In last week’s column, I noted that my picks were tied just past the midpoint of the season and that I needed to remain even-keeled to select some Big Ten winners. As Week 9’s noon slate wrapped up, I thought I was headed in the right direction. I was 3-0 for the week after Minnesota and Penn State comfortably covered their respective spreads by at least 18 points and Michigan took its foot off the gas in the fourth quarter against Michigan State. It was the perfect way to kick off my second-half run and put me in position to beat the 53.9% mark of Maize n Brew’s Vegas expert in 2015.
But then the 3:30 p.m. ET Big Ten games began:
Last Week’s Results
Pick: Minnesota -5 | Score: Minnesota 40, Illinois 17 | Result: W
Pick: Penn State -11.5 | Score: Penn State 62, Purdue 24 | Result: W
Pick: Under 51.5 | Score: Indiana 42, Maryland 36 | Result: L
Pick: Over 53 | Score: Ohio State 24, Northwestern 20 | Result: L
Pick: Wisconsin -8.5 | Score: Wisconsin 23, Nebraska 17 | Result: L
Pick: Michigan State +24 | Score: Michigan 32, Michigan State 23 | Result: W
Last Week’s Record: 3-3-0
Season Record: 33-33-2 (50.0%)
I guess we’ll just have to keep this .500 train rolling! Choo-choo:
This Week’s Picks
#8 Wisconsin at Northwestern
Line: Wisconsin -7 | O/U: 41
The following is a list of the total number of points scored in regulation of each Wisconsin game in ascending order: 21, 26, 30, 34, 36, 40, 46, and 64. The highest of those in a Wisconsin non-home game? 36. Wisconsin games, particularly those outside of Madison, are low-scoring affairs because the Badgers pair an astounding defense that has surrendered more than 17 points only once all season with an offense that does few things well. Northwestern’s offense picked it up a couple of notches in October as the Clayton Thorson-Austin Carr connection intensified, but Wisconsin’s pass defense has been excellent (6th in S&P+). This feels like a Big Ten slugfest.
Pick: Under 41
Indiana at Rutgers
Line: Indiana -14 | O/U: 55.5
I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I don’t trust Indiana’s offense. At least not on the road, as the Hoosiers just accumulated 650 total yards, 414 of which were on the ground, in a home bout against Maryland. The Hoosiers’ offense hasn’t been the constant IV drip of pure adrenaline that it was in recent seasons (42nd in S&P+ and 46th in YPP in 2016), and that has been evident in their last two road games against Northwestern and Ohio State, in both of which it failed to post more than 17 points or five yards per play. Now, you may be thinking that this is expected against the Wildcats and Buckeyes, but should not be against Rutgers. However, Rutgers’ defense isn’t as porous as you may believe (71st in S&P+), and the Hoosiers had their fair share of issues in their road opener against Florida International, who has a far worse defense (119th in S&P+). Further, the Scarlet Knights just “exploded” for 32 points against Minnesota in their last game under new starting quarterback Giovanni Rescigno and have had two weeks to prepare for this matchup. I have this inkling that Rutgers will come out strong, test Indiana in a way it was not anticipating, and cover the spread.
Oh, I’m so going to regret this pick on Saturday.
Pick: Rutgers +14
Michigan State at Illinois
Line: Michigan State -9.5 | O/U: N/A
Michigan State may have been “defeated with dignity” on Saturday, but this season now feels lost for the Spartans. They have dropped six straight games, their S&P+ odds to be bowl-eligible are less than one percent, and their best chance to build for the future took an enormous blow when it was announced that quarterback Brian Lewerke will miss the remainder of the season with a broken leg. That is deeply demoralizing. And now you expect me to believe that the Spartans will cruise into Champaign with Tyler O’Connor or Damion Terry and win by double digits? Even when S&P+, which does not account for Lewerke’s injury, projects only a two- or three-point win for MSU? I just cannot do it. Illinois’ lethal running back trio (6th in Rushing IsoPPP) of Kendrick Foster, Reggie Corbin, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn will keep the score tight against Michigan State.
Pick: Illinois +9.5
Purdue at Minnesota
Line: Minnesota -17 | O/U: 57
I may have picked Rutgers and Illinois, but we mustn’t forget the rule: no Purdue.
Pick: Minnesota -17
Iowa at #12 Penn State
Line: Penn State -7.5 | O/U: 53
Since a beatdown at the hands of Michigan, Penn State has played its best football and won four straight games, including a shocker against Ohio State. The reasons for this surge? First, Saquon Barkley is in top form, rushing for 508 yards (8.3 YPC) in his last three games. Second, Trace McSorley connected on his deep throws (46.2 cmp%, 8.2 YPA) without tossing picks (7:0 TD:INT) and was more involved in the read-option in October. Third, Penn State’s defense has improved as it has regained its health. Now, the Lions are 15th in S&P+ — 12th in the CFP rankings!!! — and host Iowa for an evening tussle in Happy Valley. Beaver Stadium is never a fun environment for opponents at night, and this is not a matchup that favors the Hawkeyes. Iowa has been average defending the run (74th in S&P+) and pass (57th in S&P+), and Penn State’s defense (26th in Rushing Success Rate) can stuff Iowa’s efficient running (16th via S&P+). The Hawkeyes will stall offensively as Barkley leads the Lions to another big win.
Pick: Penn State -7.5
#10 Nebraska at #6 Ohio State
Line: Ohio State -17 | O/U: 52
Ohio State finds itself in an offensive slump. The Buckeyes scored at least 38 points in each of their first five games, but have not managed to exceed more than 24 points in regulation of their three games thereafter. This is an offense that lacks explosiveness and relies on methodical drives on the ground, so, when it starts to make little mistakes, those drives falter, leading to punts. And now the Buckeyes host a Nebraska team that performed better than I expected in an overtime road loss to Wisconsin. The Huskers have a defensive front (23rd in Rushing Success Rate) that can slow Ohio State’s running game, and their pass defense has been pretty good (24th in S&P+). The Buckeyes will have another week where points are premium, causing a Nebraska cover.
Pick: Nebraska +17
Maryland at #3 Michigan
Line: Michigan -31 | O/U: 54
This line is a bit too high for my liking. Michigan is floating back down to the surface after an emotional rivalry win at Michigan State — emotional in the sense of it’s about damn time — and may come out a little flat to open the contest. Further, Maryland is not a total walkover like Purdue, Illinois, or Rutgers, which would warrant a 30-plus-point spread. The Terps have talent, particularly in their backfield (11th in YPC and 18th in Rushing S&P+) behind Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson. Those two dynamic backs will find some leaks in Michigan’s run defense that Michigan State identified last week. It won’t be sufficient to make this game competitive because Jim Harbaugh will feed the ball to his running backs against Maryland’s atrocious run defense (127th in S&P+), but it should be enough to keep the final margin of defeat within 30 points.
Pick: Maryland +31