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Betting the Big Ten: Week 8

We make our Big Ten picks against the spread for Week 8 and predict whether Michigan will improve to 4-0 against the spread when favored by 30-plus points this season.

Illinois Fighting Illini v Michigan Wolverines Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Week 7 in the Big Ten played out much like how I expected.

Except for one stunning shootout in East Lansing.

Last Week’s Results

Pick: Under 49.5 | Score: Minnesota 31, Maryland 10 | Result: W
Pick: Iowa -12 | Score: Iowa 49, Purdue 35 | Result: W
Pick: Illinois -6 | Score: Illinois 24, Rutgers 7 | Result: W
Pick: Indiana +3 | Score: Nebraska 27, Indiana 22 | Result: L
Pick: Under 42 | Score: Northwestern 54, Michigan State 40 | Result: L
Pick: Wisconsin +10.5 | Score: Ohio State 30, Wisconsin 23 | Result: W

Last Week’s Record: 4-2-0
Season Record: 28-25-2 (52.7%)

Week 7 was a winning week, and the fifth time in six weeks I cracked at least .500. Minnesota-Maryland was much more of a snoozer than the score suggests. The Gophers led, 17-0, after three quarters, and that total crossed the 40-point threshold only because Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield, Jr. returned an interception for a touchdown with 1:08 remaining. Iowa held a 28-point lead over Purdue on two separate occasions, and the Boilermakers made it interesting only in garbage time. Rutgers tallied its first points in nearly 12 quarters with a fourth-quarter touchdown against Illinois, but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Illini’s 24 points. Ohio State and Wisconsin went to overtime, and, as I predicted, the Buckeyes escaped Madison with a dramatic win. And, although Nebraska covered the three-point spread against Indiana, the Hoosiers were in it at the very end. A 39-yard field goal by Nebraska’s Drew Brown with 45 seconds left is the only reason I did not go 5-0 in these games last week.

But there was no chance I was going 6-0 because the teams that were 112th and 113th in scoring offense combined to score 94 points. Yes, 94 points. The over-under in this game was 42. Northwestern and Michigan State destroyed that total by 52 points. Somehow, the Spartans allowed a team that had scored only 65 points in its four games against Western Michigan, Illinois State, Duke, and Nebraska to post 54 points in East Lansing. It was the most points Michigan State ever has surrendered at home.


I may have lost this game, but not as much as Michigan State has lost its season.

This Week’s Picks

Byes/FCS Opponents: None

Rutgers at Minnesota

Line: Minnesota -17 | O/U: 44

This should be as easy as “Don’t pick Rutgers.” But I’ll break this down.

Rutgers is 127th in Offensive S&P+ and has scored just 14 points in four Big Ten games, and now the Knights face Minnesota, who limited Iowa and Maryland to 24 points in its past two contests and is ranked 18th in Defensive S&P+. Will Rutgers be shut out for the third time in four games? It’s on the table. Therefore, it might be tempting to take the under, but I would rather give away the points because Minnesota should run all over Rutgers. Last week, the Gophers were without starting quarterback Mitch Leidner and (finally) decided to feed Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. The result? They had 48 carries to 15 pass attempts, amassed 229 rushing yards, averaged 4.77 yards per carry against Maryland. This week, the Gophers face a Rutgers defense that’s allowed Big Ten teams to run for 6.91 yards per carry and score 15 touchdowns in four games. And guess what? Leidner is out again, which means the Gophers will go to the ground.

Pick: Minnesota -17

#10 Wisconsin at Iowa

Line: Wisconsin -3.5 | O/U: 41.5

Wisconsin has been the best team in Big Ten West (#13 in S&P+), and, though it has two losses, they have been by seven to both Michigan (#1 in S&P+) and Ohio State (#3 in S&P+). Very understandable. The Badgers have ascended in the S&P+ thanks to their defense, which has been balanced and elite (#5 in Defensive S&P+, #7 in Run Defense S&P+, #13 in Pass Defense S&P+). The Wolverines and Buckeyes each have top-four scoring offenses, and neither could muster more than 23 points against Wisconsin in regulation. Iowa is not nearly as potent (57th in scoring offense) and will struggle to run the ball against Wisconsin’s front. Conversely, Wisconsin and Corey Clement (17th in Run Offense S&P+) can make work of Iowa’s run defense (83rd in S&P+). The main concern is that Wisconsin could start to falter amidst a grueling stretch. However, Iowa is 1-7 against the spread in its last eight home games. I do not expect that Kinnick magic to appear, and Wisconsin will continue to show it’s the Big Ten West’s best.

