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Betting the Big Ten: Week 3

Will Michigan improve to 3-0 against the spread in 2016? How will Ohio State and Michigan State fare in their marquee matchups? We make our Big Ten ATS picks for Week 3.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Ohio State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 was an unmitigated disaster. It was my first time making against-the-spread picks for Maize n Brew, so I felt pressure to come out of the gates strong, to show that I know what I am doing. Of course, only two of my 10 picks were right — a deplorable debut. Suddenly, there was blood everywhere, and I needed to clean it up in a hurry:

It may not have been up to the Wolf’s standards, but progress was made last week:

Last Week’s Results

Pick: Under 57.5 | Score: Maryland 41, Florida International 14 | Result: W
Pick: Nebraska -24.5 | Score: Nebraska 52, Wyoming 17 | Result: W
Pick: Pitt -6 | Score: Pitt 42, Penn State 39 | Result: L
Pick: Cincinnati -6.5 | Score: Cincinnati 38, Purdue 20 | Result: W
Pick: Over 72.5 | Score: Ohio State 48, Tulsa 3 | Result: L
Pick: Under 45 | Score: Wisconsin 54, Akron 10 | Result: L
Pick: Ball State +18 | Score: Indiana 30, Ball State 20 | Result: W
Pick: North Carolina -9 | Score: North Carolina 48, Illinois 23 | Result: W
Pick: Iowa -15 | Score: Iowa 42, Iowa State 3 | Result: W
Pick: Michigan -35.5 | Score: Michigan 51, UCF 14 | Result: W

Last Week’s Record: 7-3
Season Record: 9-11 (45.0%)

Hey, will you look at that? Maybe I’m not so terrible at this gig (I probably am, but that’s TBD). Iowa and Cincinnati sprinted out to big leads early and cruised to their covers, while North Carolina and Nebraska (for the second straight week) needed fourth-quarter touchdowns to cover comfortably. Then, unlike in Week 1, I had some squeakers tilt my way. Despite combining for 38 points in the first half, Maryland and FIU fell just shy of topping 57.5 points when, with less than five minutes left and needing only a field goal to hit the over, the Terrapins reversed 25 yards out of field-goal range thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and mishandled shotgun snap. Ball State fell behind Indiana, 30-0, but went on a 20-0 run in the final 18:37 for a beautiful backdoor cover. And Michigan relied on a 30-yard touchdown pass to Amara Darboh on third down in the fourth quarter to beat the 35.5-point spread by just 1.5.

It wasn’t perfect of course. Pitt looked like they were in excellent shape to cover early, seizing a 21-point lead over Penn State in the first half, but the Nittany Lions chipped away and chipped away. It wasn’t enough of a comeback to win (oh boy, James Franklin could have used that one), but Penn State covered the six-point spread, losing by only three points. I wasn’t remotely close on the other two. Ohio State’s defense impressed again, limiting (with the assistance of some diabolical weather) Tulsa’s high-powered offense to three points, so Over 72.5 points was never in contention. And, contrary to my prediction, Wisconsin’s offense was not sluggish at all, hitting Over 45 by itself.

Nonetheless, 7-3 is 7-3. With a similar record in Week 3, we will be in the green.

This Week’s Picks

Byes/FCS Opponents: Indiana; Iowa; Minnesota; Purdue; Wisconsin

New Mexico at Rutgers

Line: Rutgers -5.5 | O/U: 58.5

I was set to take Over 58.5. The over is 4-0 in games played by Rutgers or New Mexico this season, and the total in all four of those games exceeded 58.5 points. Plus, both teams have run the ball well — Rutgers is 12th in Rushing Success Rate and New Mexico is third in YPC — and had trouble stopping opponents from doing the same. It seemed the Knights and Lobos would gash the other on the ground and pile up points.

