5 to 8.5 is fairly inconsequential.
"I only want the Michigan side but I need more points. The way that oddsmakers have set this line is if Ohio State starts with the ball and gets a big play, the live line would move to 10.5. Why would I take a cheap number of 7.5?," Romano said. "I want to see how they come out. If Michigan isn't living in that backfield, it could be a long day."
For me, it's the Wolverines or pass. While the Buckeyes do have studs, last year's manhandling still resonates, and I've seen Ohio State struggle at times so far this season. Iowa's defense was able to limit the Buckeyes at times and so were Northwestern and Maryland for stretches.
On the other side, Michigan's offense has stalled way too many times and needed Corum to bail them out. Can that still happen with his injury?
I am making a small play on the under, however, as eight straight meetings have gone over the total. That matters because it brings me back to my original question: How much can we forecast when both teams have run the table on the rest of the conference over the past two seasons?
No. 5 LSU Tigers (-10) at Texas A&M Aggies
We know what's on the line. If the Tigers win this and the SEC title game, they are likely headed to the College Football Playoff, however, be careful with these narratives. Over the last five years, teams ranked in the top six and facing a team outside the top 10 over the final three weeks are just 22-24-1 ATS. Essentially, teams can play tight and not deliver in pressure. However, for this matchup, it is about the Aggies. They have lost six straight conference games and are probably the sport's biggest disappointment. They have talent and might show up, but I have to continue fading a team that has failed to cover five straight games.
Pick: LSU -10
Purdue Boilermakers (-10.5) at Indiana Hoosiers
If you have read this column throughout the season, you are aware of a betting blueprint for Purdue games. The underdog has covered in seven of the Boilermakers' last eight games. Plus, following Iowa's loss on Friday, Purdue now has all the pressure because it can reach the Big Ten title game with a win. Sometimes we assume higher stakes leads to better play, but that is not always the case. That's why bubble teams sometimes lose during March Madness. The Hoosiers are certainly capable of getting blown out but given it's a rivalry game, I want the points.
Pick: Indiana +10.5
Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Houston Cougars (-12)
It seems as though the Cougars have figured it out. There were stretches that would baffle me, such as losing to Tulane with its backup quarterback or allowing 77 points to SMU. But the offense has scored at least 38 points in four straight games. Meanwhile, Tulsa is not as reliable but has shown some flashes. I think we do see points from both teams here. Their defenses rank 93rd and 99th in efficiency.
Pick: Over 67
Syracuse Orange (-10) at Boston College Eagles
Boston College is a different team, since turning to freshman quarterback Emmett Morehead. The Eagles want to know what they have in the youngster and are letting him throw. That can lead to points or it leads to turnovers and shorter fields for the opponent. Last week's game was an anomaly because of heavy snow and bizarre conditions. In the other two games, BC threw plenty and the offense generated points, and I fully expect Syracuse to take advantage of a weak Eagles defense.
Pick: Over 47
All lines from Caesars Sportsbook.