Ohio State Buckeyes (3-1 SU, 1-3 ATS) vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-3 SU, 3-1 ATS)
NCAA Football Week 4
Date/Time: Saturday, September 30 at 7:30PM EST
Where: High Point Solutions Stadium
by Evergreen, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: OSU -29.5/RUTG +29.5
Over/Under Total: 52
It certainly doesnt feel very fall-like with summer temps continuing through the end of September but we are already a month into the NCAA Football season and that means it is time to start the business of winning conferences. The Ohio State Buckeyes opened with Big Ten foe Indiana so they are one win deep in a bid to win their side of the conference. They travel to Rutgers this weekend to tilt with the Scarlet Knights who are dipping their toe in the Big Ten pool for the second time as well after facing Nebraska last week. Ohio State has gone head-to-head with Rutgers on three occasions since the Knights joined the Big Ten and none of the three games have been close. The Buckeyes have won by scores of 56-17, 49-7 and 58-0 in those meetings and they will need another similiar end result if they are going to get a win against the spread this Saturday.
It should come as no surprise that both Vegas and the online betting sites have OSU listed as heavy favorites. Rutgers is on the board at +29.5 as they face the 9th ranked Buckeyes and the over/under total is almost universally at 52 points. Even with a loss, Ohio State enters as the 4th rated team according to the Sagarin Computer Rankings with Rutgers at 98th. The Sagarin offense-defense model is calling for a 43-6 Ohio State win and that 6 being given to Rutgers is one of the lowest totals among Power-5 teams. The Scarlet Knights did drop their opener to Washington but earned an easy ATS win as they were able to keep the margin to 16 and got another ATS win last week as they kept close with Nebraska. They seem a bit more capable of keeping up with the Big Ten chalk than in years past.
It has been more of the same in 2017 for Ohio State as four weeks have produced three relatively easy wins and one quality loss against Oklahoma. If they were able to beat the Sooners, we would be talking about them walking to the college playoff but the Buckeyes find themselves facing a long streak of must-wins games if they want to stay in the conversation for the final four. The offense has certainly been firing on all cylinders with OSU averaging a 9th best, 549 total yards per game. They are top-25 in both rushing and passing averages and have netted 39.2 points per game. The defense has been the culprit in three ATS losses thus far as the Buckeye D ranks no better than 39th in key metrics and they are outside the top-55 in the main yardage allowed categories. They enter as the 56th ranked overall defense and have a pedestrian 11 sacks through four weeks. OSU is allowing a 34% conversion rate on third down which sounds okay but they would prefer to be a bit closer to the 19% Michigan gives up as the NCAA leader in that category.
Rutgers has been much of the opposite with a pretty dreadful offense through four games but a very respectable defensive effort overall. The offense is outside the top-110 in passing yards and total yards per game and their 27.2 points per game mark is artificially inflated after a 65-0 win against Morgan State. Take that game out and the Knights are at 16 points per game and those yardage totals get closer to the very bottom of the NCAA overall ranks. The defense has not been a playmaking unit with just three sacks so far but Rutgers is no worse than 37th in yards allowed for any category and have given up just 18.2 points per game. Ohio State is probably head-and-shoulders ahead of anything Rutgers has seen so far so we will have to see if that defense can turn in another quality game.
J.T. Barrett runs the Buckeye show and has thrown for 966 yards and ten touchdowns thus far, adding 174 yards on the ground with two more scores. Does Rutgers have an answer for him? Not likely but Barrett will have to be on spot to turn just about every scoring chance into seven points or that 30-point line will tough to erase. Freshman J.K. Dobbins is averaging 7.5 yards per carry and has three scores as the lead back while Mike Weber battled a hamstring injury. Weber is likely to play this weekend which gives OSU another potential playmaker. Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill both lead OSU with 18 receptions. Campbell takes the top off the defense and averages 17.9 yards per catch while Hill has done the possession work. Kyle Bolin calls the shots for Rutgers but he has been turnover prone with six interceptions against three touchdowns. Johnathan Lewis brings a running dimension under center and has four scores already on just thirteen carries. Rutgers does have five rushing touchdowns from their running backs but the stable is full of plodders for the most part with a 4.2 yards per carry average out of their two main ball carriers. Jerome Washington and Janarion Grant are nice targets but the passing game has mostly been limited by Bolins inaccuracy.
I think the loss to Oklahoma gives Ohio State the motivation to push the scoring pace in the remaining games and that could factor in this game. A 4-0 Buckeye team might take the foot off the gas at 35-0 but they need all the style points they can get to offset that one in the loss column. Rutgers looks like they have some traction to turning things around but playing up to the OSU level is still a few steps away. All of the relevant playmakers are on the Buckeyes and there really hasnt been any systematic failures that the Knights can key in on. I think the Ohio State defense will start to right their wrongs as the season progresses and this one goes States way with relative ease. Rutgers would need a big play or two, probably on a turnover or return play, and even then, Im not sure they put enough points on the board to get inside 30. 40-10 seems reasonable, as does 49-14. It might take until the fourth quarter but Ohio State swallows the points with room to spare.
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