Pick: Wisconsin -3.5

Indiana at Northwestern

Line: Northwestern -1.5 | O/U: 52.5

The last two Northwestern games have crushed the over, and five of the last six Indiana games have hit the under. That tells me we are in the twilight zone. But, even though the Wildcats have won their last two games (both on the road) and the Hoosiers have lost their last two, the spread in this game is even stranger. I totally expected Indiana to be the favorite in this game. Having watched both of these teams multiple times, I feel the Hoosiers are a much better team, enough so that they would have the edge in Evanston. So to see Northwestern as the favorite has me scratching my head and pouring over the stats. But, sometimes, you have to go with your gut.

Pick: Indiana +1.5

Purdue at #8 Nebraska

Line: Nebraska -24 | O/U: 61.5

(1) Don’t pick Purdue. (2) Nebraska’s offense is 20th in Run Success Rate thanks to Terrell Newby (5.30 YPC), Devine Ozigbo (4.16 YPC), and Tommy Armstrong, Jr. (4.63 YPC). (3) Don’t pick Purdue. (4) Purdue’s defense is 116th in Run Defense S&P+, is 104th in Run Success Rate, and has allowed Big Ten offenses to run for 7.45 yards per carry. (5) Don’t pick Purdue. (6) Purdue just fired it coach. (7) Don’t pick Purdue, seriously.

Pick: Nebraska -24

Michigan State at Maryland

Line: Michigan State -3 | O/U: 55

Yet again, there is a large discrepancy in the Michigan State spread between the sportsbooks and S&P+. The opening line is Michigan State -3, while S&P+ projects that Maryland will win by 6.2 points. That is a 9.2-point margin. I will continue to side with S&P+ because the Spartans have failed to cover the Vegas spread in each of their four consecutive losses. S&P+ has the Spartans pegged, and it looks like five straight losses.

Pick: Maryland +3

#2 Ohio State at Penn State

Line: Ohio State -19.5 | O/U: 59.5

This is another game that has a large discrepancy in its Vegas spread (Ohio State -19.5) and its S&P+ projection (Ohio State by 10.7). S&P+ really has a fondness for the Nittany Lions after they edged Minnesota in overtime and mauled Maryland at home. However, Minnesota just had its way with Maryland in College Park, and I think that dilutes the strength of Penn State’s win. It seems more likely that the Nittany Lions are on the level of a Minnesota, rather than on the level of a Wisconsin that has an elite defense. I expect Ohio State will run through Penn State much like Michigan did (326 rushing yards, 6.65 YPC), and James Franklin (0-6 vs. AP Top 25 teams at Penn State, losing by an average of 24.8 points) will not out-coach Urban Meyer, even at home and at night.

Pick: Ohio State -19.5

Illinois at #3 Michigan

Line: Michigan -35 | O/U: 55.5

Illinois has two strengths that stand out when I look at its statistical profile. The lllini have three running backs in Kendrick Foster (6.2 YPC), Reggie Corbin (9.3 YPC), and Ke’Shawn Vaughn (5.0 YPC) that can reel off long runs (Illinois is 2nd in S&P+’s Run IsoPPP), and they have a disruptive defensive line (18th in adj. sack rate and 5th in defensive-line havoc rate). Their problem, though, is that Michigan’s defense (1st in every major S&P+ category) has been impenetrable since the return of Taco Charlton and Jourdan Lewis and, despite a strong defensive line, they still struggle to stop anyone on the ground (122nd in Run Defense S&P+) or through the air (88th in Pass Defense S&P+). Illinois may break off an occasional long run, but Michigan will pound the Illini into submission on the other side of the line of scrimmage as the Wolverines move to 4-0 against the spread when they are favored by 30-plus points this season.

Pick: Michigan -35