If I have learned anything in 2016, it’s that you should be wary of big leads. The Oklahoma City Warriors blew a 3-1 series lead to Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, only for the Warriors to turn around and give away their 3-1 series lead to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The city of Cleveland then learned what it felt like to be on both sides of such a collapse as the Indians allowed the Chicago Cubs to win Games 5, 6, and 7 and capture its first World Series victory since 1908. Then there was what happened in the non-sports arena on Tuesday, when the evening began with the New York Times’ Upshot model projecting Hillary Clinton to have 85-percent odds to win the United State presidency and ended with Donald Trump delivering a victory speech. No lead has been safe this year. Not even my own:
Last Week’s Results
Pick: Under 41 | Score: Wisconsin 21, Northwestern 7 | Result: W
Pick: Rutgers +14 | Score: Indiana 33, Rutgers 27 | Result: W
Pick: Illinois +9.5 | Score: Illinois 31, Michigan State 27 | Result: W
Pick: Minnesota -17 | Score: Minnesota 44, Purdue 31 | Result: L
Pick: Penn State -7.5 | Score: Penn State 41, Iowa 14 | Result: W
Pick: Nebraska +17 | Score: Ohio State 62, Nebraska 3 | Result: L
Pick: Maryland +31 | Score: Michigan 59, Maryland 3 | Result: L
Last Week’s Record: 4-3-0
Season Record: 37-36-2 (50.7%)
In a faaaaaaar more insignificant (and let’s be honest: totally meaningless) event, my Week 10 Big Ten ATS picks started hot, going 3-0 in the noon time window as Wisconsin executed its weekly slugfest while Rutgers and Illinois covered their respective spreads. I began to get excited that this was the week that I’d finally be able to surge ahead of the .500 record I had been sitting on for the past few weeks. But I had forgotten 2016’s deceptive tricks and watched as Minnesota had another up-and-down effort while Michigan and Ohio State annihilated Maryland and Nebraska, respectively, by 50-plus points. It was only Penn State’s pummeling of Iowa that kept my picks in the green.
As Michigan fans learned last season against Michigan State and everyone is learning this year, nothing is over until it is actually over. Anything can happen before the clock strikes zero. Or the 27th out is earned. Or 270 electoral votes have been accumulated.
This Week’s Picks
#12 Penn State at Indiana
Line: Penn State -7 | O/U: 59
Penn State continues to make Michigan’s 49-10 win over it more and more impressive because the Nittany Lions have not lost since then. They have won five straight games, and, more notably, they have been exceeding expectations while doing so, going 4-0-1 against the spread in that span. Further, they have been winning these games by a considerable margin. In their last three games against teams not named Ohio State, they have won all three by an average of 29.7 points. Last I checked, Indiana is not named Ohio State, so I like the Nittany Lions to continue to roll in Bloomington.
Pick: Penn State -7
Rutgers at Michigan State
Line: Michigan State -14 | O/U: 56
So it’s official: we have ourselves “The Toilet Bowl” as the last two remaining teams without a Big Ten win square off in game that probably has been relegated to ESPN 8 The Ocho. Do I have to pick this game? I’m being told I have to pick this game. Fine.
Despite that these two Big Ten programs have a combined 0-12 conference record, there is one team that has overachieved the past few weeks. That team is [gasps] Rutgers. Since the Knights made the move to Giovanni Rescigno at quarterback, they actually have put points on the scoreboard, tallying a combined 59 points in their last two games against Minnesota and Indiana after totaling just 14 in their first four Big Ten games. That is a massive improvement, and, as a result, the Knights have been hanging close with their opponents, losing by two on a last-minute field goal by the Gophers and by only six to the Hoosiers. And, yes, they beat the spread in both.
On the other hand, Michigan State has fallen off the cliff and is firmly in the abyss. The Spartans have lost seven straight games, and they were the favorite in six of them. Six!!! And they capped that by losing to Illinois’ freshman third-string quarterback last week. It’s hard to imagine it getting any worse for the Spartans, but, oh, it absolutely could. If they fail to beat Rutgers, they likely will finish 2-10 (0-9 B1G) and go at least 650 days without beating an FBS opponent at home. You don’t want that, Spartans.
So what’s my prediction: I just can’t imagine that Michigan State will lose at home to Rutgers, but I absolutely can imagine that Rutgers covers this spread with ease.
