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Betting the Big Ten: Week 4

What will happen in the top-15 matchup between #8 Michigan State and #11 Wisconsin? Will #4 Michigan cover the large spread against Penn State? We answer those questions with our Week 4 Big Ten ATS picks.

Michigan State v Wisconsin Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Week 1 was a disaster. Week 2 was a breakthrough. Week 3?

Last Week’s Results

Pick: Rutgers -5.5 | Score: Rutgers 37, New Mexico 28 | Result: W
Pick: Penn State -9 | Score: Penn State 34, Temple 27 | Result: L
Pick: Oregon +3 | Score: Nebraska 35, Oregon 32 | Result: P
Pick: Western Michigan -3 | Score: Western Michigan 34, Illinois 10 | Result: W
Pick: Maryland -8.5 | Score: Maryland 30, UCF 24 (2OT) | Result: L
Pick: Over 51.5 | Score: Michigan State 36, Notre Dame 28 | Result: W
Pick: Oklahoma +2 | Score: Ohio State 45, Oklahoma 24 | Result: L
Pick: Under 43 | Score: Northwestern 24, Duke 13 | Result: W
Pick: Michigan -20.5 | Score: Michigan 45, Colorado 28 | Result: L

Last Week’s Record: 4-4-1
Season Record: 13-15-1 (46.6%)

.500 on the nose. I’m as reliable as a replay official reviewing a targeting penalty.

Last week had the potential to be better, though. Penn State held a 10-point lead when Temple’s Austin Jones booted a 34-yard field goal with 2:10 left to earn the backdoor cover. The Nittany Lions even had a last-second chance to steal it back with a pick-six, but John Reid slid at the Temple 14-yard line to end his interception return, setting up the victory formation. Oregon surrendered its four-point lead with 2:29 left when Tommy Armstrong, Jr. galloped 34 yards through the Ducks’ defense on a quarterback draw for a score and push. And Kenny Allen uncharacteristically missed two field goals, which prevented Michigan from covering -20.5 against Colorado.

Buy, hey, at least Rutgers overcame an embarrassing 21-0 deficit to a New Mexico team without two of its best players to cover the spread with a pair of late field goals!

So what will we get in Week 4? Will we strike gold again like we did in Week 2?

Fine. Let’s just get on with it.

This Week’s Picks

Byes/FCS Opponents: Illinois; Maryland; #2 Ohio State

#11 Wisconsin at #8 Michigan State

Line: Michigan State -5.5 | O/U: 43

Michigan State has covered the spread in each of its last four games against Wisconsin, but it’s been four years since the Spartans and Badgers met on the football field. In that time, though, Mark Dantonio has taken his program to new heights, particularly at home. Since 2013, Michigan State is 21-1 in East Lansing, with its only loss coming in 2014 against Ohio State, who would go on to win the national championship. On the other hand, Wisconsin has fared very well outside of Madison, winning its last seven true road games. The caveat is that the Badgers were the favorite in all seven of those roadies, benefiting from weak competition. They are not the favorite this time around.

Of course, the question isn’t whether Michigan State will win. It’s whether Michigan State will cover. And the answer is yes. Wisconsin’s offense was sluggish against Georgia State, and the Badgers have indecision at quarterback and may be without starting running back Corey Clement. It’s difficult to foresee how Wisconsin will move the ball, and, after Georgia State quarterback Connor Manning just completed 20-of-29 passes for 269 yards against Wisconsin, Tyler O’Connor (6th in QB rating) is licking his chops.

Pick: Michigan State -5.5

Colorado State at Minnesota

Line: Minnesota -16.5 | O/U: 56

I have little faith in Colorado State’s offense. The Rams mustered just seven points against Colorado (49th in Def. S&P+) and 23 against UTSA (95th in Def. S&P+). With Minnesota’s defense ranked 40th in S&P+ and 27th in YPP, it’s hard to imagine Colorado State (78th in Off. S&P+ and 86th in YPP) recording more than two touchdowns.