However, I remembered to peek at the injury report only to learn that New Mexico’s leading rusher, Teriyon Gipson (20 car., 243 yards, 4 TD), and best defender, linebacker Dakota Cox (20 tkl, 2.5 TFL, 1 sck, 1 FF, 1 INT), are out due to concussion protocol. Those are significant losses for the Lobos, and, suddenly, Rutgers’ odds of success in running the ball and stopping it has increased. Add in that the Lobos will fly two time zones east to kick off a game at 10:00 a.m. New Mexico time, and I like Rutgers to cover.

Yes, it felt weird saying that.

Pick: Rutgers -5.5

Temple at Penn State

Line: Penn State -9 | O/U: 50.5

After a tough loss to Pitt, Penn State will bounce back this weekend. The Nittany Lions return home to Happy Valley, where they will be greeted by about 500 lettermen that will be in town to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Joe Paterno’s first game. Penn State’s decision to recognize Paterno is incredibly tone-deaf, but it will excite the locals that still adore their former coach and distract them from shooting laser beams from their eyes at James Franklin. Further, Penn State should be hell-bent on exacting revenge on Temple after the Owls humiliated them in last season’s opener, and Temple doesn’t look as formidable this time. The Owls suffered an unexpected 28-13 home loss to Army in Week 1, and their run defense has crevices in it (114th in Rushing Success Rate). Though Penn State does not run the triple option, it does have Saquon Barkley, and this should be a game in which he terrorizes Temple en route to a double-digit win.

Pick: Penn State -9

#22 Oregon at Nebraska

Line: Nebraska -3 | O/U: 73

Both Oregon and Nebraska have potent offenses. The Ducks are tied for 14th in scoring offense (48.5 PPG) and second in Offensive S&P+, and the Huskers are tied for 17th in scoring offense (47.5 PPG) and 16th in Offensive S&P+. You would think then that the edge should go to the Huskers because they have a better defense (59th in S&P+) than the Ducks (98th in S&P+) and have home-field advantage. Plus, Nebraska covered the spread in both of its contests this season, while Oregon failed to do so in either game.

However, the dirty secret is that Nebraska sputtered out of the gates in both games. The Huskers led Fresno State, 14-10, at halftime and Wyoming, 24-17, after three frames. Nebraska covered the 25-point-plus spreads in each time only because it had dominant fourth quarters. The Huskers outscored the Bulldogs, 22-0, and the Cowboys, 28-0, in the final period. Their slow starts didn’t sink them because Fresno State and Wyoming each own sub-100 offenses and could not make Nebraska pay. Oregon will, though, and Nebraska won’t have enough time to come back when the fourth arrives.

Pick: Oregon +3

Western Michigan at Illinois

Line: Western Michigan -3 | O/U: 56

Western Michigan already has one road win against a Big Ten team, and it might earn its second on Saturday. The Broncos shifted from a one-point underdog to a three-point favorite very quickly when the lines were released because they have the advantage in key matchups. Quarterback Zach Terrell and future first-round receiver Corey Davis click when facing sub-par pass defenses, and Illini are 84th in quarterback rating allowed after North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky was 19-for-25 for 267 yards and two touchdowns against them. Moreover, Illinois’ offense did not move the ball efficiently against the Tar Heels, averaging 4.1 YPP despite scoring a 65-yard rushing touchdown on the third play of the game. It was a sign that Illinois may able to gain yards only in big chunks on the ground. While Illinois may be able to do this (and more) against a Western Michigan defense that is 92nd in YPP and 122nd in S&P+, starting offensive lineman Gabe Megginson injured his leg last weekend and is questionable to play. If he can’t go, the Illini are extremely thin up front, and it could be difficult for them to find success offensively. Therefore, row the boat, and give away the points.