Pick: Rutgers +14
Northwestern at Purdue
Line: Northwestern -13.5 | O/U: 57.5
For the past month, I have reiterated that my rule has been “Don’t pick Purdue.”
I’m amending my rule.
A trend has emerged this season. The Boilermakers covered the spread in Week 1. They failed to cover it in Week 2. They covered the spread in Week 3. They failed to cover it in Week 4. This cycle has repeated over and over again without any deviation, and what it tells me is that Purdue has not been able to string together successive solid efforts. They overachieve one week and then fall flat the next. Guess what? They gave Minnesota a fight last weekend, trailing by only six until the final minutes and covering the 18-point spread. So I expect Northwestern to ring up a rout in West Lafayette.
Plus, this feels like the week that Northwestern’s offense, led by Clayton Thorson and Austin Carr, reawaken from its short slumber (Purdue is 112th in Defensive S&P+).
Pick: Northwestern -13.5
#6 Ohio State at Maryland
Line: Ohio State -29 | O/U: 57.5
I normally hate making the pick I’m about to make because this line feels like an overreaction. Ohio State just wholloped Nebraska by 59 points while Maryland was steamrolled by Michigan by 56 points, and now the Buckeyes are a five-score road favorite over the Terrapins. I do not like giving away that many points on the road, particularly when the computers think that it is too many as well (S&P+: -27, Sagarin: -28, Massey: -24). However, there are two things that stand out when I look past the projections. First, Ohio State has one of the most ruthless rushing attacks (3rd in S&P+) that should bulldoze Maryland’s run defense (127th in S&P+). Second, if Perry Hills is unable to go after exiting with an injury against Michigan, I do not trust Tyrrell Pigrome or Caleb Rowe to do anything in the air against Ohio State’s pass defense (5th in S&P+). This will make Maryland one-dimensional, and the Buckeyes will shut it down.
The Terrapins will hide in their shells for good after this one.
Pick: Ohio State -29
Illinois at #7 Wisconsin
Line: Wisconsin -26.5 | O/U: 39.5
This will be a shutout because Illinois will not score a single point. Illinois’ only offensive strength is its ability to reel off big runs (3rd in Rushing IsoPPP), but Wisconsin’s defense doesn’t crack like that (2nd in Rushing IsoPPP). And Jeff George, Jr., who has completed only 42.3 percent of his passes with a 4.3 YPA in three games, must face a Wisconsin pass defense that is 6th in S&P+ and has surrendered only five touchdowns all season. Wisconsin will whoop Illinois on that side of the ball. The only question to me is how many points Wisconsin will score. I am not so certain that the Badgers will cover the 26.5-point spread because they have scored more than 26 points only twice this year. I feel more comfortable they won’t hit 40, which they have done only once.
Pick: Under 39.5
Minnesota at #21 Nebraska
Line: Nebraska -7 | O/U: 50
Like Purdue, Minnesota is another team that has not been able to string together two straight solid performances. The Gophers cover the spread one week and fail to do so the next week. Further, the weeks when they do cover the spread happen to occur when they are on the road. The Gophers must feed off the hostility. Well, after struggling to bury the Boilermakers early at home last week, Minnesota travels to Lincoln to face a Nebraska squad that is licking its wounds after a 62-3 beating by Ohio State. Add in that Tommy Armstrong, Jr, may not play, and turn on the upset alert.
Pick: Minnesota +7
#3 Michigan at Iowa
Line: Michigan -21.5 | O/U: 51
The Over has been the winner in 15 of Michigan’s last 17 games, but the total in this game will finish lower than 50 points. Iowa’s offense is in for a very tough matchup against Michigan’s disruptive defense. Though Iowa has running backs in Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels that may find some open areas on the edge, Michigan’s defense should smother C.J. Beathard and his gang of mediocre receivers, forcing the Hawkeyes to be one-dimensional. The surprise is that I think Michigan will run into a few speed bumps as well. Wilton Speight has been surging in his last three games, but this will be his first career road start in a hostile environment (sorry, Rutgers). I think he may sputter a bit in the first half before he gets in a rhythm and starts to find Jake Butt open in the middle of the field. The Wolverines win comfortably, but not by a rout.
Pick: Under 51