We continue to trudge along this slippery slope of a college football season, and with the weeks winding down and the College Football Playoff drawing closer, all eyes in the Big 10 are on Ohio State as the Buckeyes stand as the only B1G team with a shot, albeit a pretty good shot, at that.
What’s more intriguing at this point is whether or not Ohio State will have a conference championship on their resume when it comes time to choose the four Playoff teams; will the Buckeyes have enough games?
They’ll be in action this week, as part of one of the conference’s five contests on Saturday. Stricken from the schedule by COVID are Northwestern-Minnesota and Maryland-Michigan.
Let’s get to the picks! All lines are provided by Bovada.
Nebraska (1-4) vs. Purdue (2-3)
Line: Purdue -1
A small line here, as both the Huskers and Boilermakers have had forgettable seasons thus far.
Purdue is on a three-game skid after a strong start to the year, with losses to Northwestern, Minnesota and a really rough-looking loss to Rutgers last Saturday afternoon. Across the field, Nebraska’s coming off a 26-20 loss to Iowa last Friday night, and the Huskers still only have that Penn State win in their column this season.
I feel pretty solidly about Purdue bouncing back here. Neither of these teams are playing good football right now, and a loss to Rutgers is typically enough to repel most pickers — but we saw earlier this year that the Boilermakers are capable of playing solid football.
Granted, the team’s best work was done with Aidan O’Connell under center; O’Connell missed the last two games, and has officially been ruled out for the year. Jack Plummer has stepped in and, even with two losses on his ledger, he hasn’t been bad at all.
It comes down to the Boilermaker defense, which has been sorely lacking the last few times out. Against a Nebraska team that has been mediocre offensively all year, and with a line that cashes just by a Purdue victory essentially, I’m riding with the Boilermakers here.
The Pick: Purdue -1
Penn State (1-5) vs. Rutgers (2-4)
Line: Penn State -11.5
The prestigious Nittany Lions finally got that win they’ve been searching for last week, at the expense of a Michigan team that has completely checked out this year. Congrats, Penn Staters!
Sean Clifford stepped back in at QB, but the story of the game was Keyvone Lee, who ran for 134 yards and a score as PSU’s lead back. Clifford and Will Levis, who briefly took Clifford’s job at QB, also ran in touchdowns.
The Lions’ run game will be further bolstered this week by the return of Devyn Ford, who was the team’s best rusher before missing the Michigan game.
Rutgers has given up over 1,000 yards on the ground to opposing teams, so it’s not a stretch to think that Penn State will eat up some real estate on the ground.
11.5 is a lot of points to lay if you’re a 1-5 team like Penn State, though. Rutgers is 4-2 against the spread this year, and most of the time the line has been right in this 11-12 point area.
But I think Penn State is playing for pride here. I don’t feel strongly about this game, probably the one game this week I wouldn’t personally touch myself, but I’m leaning Nittany Lions.
The Pick: Penn State -11.5
#4 Ohio State (4-0) vs. Michigan State (2-3)
The Line: Ohio State -24
I hinted at it before, and here we are: Ohio State is the only team really playing for something big in the Big Ten at this point in the year. The Buckeyes handed Indiana their first loss last week, and with Northwestern losing to Michigan State, Ohio State stands alone among the ranks of the Big 10 unbeaten.
Could Sparty play spoiler here, as they did last week?
Here’s my thinking: Ohio State’s missed a few games due to COVID. They were already off to a late start because of the conference’s delayed start, and now they might not have the Michigan game next week and may not even be eligible for the Big Ten title game down the road.
They don’t need a conference crown to make the CFP, and I think the voters are smart enough to realize that, even with less games played than the rest of the teams in the mix, Ohio State with zero losses is a Playoff team.
But this, conceivably, could be the Buckeyes’ last chance to impress the committee. In order to leave no doubt, to avoid any chance of the BYUs and Coastal Carolina’s of the world sneaking in the back door, Ohio State’s going to want the spotlight on them here.
So, I think they demolish Michigan State. It was a good win for the Spartans last week, their defense looked terrific…but that was Northwestern. This is Justin Fields and THE Ohio State University we’re talking about here.
The Pick: Ohio State -24
#19 Iowa (4-2) vs. Illinois (2-3)
The Line: Iowa -13.5
The Illini seemed to be turning a bit of a corner, shrugging off an 0-3 start and picking up back-to-back wins over Rutgers and Nebraska before COVID canceled last weekend’s clash with Ohio State. Probably for the best, if you’re Lovie Smith.
Back from the virus-induced purgatory, Illinois will host the Iowa Hawkeyes, one of the four Big 10 teams yet to be impacted by COVID.
Iowa held off a feisty Nebraska team last Friday, and will look to lean on that trademark defense to beat Illinois here.
The Illini had been pretty bad on offense before the Nebraska game, where they scored 41 points and had two 100-yard rushers, in addition to the return of Brandon Peters at QB.
Peters wasn’t great in his one appearance this season, but with the revolving door playing QB for Illinois in his absence, his experience is a nice boost. Last week, Peters completed 72% of his passes; no other QB on this roster had completed more than 60% in a game while he was out (minimum 5 attempts).
Iowa, on the other hand, looked a bit sluggish after hanging crooked numbers on teams throughout the month of November. Tyler Goodson was good, but QB Spencer Petras continued to struggle with inconsistency.
I guess the X-factor here is whether or not you think the week layoff will affect Illinois. It might, but I don’t know if it will be enough to quell the momentum they’ve got going. Iowa’s only been a double-digit favorite once this year — last week, against Nebraska. They didn’t cover then, I don’t think they’ll cover here.
The Pick: Illinois +13.5
#12 Indiana (5-1) vs. #16 Wisconsin (2-1)
The Line: Wisconsin -14
I almost spit out my beverage when I saw this line, before I remembered: Michael Penix tore his ACL and Indiana will be turning to Jack Tuttle to run the offense this week.
Penix wasn’t just a good QB, he was the identity of this team. They’ll likely have to overhaul the fast-tempo the Hoosiers like to run to suit Tuttle, and they’ll have to keep the ball on the ground a bit more.
It’s a brutal situation, made worse by the fact that the Badgers boast one of the best defenses in the country on top of a good offense led by Graham Mertz and a stable of running backs.
It breaks my heart, but I’ve got to ride with Wisconsin.
The Pick: Wisconsin -14