Pick: Western Michigan -3

Maryland at UCF

Line: Maryland -8.5 | O/U: 58.5

Maryland seeks its second straight road win in the state of Florida. After routing Florida International, 41-14, last week, the Terrapins take on Michigan’s most recent foe, UCF, in Orlando, and they have to like this matchup. The Knights just permitted Wilton Speight to complete 68 percent of his passes, throw for over 300 yards, and fire four touchdown passes. In a surprise twist this season, Maryland actually has looked pretty good at quarterback. Perry Hills has connected on 73 percent of his throws without throwing an interception (gasp!), so the Terrapins are first (!) in Passing Success Rate through two weeks. Expect Hills and D.J. Moore to hook up frequently through the air. On the other side of the ball, Maryland’s secondary has been solid, so it is unlikely that either Justin Holman and Nick Patti (combined 6-for-22 vs. Michigan) do much with their arms. The Knights’ offense will produce when it can bust open some big runs much like it did against the Wolverines, but it will not be enough to cover.

Pick: Maryland -8.5

#12 Michigan State at #18 Notre Dame

Line: Notre Dame -7.5 | O/U: 51.5

In what seems to have become an annual tradition, Michigan State’s offense looked lethargic in its opening 28-13 win over Furman. However, the Spartans have had the last two weeks to review their performance and prepare for their showdown with Notre Dame in South Bend, and, in the past three seasons, the over is 5-0 in games after they had a bye. Mark Dantonio and his staff tend to put together productive offensive gameplans when they have the extra time — I use tend because that did not work out so much against Alabama in the College Football Playoff — and L.J. Scott could be in store for a big game after how we saw Texas power through the Irish on the ground. On the other side of the ball, the Spartans’ secondary likely still is a work in progress and one that should have Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer (71.4%, 8.3 YPA, 7:1 TD:INT ratio) licking his chops. I predict that Notre Dame will win this game, but I do not like that extra half-point. Therefore, I will avoid the spread of 7.5 and take the over.

Pick: Over 51.5

#3 Ohio State at #14 Oklahoma

Line: Ohio State -2 | O/U: 64

Ohio State has been extremely impressive through the first two weeks of 2016. The Buckeyes have averaged 62.5 points per game, and their defense has yet to allow a touchdown, even dismantling an experienced, dangerous Tulsa offense (with the help of some weather). People are now jumping back on the Buckeyes’ bandwagon despite their youth and inexperience, including Vegas as the line in this game has shifted from Oklahoma -7 in the summer to Ohio State -2. However, for many inexperienced Buckeyes, this will be their first road game, and they will be playing it against a very talented Oklahoma team at night. The Sooners lost their opener to Houston, and they know that, if they lose this one, their College Football Playoff hopes likely will be kaput by Week 3. I expect Oklahoma, with its back against the wall, to fight for its life in an electric environment in Norman and eke out a win in what will be a classic contest.

Pick: Oklahoma +2

Duke at Northwestern

Line: Northwestern -6 | O/U: 43

Northwestern scored 21 points against Western Michigan -- the same amount as NC Central — in a one-point loss and posted just seven points in a two-point loss to FCS program Illinois State. Duke now comes to Evanston with its top-20 defense and faltering offense, and the Wildcats’ best offensive player, Justin Jackson, may be limited. If you have children and want them to enjoy football, don’t turn this game on.

Pick: Under 43

Colorado at #4 Michigan

Line: Michigan -20.5 | O/U: 57

Despite a 10-27 record in the prior three seasons, Colorado seems to have noticeably improved in 2016 after a dominant win over in-state rival Colorado State in Week 1. The Buffaloes will bring their uptempo spread offense led by quarterback Sefo Liufau to Ann Arbor, which may concern some of the locals after UCF found some success with its uptempo spread last weekend. However, the Knights were able to get yards and points with big plays in the running game, and that is not Colorado’s forte. The Buffs move the ball methodically on the ground (first in Rushing Success Rate), but they do not seem to have a home-run threat as their longest run of the season so far is only 21 yards. Michigan’s run defense is excellent on a down-to-down basis and should keep Colorado in check. On the other side of the ball, Colorado is stronger in the secondary than it is up front, so expect Michigan to feed DeVeon Smith and Chris Evans. If the Buffs respond by loading the box to stop the run, well, we’ve seen how that turns out.

Pick: Michigan -20.5