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College Football Conference Championships Best Bet: Michigan Claims its Spot

Can Iowa's offense crack a tough Michigan defense? Here are the bets for the Big Ten Championship Game.

It wouldn’t be an Iowa football game if we weren’t asking ourselves: Just how many points can the Hawkeyes score?

With a team total set at 16.5, obviously the folks in the desert do not think highly of the Hawkeyes’ offense in the Big Ten Championship. It’s not hard to see why. Iowa’s scoring has consistently capitalized on non-offensive touchdowns. Against Illinois, 14 points came from a kick return and an interception return for touchdowns. Against Nebraska, a blocked punt swiped a TD from the Huskers, and their highest scoring game of the season, Maryland, was a performance juiced by seven takeaways.

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Michigan receiver A.J. Henning (3) celebrates with offensive lineman Andrew Vastardis (68) after scoring a touchdown and during the first quarter against Ohio State at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. 2021-11-27-ohio-state-michigan

But as they seek to play spoiler to Michigan’s Playoff bid, they run up against a team that simply does not give the ball away. Michigan is tied for sixth-fewest giveaways in the nation with only nine. The Wolverines are not here to give away freebies.

What they are here to do is play great defense and force offenses to work for every point they can squeeze. Michigan allowed just one team (Michigan State) to score more than 30 points, and that includes the high-wattage Ohio State team that was scoring at will for weeks before the narrative-shifting 2021 iteration of The Game that Michigan finally won under Jim Harbaugh.

This is the final form of defensive tweaking that started before the season began. Harbaugh gutted his coaching staff last season and replaced almost all of his defensive staff with a youth movement that included a more multiple form of defense from the classic Don Brown style that was the norm since Harbaugh arrived.

There are, broadly speaking, two spectrums that defenses can fall: too simple or too complex. With coverages, Michigan was certainly more of the former, especially early in Brown’s tenure, as the team played man-to-man defense almost exclusively. Though his tendencies eventually became more balanced, Michigan remained one of the most man-heavy teams in college football. Even as Brown tweaked his squad’s identity, its play only got worse. So as is often the case when you get beat up on one end of the spectrum, Michigan could flip to the other. -- FiveThirtyEight

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Defensive coordinator deserves the lion's share of the credit, and the unit is seventh in SP+ ranting.

Spencer Petras is expected to get the start for Iowa in the conference title game, after missing a few games. If he can lead scoring drives for the Hawkeyes, they’ll have to either score on massive chunk plays or obviously in the red zone where the field condenses. Michigan’s defense is great at A. Not allowing opponents into the red zone (fifth in total red zone trips allowed with 27) and B. If you do get there, Michigan forces ⅓ of all red zone trips into field goals (12th-highest rate in the country).

Moneyline odds pick: Michigan -500
The Wolverines are better. Don’t expect a letdown here with the Playoff on the line.

Spread pick: Michigan -10.5
It’s on the wrong side of the key number in a game where a fair share of field goals should be in play (on both ends). But, again, Michigan is clearly the better team and has plenty to play for.

Over/under pick: Over 43.5
Iowa’s defense is good, but the Wolverines have been remarkably effective on offense with a punishing run game that can also be explosive.

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