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Betting the Big Ten: Week 13

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We make our Big Ten picks against the spread for Week 13, including whether Michigan will cover +6.5 at Ohio State.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Last Week’s Results

Pick: Under 55 | Score: Ohio State 17, Michigan State 16 | Result: W
Pick: Purdue +28 | Score: Wisconsin 49, Purdue 20 | Result: L
Pick: Iowa -10 | Score: Iowa 28, Illinois 0 | Result: W
Pick: Maryland +14.5 | Score: Nebraska 28, Maryland 7 | Result: L
Pick: Northwestern -1 | Score: Minnesota 29, Northwestern 12 | Result: L
Pick: Penn State -28 | Score: Penn State 39, Rutgers 0 | Result: W
Pick: Under 53.5 | Score: Michigan 20, Indiana 10 | Result: W

Last Week’s Record: 4-3-0
Season Record: 45-41-3 (52.2%)

This week always has me swinging from one end of the emotional pendulum to the other. On one end, I’m saddened. Labor Day weekend feels like it was only one month ago, and now this will be our last full College Football Saturday of the season. There will be 43 FBS college football games this Saturday, which is fewer than the usual amount because some will be sprinkled throughout the Thanksgiving holiday. The following Saturday? Just 15. This will be the last Saturday when I will roll out of my bed to my couch at 9:00 a.m. (West Coast, Best Coast) and sit there for 13 hours straight watching college football. And I don’t mean 13 hours straight where there is just one game in each time slot. I mean 13 hours straight where, after sweating bullets and alarming my neighbors with frequent shouts and excessive celebrations during The Game of course, I can bounce around from San Jose State-Fresno State on CBSSN to Navy-SMU on ESPNU to Michigan State-Penn State on ESPN as I so choose and cap the evening with Wyoming-New Mexico. That’s college football in its freest form. I’ll miss it.

On the other end, rather than blood coursing through my veins on Saturday, it will be electricity. Or the equivalent of three Four Lokos. Or whatever is used to power the cyborg that is Jabrill Peppers every game. Why? Because this is the best college football weekend of the season. Every season. Guaranteed. Sure, the opening weekend of this season was hyped up for years as one of the best because of the tantalizing matchups like Alabama-USC (Tide won by 46), Wisconsin-LSU (Les Miles was fired weeks later), UCLA-Texas A&M (Bruins aren’t bowling), Florida State-Ole Miss (Rebels may not either), and Texas-Notre Dame (LOL WHOOPS). But nothing tops Rivalry Week. Rivalry Week is personal. Regardless of the stakes, it’s the opportunity to beat the one program you despise the most and then taunt them about it for 365 days. And, when there are added stakes, it amplifies the aura surrounding the game exponentially. Michigan and Ohio State are clashing as top-three teams for the just the second time ever. The Apple Cup has championship stakes for both Washington and Washington State for the first time in several decades. The Iron Bowl is the Iron Bowl. Colorado can beat ranked Utah to improve from four wins to Pac-12 South champions. Wisconsin and Penn State seek to capture Paul Bunyan’s Axe and that horrid-looking Land Grant Trophy, respectively, to keep their Big Ten and CFP hopes alive. Even Indiana and Maryland have extra juice on Saturday, sitting on five wins and needing to beat Purdue and Rutgerzzz, respectively, to earn that all-important sixth win and be bowl eligible.

This will be the best college football weekend of the year. There will be passion. There will be hate. There will be chaos. There will be devastation. And there will be glory.

Seasons will be ruined. Seasons will be made. And we get to experience it all.

And (legally) bet on it, too, if you so desire.

This Week’s Picks

#16 Nebraska at Iowa

Line: Iowa -2 | O/U: N/A

When an unranked team is favored at home over a ranked team, especially if that ranked team is not near the top-25 cutoff, it is my personal policy to lay the points. Inexperienced bettors will see that shiny number sign next to the underdog and not believe that the ranked team is the underdog. Because the ranked team must be the better team and should be the favorite! Right?! Wrong. Nebraska has been overrated most of the season — the severity varies week to week. Right now, the Huskers are #16 in the CFP rankings but #26 in S&P+ and #30 in Sagarin, and they are dealing with quarterback injuries. Starter Tommy Armstrong, Jr. sat out last week after hurting his hamstring, and his status is unknown for this Friday. Backup Ryker Fyfe broke a bone in his non-throwing wrist in Armstrong’s stead but has been cleared to play if needed. Nonetheless, that is a major red flag for a Nebraska offense that is about to face an Iowa defense that is peaking at the end of the season. Hawkeyes knock off Nebraska.

Pick: Iowa -2

Purdue at Indiana

Line: Indiana -20.5 | O/U: 60.5

Prior to last week’s Snow Globe Special, each of Indiana’s previous three games totaled at least 60 points, with two posting 78 and 76 points. And Purdue can one up that. Each of the Boilermakers’ previous four games totaled no fewer than 62 points (86, 75, 69, 62). Purdue is a sieve defensively, but still manages to muster a few touchdowns against even the best defenses. I expect that to happen in Bloomington on Saturday.

