Another week of Big Ten action, another schedule disrupted by COVID-19. While not to the extent that the SEC and Sun Belt are currently being ravaged by coronavirus, the Big 10 is looking at another six-game slate this week.
Wisconsin has finally been cleared to play, and the Maryland Terrapins are now the team that can’t take the field (giving Ohio State a week off in the process).
While the stop-and-start nature of this year has made evaluation a bit tougher, it’s still right around that time in the season where we could start seeing each team’s identity, and possibly map out the rest of the way (however far we continue on this year, as COVID cases are surging just about everywhere in America at the moment).
Time is fleeting, so let’s not waste it. Here’s what we’ve got on tap this weekend.
(Friday) Iowa (1-2) vs. Minnesota (1-2)
Spread: Iowa -3.5
Both the Hawkeyes and Gophers got off the mat last week with a pair of big wins: Iowa drubbed Michigan State 49-7, and Minnesota smoked Illinois 41-14 on the road.
1-2 is likely where neither team was expected to be at this point, especially not the Golden Gophers, who were a trendy pick in the B1G West.
Minnesota’s had no trouble scoring the ball, but in their two losses the Gophers gave up 49 and 45 points to Michigan and Maryland, respectively.
Iowa’s offense is dead-last in the conference, but THEIR losses came against two stout defenses in Northwestern and Purdue; ast week they hung 49 on Michigan State and found some sparks in that stagnant offense.
My difference-maker? Both teams won last week with a heavy dose of the ground game (4 rushing TD’s for Iowa, 4 TD’s for MInnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim by himself); Iowa’s been murder against the run, while the Gophers have been gashed on the ground all year.
The Pick: Iowa -3.5
Penn State (0-3) vs. Nebraska (0-2)
Spread: Penn State -3
What a terrible football game.
The Nittany Lions, who have received a lot of bad breaks including the absence of Journey Brown, whose football career has come to a premature and unfortunate end as a result of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (nothing but love for Journey Brown here), are bad.
The Cornhuskers are likely also bad, but we have one less game to analyze after sitting out two weeks ago because of Wisconsin’s COVID issues. They led Northwestern at the half last week, but got shutout in the second half en route to a 21-13 loss.
Further troubling the Huskers is their QB situation: Adrian Martinez got benched last week in favor of Luke McCaffrey, who completed the same amount of passes as Martinez with 11 fewer attempts (they each threw a pick, but Martinez’s was in the end zone).
There’s no word on who will start on Saturday against Penn State, who never had a prayer against Maryland last week. Sean Clifford was remarkably ineffective, and as alluded to above, the Nittany Lions really don’t have any semblance of running game to offset some of Clifford’s flaws as a passer.
I just can’t in good conscience back Penn State here. They seem to be absolutely shellshocked.
Pick: Nebraska +3
#10 Indiana (3-0) vs. Michigan State (1-2)
Spread: Indiana -7.5
Last week, I remarked that “the rumors of Sparty’s demise may have been exaggerated, mainly by me.”
I take that back: chalk up that one MSU win to the intangibles that come with a rivalry game, because the Spartans are not good. They gave up 49 points to an Iowa team that had scored 40 total in the two weeks prior.
I don’t even want to talk about them: let’s talk about the top-10 Hoosiers here. They beat Penn State; they beat a feisty Rutgers team on the road; they put the nail in Michigan’s coffin.
They’re at 37 points per game, Michael Penix is having a heck of a year and Stevie Scott is slowly getting to where they want him to be as a running back.
It’s a weird year, and that seems to play into Indiana’s favor as a team that could make some noise later on this year.
I’m way in on the Hoosiers.
The Pick: Indiana -7.5
Illinois (0-3) vs. Rutgers (1-2)
Spread: Rutgers -5.5
Favored for the first time this year (and for the first time in a B1G game since 2014!!), Rutgers welcomes a lowly Illinois team to Piscataway.
It’s looking like Brandon Peters will be back under center for the Illini after missing the last two games while on the COVID list. Peters wasn’t good in his lone start against Wisconsin, but he’s got experience and he’s likely the best option for Illinois.
Neither of these teams can play any defense, but at least Rutgers has gotten some decent play on offense. Illinois just doesn’t seem to have anything figured out, and that’s honestly enough for me to make a call here.
The Pick: Rutgers -5.5
#23 Northwestern (3-0) vs. Purdue (2-0)
Spread: Northwestern -3
The battle of the unbeatens! Northwestern has won two tight ones over Iowa and Nebraska after demoralizing Maryland to start the year. Purdue’s got wins over Iowa and Illinois, and took last week off, again, due to Wisconsin’s COVID tests.
That’s probably the big story: how will the week off affect the Boilermakers? Nebraska’s the only team that we’ve seen play after a cancelled game so far this year; they lost to Purdue’s opponent on Saturday.
The Wildcats have been very balanced on offense, and ferocious on defense. Purdue’s content slinging the ball with Aidan O’Connell, who leads the B1G in pass yards per game (326.5 yards a game, which would have him atop the leaderboard in total yardage if he wasn’t a game down on the leaders).
It’s a short spread, and both teams are playing (and winning) these super-tight matchups so far. The deal-breaker for me is Northwestern’s suffocating 12 points per game defense, especially if Purdue’s going to be without stud receiver Rondale Moore.
The Pick: Northwestern -3
#13 Wisconsin (1-0) vs. Michigan (1-2)
Spread: Wisconsin -5
After an extended stay at Hotel COVID, the Badgers are finally healthy and ready to get back to work against Michigan.
I said it just a second ago, and I’ll echo it here: it’s really about how much rust Wisconsin has on Saturday after two weeks off. When we did see the Badgers on the field, they were taking a hacksaw to Illinois behind a stellar game from Graham Mertz.
Mertz was 20/21 for 248 yards and 5 touchdowns in the opener. He looked dominant all night, as did the Badgers defense (as they usually do).
Michigan had a great start to the year, and then promptly got their lunch stolen by Michigan State and Indiana. The Wolverines had 13 yard rushing last week against Indiana, who’s not particularly not known for their run-stopping abilities. In addition, QB Joe Milton threw two picks and has tapered off after a solid performance in the Minnesota game.
If you don’t like the small sample size Wisconsin has to offer, then I’d probably stay away from this one, but I think the Badgers are for real — and they’ll put a stamp on that, and a big ol’ “Loser” sticker on Jim Harbaugh’s forehead, come Saturday night.
The Pick: Wisconsin -5