Big 10 Primer: Week 5

The road to the Big Ten title game rolls on, and just as we’ve seen the last couple of weeks, COVID-19 has stricken a single game from this week’s slate.

This week, it’s Maryland and Michigan State that will not be playing. At this point, 6 of the 14 B1G schools have lost at least one game to the virus (Wisconsin’s the clubhouse leader in COVID cancellations, with two).

The games we DO have on the schedule tonight and tomorrow offer up some intrigue: a Top-10 matchup in Columbus, a big test for the undefeated Northwestern Huskies, and a few other matchups that look tight on paper.

Onward we go (Game lines provided, as always, by Bovada):

(Friday) Purdue (2-1) vs. Minnesota (1-3)

Spread: Purdue -1.5

The fellas in Vegas think this one will be a close game, and with good reason, Purdue’s yet to play a game that was decided by more than 7 points, and these teams are both pretty similar statistically.

The Boilermakers took their first loss of the season last week against Northwestern. Their two wins are a squeaker over an Iowa team that was still far from their best and a 7-point win over Illinois.

I am not convinced about Purdue. I’m not convinced with the Gophers, either, because they’ve been pretty bad each time out this year.

Minnesota, though, blew out that same Illinois team that gave Purdue a scare. While the Boilermakers haven’t had a standout facet of their game, the Gophers have been a great running football team. Ibrahim Mohamed leads the Big Ten with 715 rushing yards, almost more than double the second-place guy (Tyler Goodson from Iowa, if you’re curious).

That’s likely going to be the edge here. Mohamed’s stats this year are just absurd: his lightest workload was 26 carries for 146 yards against Michigan in Week 1. He’s carried the ball at least 30 times in each of the three weeks since then, and that’s going to be the game plan here.

Can Purdue, a team that’s been a pretty middle of the pack as far as containing the rush goes, stop Mohamed and the Gophers? I don’t think so.

The Pick: Minnesota +1.5

Illinois (1-3) vs. Nebraska (1-2)

Spread: Nebraska +15

My initial reaction here: that’s a LOT of points for Nebraska.

The Huskers may have turned a corner, installing Luke McCaffrey as their quarterback and picking up a win over Penn State this past week.

But (and we’ll discuss this more in a bit) Penn State STINKS. It’s not exactly a statement win for Scott Frost, even with the prestige that comes with the Nittany Lions.

Looking across the field, Illinois is also wrong. They notched their first win of the year last week, as well, with a game-winning field goal over the mighty Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

They don’t do anything notably well: 4 different QB’s have taken snaps, the defense is porous.

And yet, I don’t think you could lay that many points with Nebraska, a team with one win, with no run game, and with an inexperienced QB.

My best advice would be not to bet on this game at all, but I think that, if you must, take the Illini.

The Pick: Illinois +15

#10 Wisconsin (2-0) vs. #19 Northwestern (4-0)

Spread: Wisconsin -7.5

Jumping around a bit chronologically here because I think Ohio State-Indiana should be the main event of this week’s primer. Here’s a delicious appetizer, first!

The other two unbeaten teams in the Big Ten will clash here. I’m a big Northwestern believer, have been since Week 1. Look it up!

Wisconsin’s only had the two games but looked downright fantastic in both of them. At least to me, the question remains: How good are two wins over Illinois and a bad Michigan team? Is this Wisconsin’s first real test of the year?

But, wait: can’t we say the same about Northwestern? 4-0, but what’s their signature win this year? In a season where the B1G is weak after Ohio State (and Wisconsin), most of these wins don’t feel like towering achievements.

I don’t think the Badgers blow the barn doors off the Wildcats as they’ve done to Michigan and Illinois. Graham Mertz has been terrific, but he has not yet had much of a challenge this season, and he’s facing the best defense in the conference here.

I believe what it comes down to for me is the ol’ gunslinger, Peyton Ramsey. He’s battle-tested, he’s gritty, and he’s turned a downtrodden team into a top-20 football program in just one season. (Also, give a ton of credit to the defense for that.)

I’ve ridden with Northwestern every week so far, and they haven’t let me down. Let it ride.

The Pick: Northwestern +7.5

Iowa (2-2) vs. Penn State (0-4)

Spread: Iowa -2.5

My oh my, the Penn State Nittany Lions are 0-4.

Sean Clifford got yanked last week, and backup Will Levis showed some flashes but not enough to fend off Nebraska and keep PSU from falling into the depths of the cellar. Rutgers and Illinois have a win, but Penn State has none.

We don’t know who will be under center for the Lions this week (James Franklin is notoriously tight-lipped about personnel matters), but whoever it may be, they’ve got to throw on one of the best defenses in the conference.

Iowa seems to be rounding into form after a tough start. They’ve won two in a row; both were blowout wins over Michigan State and Minnesota.

The defense has been there all along: In Iowa’s two losses, they only gave up 20 and 21 points; they just scored even less than that.

Now they’re hanging points in bunches; granted, Minnesota and Michigan State aren’t fierce foes, but something’s working in Iowa City.

Against a Penn State defense that has yet to hold anyone under 30 points, the Hawkeyes will keep rolling.

The Pick: Iowa -2.5

Michigan (1-3) vs. Rutgers (1-3)

Spread: Michigan -10.5

The Big Ten’s primetime offering of the weekend is this pile of garbage.

Michigan, fresh off an absolute mauling at the hands of Wisconsin last week, will head to New Jersey to take on Rutgers.

The Scarlet Knights were favored for the first time in a Big Ten game since 2014 and couldn’t handle the pressure in a 23-20 loss to Illinois.

Now, back to their rightful place as underdogs, could Greg Schiano’s bunch cover against a traditional powerhouse fallen on some hard times?

These teams were both 1-0 at one point, which seems absurd now. Both teams have lost to Indiana; they’ve each taken a loss to one of the other unbeaten (Rutgers lost to Ohio State, Michigan received the mauling as said above by Wisconsin). Michigan’s other loss was to Michigan State, a team that Rutgers beat?!


Seriously though, and I’ll own up to some bias as a professed Michigan hater, but I can’t see this Wolverine team even caring about this game. Rutgers has shown a lot of fire this year, even in losses. That’s probably not a useful metric to wager money based on, but hey, gotta find an edge somewhere.

#9 Indiana (4-0) vs. #3 Ohio State (3-0)

Spread: Ohio State -20.5

Something of an anomaly here for a Top-10 matchup to come with a spread of almost three TD’s, but that’s the wild year we’re having in the Big Ten.

Indiana’s 4-0 and looking good doing it, but Ohio State just seems to live on a different existence level. There’s something so professional about how Justin Fields and the Buckeyes have played this year: Efficient, not incredibly flashy, but ruthless.

The Hoosiers have asked first-year starter Michael Penix, and he has been delivering at every turn. Ohio State’s defense is good, but maybe not as full of elite talent in the secondary as in years past. He’ll have to take some chances and rip off some chunk plays through the air.

It’s just unlikely that Indiana keeps OSU out of the end zone, so the Hoosiers will have to play a shootout to hang in this one. The Buckeyes just had a week off, and while that may generate some rust, I think it’s more likely that Ohio State has honed in on some of their very few weaknesses, primarily on defense, and will play their best game of the year.

The Pick: Ohio State -20.5

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