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Betting the Big Ten: Week 7

Michigan is on a bye, but there are other Big Ten games to watch in Week 7 — especially a massive one in Madison. We make our Big Ten picks against the spread.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Championship-Ohio State vs Wisconsin Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Dantonio once said, “Pride comes before the fall.”

Was Dantonio predicting Michigan’s descent into mediocrity the past decade? Did he foresee that the Spartans would lose three straight games and open the season with a 2-3 record after they boasted about their appearance in the College Football Playoff?

No! Of course not! He was talking about me shooting off my mouth last week about how great my Big Ten picks against the spread had been. So what followed in Week 6:

Last Week’s Results

Pick: Maryland -1 | Score: Penn State 38, Maryland 14 | Result: L
Pick: Minnesota +1.5 | Score: Iowa 14, Minnesota 7 | Result: L
Pick: BYU +6 | Score: BYU 31, Michigan State 14 | Result: W
Pick: Illinois -10.5 | Score: Purdue 34, Illinois 31 (OT) | Result: L
Pick: Ohio State -29 | Score: Ohio State 38, Indiana 17 | Result: L
Pick: Michigan -28 | Score: Michigan 78, Rutgers 0 | Result: W

Last Week’s Record: 2-4-0
Season Record: 24-23-2 (51.0%)

My first losing record in a week since Week 1.

Oh, well. I still have a winning record overall, which is better than what Rutgers, Illinois, and, yes, Michigan State can say.

This Week’s Picks

Byes/FCS Opponents: #4 Michigan; Penn State

Minnesota at Maryland

Line: Maryland -6.5 | O/U: 49.5

This is shaping up to be a low-scoring affair. Both Minnesota and Maryland have issues at quarterback. Mitch Leidner will miss this game due to a concussion, so former walk-on Conor Rhoda, who has attempted only two passes in his career, will start in his stead. The Terrapins will start their first-string quarterback in Perry Hills, but he suffered a shoulder injury last week against Penn State and may not be 100 percent. Plus, Maryland’s aerial attack has sputtered even when Hills is healthy. Therefore, this will be decided by which team can run the football better, and it will be a struggle for both outfits because it will be strength against strength and weakness against weakness. The Terrapins have been extremely effective on the ground, ranking seventh in yards per carry (6.14) and 13th in Rushing S&P+, but the Gophers’ defense is 18th in Rushing S&P+ and can stuff them on a consistent basis. On the other side, Minnesota has a difficult time running the football (100th in S&P+) and Maryland has been one of the worst teams in the country at stopping it (116th in S&P+). Will either offense be able to take advantage of the other’s defense? It seems unlikely, so I’m going under.

Pick: Under 49.5

Iowa at Purdue

Line: Iowa -12 | O/U: 50.5

It’s very tempting to take the points because Purdue just beat Illinois on the road and each of Iowa’s last four games against North Dakota State, Rutgers, Northwestern, and Minnesota have been decided by no more than seven points. However, this violates my rule of never picking Purdue, and this seems like the kind of game where the Hawkeyes break out of their funk — at least temporarily. The Boilermakers cannot stop teams from running the football well. They are 121st in yards allowed per carry (5.60), and their advanced metrics in that category are not much better. Iowa needs to feed the ball to LeShun Daniels, Jr. (5.1 YPC) and Akrum Wadley (6.4 YPC) all game. If they do that, I expect that Iowa will gash Purdue’s defense and win this easily. C’mon, Ferentz.

Pick: Iowa -12

Illinois at Rutgers

Line: Illinois -6 | O/U: 52.5



This is a match-up between arguably the two worst teams in the Big Ten. Illinois and Rutgers are a combined 1-8 against FBS teams, with the lone win being against New Mexico. The Illini have lost four straight games and just dropped one at home to Purdue in overtime, while the Knights just lost to Ohio State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks by a combined score of 136-0. I’m not sure which is more demoralizing.

I had a difficult time making a selection in this game, but I like Illinois a little bit more. The difference is the quarterback play. Rutgers has produced nothing from that position in the past two weeks, completing just 5-of-34 passes for 38 yards, and the Knights are 127th in quarterback rating and 128th in yards per attempt. Reminder: there are 128 teams in FBS. On the other hand, even if Wes Lunt is unable to go tomorrow, Illinois backup Chayce Crouch looks capable. He completed over 70 percent of his passes, averaged over 10 yards per attempt, and rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue. That is some impressive versatility and production for a backup quarterback. Yes, that was against only Purdue. But this is against only Rutgers.

Pick: Illinois -6

#10 Nebraska at Indiana

Line: Nebraska -3 | O/U: 56.5

Nebraska has surged into the top 10 of the human polls despite a 6-7 record in 2015. Yet no one really is talking about the Huskers because we all know the honest truth: they are not truly a top-10 caliber team. Their best win is home squeaker against Oregon, who has dropped four straight games and lost the last two to the Washington schools by a combined 67 points. Accordingly, S&P+ and Sagarin rank Nebraska at 24 and 22, respectively. A good team, but not one that should be in contention for the Big Ten title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Add in that the Huskers are banged up a bit — they will without receiver Jordan Westerkamp and tight end Cethan Carter, and running back Devine Ozigbo won’t be fully healthy — and this is designed for an Indiana upset in Bloomington. The Hoosiers’ defense (!) showed that Ohio State’s offense is mortal last week, and their offensive explosiveness will be an issue for Nebraska. I can’t believe it, but Indiana will beat its second ranked foe this season.

Pick: Indiana +3

Northwestern at Michigan State

Line: Michigan State -6.5 | O/U: 42

The under is 7-2 in Northwestern’s last nine games and 6-1 in Michigan State’s last seven games. I don’t trust either offense — the Spartans are 112th and the Wildcats are 113th in scoring offense — and Michigan State has three quaterbacks listed with “OR”s next to their name on the depth chart. This should be a defensive matchup — with Northwestern possibly having the advantage with the Spartans suffering against the run — and I do not expect there to be many points in this one. Go low yet again.

Pick: Under 42

#2 Ohio State at #8 Wisconsin

Line: Ohio State -10.5 | O/U: 44

Ohio State hasn’t won a game by fewer than 21 points, and one of those was a primetime win against Oklahoma, who is sixth in S&P+, in Norman. Now the Buckeyes have another opportunity to knock off a ranked opponent on the road as the stars dazzle the sky. They march into Madison to face No. 8 Wisconsin, a 4-1 team who is coming off a bye and whose only loss was by seven to No. 4 Michigan in Ann Arbor. This will be a clash of two of the best defenses in the nation. The Buckeyes are second in scoring defense and seventh in Defensive S&P+, and the Badgers are fourth in scoring defense and sixth in S&P+. And the odds are not great that Wisconsin’s offense — 100th in S&P+ — will put many points on the scoreboard. The focus will be on how well J.T. Barrett and co. perform. They are a punishing force on the ground, almost always staying ahead of the chains and putting themselves in great position to convert on third downs. But Wisconsin’s defense has been stingy on a down-to-down basis, and the Buckeyes have not showcased much explosion this season (101st in 40-yard-plus plays from scrimmage). I believe this will be more of a dogfight than many might expect, particularly because Camp Randall Stadium is not a fun place to play when it is rocking in the evening. Ohio State still wins, but this will come down to a dramatic finish.

Pick: Wisconsin +10.5