On the other side of the ball, Minnesota is not a very explosive team. The Gophers are tied for 105th in plays that gained 10-plus yards (33) and tied for 123rd in plays that gained 30-plus yards (2), and Colorado State’s defense does a good job keeping big plays to a minimum (39th via S&P+). For Minnesota to score points, the Gophers will need to string together long drives, which will create more opportunities for mistakes and consume more clock. This may or may not be enough for the Gophers to cover the 16.5-point spread, but, regardless, they won’t score enough for the total to hit over 56.

Pick: Under 56

Nevada at Purdue

Line: Purdue -5.5 | O/U: 59.5

Nevada is a defense that should be bulldozed on the ground. The Wolf Pack are 121st in YPC (5.61) and 49th in QB rating (116.53), and opponents have recognized this because they have run the ball 152 times and thrown it just 62 times against Nevada. This means that Purdue should give the ball to Markell Jones, who is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, but the Boilermakers have been one of the teams most inclined to chuck it (50.5 pass attempts per game) despite not being very good at it (111th in QB rating). And, behind Nevada’s Tyler Stewart and James Butler, the Wolf Pack will move the ball efficiently. Not only will the Wolf Pack cover the spread, they will win outright.

Pick: Nevada +5.5

Iowa at Rutgers

Line: Iowa -13 | O/U: 55.5

Iowa just suffered a last-second home loss to North Dakota State, but FBS teams losing to the Bison have become the norm because the Bison have beaten six straight since 2010. It’s a bad loss for the Hawkeyes, but not one of epic proportions. Now, they go on the road where they were 5-0 against the spread last season to take on Rutgers, who probably would be the underdog against North Dakota State on a neutral field. The Knights have had slow starts against Howard and New Mexico at home in the past two weeks, and this seems like a game in which Iowa will exhaust all of its frustration.

Pick: Iowa -13

Wake Forest at Indiana

Line: Indiana -7.5 | O/U: 46

It’s strange to see a total with fewer than 50 points in an Indiana game. It has happened only once in the Hoosiers’ past 46 games dating back to 2012. We’re seeing it for the second time in that span because Wake Forest is 101st in scoring offense and 13th in scoring defense. However, I believe the Demon Deacons’ defense is overrated. Yes, they surrendered only 17 total points to Tulane and Duke, but the Green Wave own one of the nation’s worst offenses and the Blue Devils aren’t far behind. Indiana’s offense hasn’t been as high-powered as to what we’re accustomed, but, at home, the Hoosiers will find their rhythm and score enough to push the total over 46 points.

Pick: Over 46

#20 Nebraska at Northwestern

Line: Nebraska -7.5 | O/U: 48

Northwestern’s offense continues to be offensive (117th in scoring offense and 106th in S&P+), but the Wildcats’ defense (18th in scoring defense and 15th in S&P+) is what gives them a chance. However, the Wildcats have a flaw on defense: their ability to stop the run on a down-to-down basis (85th in Rushing Success Rate). Guess at what Nebraska’s high-powered offense excels? Running the ball on a down-to-down basis (14th in Rushing Success Rate) with Devine Ozigbo, Terrell Newby, and Tommy Armstrong, Jr. The Cornhuskers will keep the ball on the ground and win comfortably.

Pick: Nebraska -7.5

Penn State at #4 Michigan

Line: Michigan -18.5 | O/U: 59.5

On the surface, Over 59.5 seems like the right pick. The over has won in each of Michigan’s past 11 games and all three of Penn State’s games this season. However, this seems like a very bad matchup for the Nittany Lions. Michigan’s defense has been suffocating on a down-to-down basis, but has been susceptible to allowing a big play against uptempo spread offenses. Though the Lions are spreading out more, they do not move at a fast speed (105th in adj. pace), and they lack any sort of explosion on the ground with only 11 runs of 10 yards or more (99th) and just one run of 30 yards or more. Their best chance to move the ball will be with bombs in the passing game, and, though Chris Godwin is dangerous, Michigan’s defensive line and the possible return of Jourdan Lewis may be too much of an obstacle. Plus, on the other side, Penn State has been decimated with injuries. The Lions already were weak in stopping the run, and now they might miss all three of their starting linebackers. Add in that the Lions are 1-9 against the spread on the road under James Franklin, and the move is pick Michigan.

Pick: Michigan -18.5