Pick: Over 60.5

Rutgers at Maryland

Line: Maryland -13.5 | O/U: 51.5

It seemed Rutgers had figured out how to be somewhat competent offensively with Giovanni Rescigno, averaging 29.5 points in back-to-back close losses to Minnesota and Indiana. However, it seems defenses have figured out Rescigno because, in the two games since, Rutgers has scored zero points. Zero. Yes, back-to-back shutouts. Again. The Knights also didn’t crack 150 total yards in either. Of course, Maryland hasn’t been much better. In their last three games, the Terrapins have scored a total of 13 points because their starting quarterback, Perry Hills, was limited or unable to play. Hills’ status this week remains uncertain, so I have no confidence these teams can get to 52.

Pick: Under 51.5

Illinois at Northwestern

Line: Northwestern -16 | O/U: 44.5

Northwestern will win this game. Illinois won’t score more than seven points because, as I write every week, the Illini’s only offense strength is explosive runs and Northwestern’s defense (7th in Rushing IsoPPP) should erase any chance of those happening. The question becomes whether Northwestern will score more than 23 points. You would think the answer is an easy yes because Illinois has allowed all but one FBS program it has faced to do (and Rutgers really should not count). However, for some odd reason, Northwestern’s offense has sputtered at home this season. In Evanston, the Wildcats have scored 21, 7, 24, 13, 24, and 7 points. That’s not reassuring! So, instead, I’ll go with the pick where I don’t think Northwestern scores more than 37.

Pick: Under 44.5

Minnesota at #6 Wisconsin

Line: Wisconsin -14.5 | O/U: 44

Minnesota has performed fairly well on the road all season (2-0-2 ATS), and the Gophers’ three losses have been by a combined 17 points. Minnesota will give Wisconsin a fight in Camp Randall as both have average to below-average offenses and excellent to above-average defenses. I think this will be a lower-scoring contest, but the O/U at 44 is too low for my tastes in this one. However, this seems like the type of game where it will be tough for Wisconsin to pull away, and I like that extra half-point.

Pick: Minnesota +14.5

Michigan State at #7 Penn State

Line: Penn State -12.5 | O/U: 54

Penn State has powered through the competition in October and November. Since its last loss to Michigan on September 24th, the Nittany Lions are 6-0-1 against the spread. On the other hand, all of the life hadn’t been drained from Michigan State apparently. The Spartans have looked much better in their past two games, pasting Rutgers, 49-0, and taking Ohio State down to the wire. However, both of those games were in East Lansing, and the Spartans have had more than their fair share of troubles on the road this season. Saturday’s game will be in Happy Valley. Penn State rolls again.

Pick: Penn State -12.5

#3 Michigan at #2 Ohio State

Line: Ohio State -6.5 | O/U: 45.5

Hello to those of you who scrolled straight past my surely elegant thoughts on this college football weekend and Maryland-Rutgers pick to right here! It feels nice to have properly greeted you before we proceed with this pick that is not at all important or relevant to anything significant happening in the college football world this weekend.

[barfs again]

Anywho, let’s do this. So there is bad news for Michigan fans: the favorite of The Game has been the outright winner in each of the past 11 meetings. The good news for Michigan fans: this is 2016, and these are not the same teams. This is without question Michigan’s most talented team since 2006, and Ohio State is not as talented as it was last season. However, Ohio State is still a top-three team, and, if both Ohio State and Michigan were healthy and met on a neutral field, this would be close to a pick ‘em. But that is not the case. This will be in Columbus and Michigan’s quarterback situation is up in the air right now, which is why the Buckeyes are almost a touchdown favorite.

However, this feels too big. Because these teams arguably have the two best pass defenses in the country, this will be determined by who runs the football more successfully. Ohio State’s three-headed rushing attack is a methodical machine (2nd in S&P+, 2nd in Success Rate), but, because Mike Weber and J.T. Barrett handle the bulk of the carries, it’s not very explosive (75th in Rushing IsoPPP). The Buckeyes will need to win first and second downs to sustain drives and generate offense. Their issue is that Michigan’s run defense is one of the few that can beat them on those first and second downs (2nd in S&P+, 4th in Success Rate). If the Wolverines force Ohio State into clear passing downs and to rely on Barrett’s arm, they’ll be in great shape to win the game.

Of course, Michigan has to be able to run the ball as well. The Wolverines are 28th in Rushing S&P+ and have to feel a bit better about it after DeVeon Smith just had a career game against Indiana (158 yards, 2 TD). But that might not be enough against an Ohio State run defense that is 20th in S&P+ and likely loading the box. However, this will be the game that Jabrill Peppers is fully unleashed, and his athleticism and explosiveness just could be the extra oomph that Michigan needs to cut through Ohio State’s defense, which has allowed big runs this season (94th in Rushing IsoPPP).

I still haven’t decided who will win. The best I can predict is that we’ll all be dead in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Because neither team will win by more than six.

Pick: Michigan +6.5