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Betting the Big Ten: Week 5

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What will happen in #4 Michigan’s marquee matchup against #8 Wisconsin? We make our Big Ten picks against the spread for Week 5.

Wisconsin v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

I think I’m starting to get the hang of this.

Last Week’s Results

Pick: Michigan State -5.5 | Score: Wisconsin 30, Michigan State 6 | Result: L
Pick: Under 56 | Score: Minnesota 31, Colorado State 24 | Result: W
Pick: Nevada +5.5 | Score: Purdue 24, Nevada 14 | Result: L
Pick: Iowa -13 | Score: Iowa 14, Rutgers 7 | Result: L
Pick: Over 46 | Score: Wake Forest 33, Indiana 28 | Result: W
Pick: Nebraska -7.5 | Score: Nebraska 24, Northwestern 13 | Result: W
Pick: Michigan -18.5 | Score: Michigan 49, Penn State 10 | Result: W

Last Week’s Record: 4-3
Season Record: 17-18-1 (48.6%)

This is the third straight week that I have finished .500 or better, and, since the Week 1 disaster, I am 15-10-1 (59.6%). And it would have been even better if Purdue didn’t drop a devastating backdoor cover on us. The Boilermakers led Nevada, 17-14, with 1:27 left and faced a 3rd & 7 at midfield. Nevada had only one timeout remaining. All Purdue needed to do to clinch the win was get a first down and take three knees. That’s it. And, if that happens, the Wolfpack cover the 5.5-point spread. But nooooooo:

A dagger to my heart. Or my imaginary bank account used to gamble on sports.

Nonetheless, the rest of the slate treated us well. Michigan plowed through Penn State and had the 18.5-point spread covered just 16 minutes into the game. Wake Forest and Indiana hit the over in the third quarter and never looked back. The total in Minnesota-Colorado State was 55 points, which was one point shy of matching the O/U (56), but the over wasn’t in play until the final six minutes of the game, during which neither team really threatened to score again. Northwestern needed a touchdown in the fourth quarter to cover the 7.5-point spread, but Nebraska did not allow the Wildcats to add another point as they were unable to march into the red zone the entire period.

There were two other losers. Michigan State’s offense struggled against Wisconsin and managed only six points, which meant the Spartans would have had to shut out the Badgers to cover the 5.5-point spread. They didn’t. They gave up 30 in a demoralizing home loss. And Iowa somehow found itself in a competitive contest with Rutgers that went down to the wire. That’s almost as humiliating as losing to North Dakota State. But the Hawkeyes got a late fourth-down stop to hold off the Scarlet Knights, 14-7.

Okay, enough about last week.

Let’s add more imaginary funds to our imaginary bank account and keep this roll going.

This Week’s Picks

Byes/FCS Opponents: None

Northwestern at Iowa

Line: Iowa -13 | O/U: 40

This will go low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low. The under has been the winner in each of Iowa’s last three games, with the Hawkeyes scoring only 21 points against North Dakota State and 14 points against Rutgers. Plus, Iowa just received some terrible news as its best wide receiver, Matt VandeBerg (19 rec., 284 yards, 3 TD), reportedly broke his foot in practice and is out indefinitely. No other Hawkeye wideout has more than seven catches or 97 yards this season. And, if you thought Iowa would have trouble scoring, Northwestern is even worse. The under has been the winner in all four of the Wildcats’ games, and only one of them had a total that eclipsed 40 points (43). This is because Northwestern is 125th in scoring offense (16.3 PPG) and 22nd in scoring defense (17.0 PPG). This is shaping up to be a display of defensive dominance. Go low.

Pick: Under 40

Rutgers at #2 Ohio State

Line: Ohio State -38.5 | O/U: 59

Rutgers lost two of its best players in receiver/returner Janarion Grant, a.k.a. “The Scarlet Knights’ Entire Offense,” and defensive end Quanzell Lambert last weekend. The two stars suffered season-ending leg injuries — Grant’s ankle and Lambert’s knee — and now the Scarlet Knights are left without much-needed firepower as they travel to Columbus to face a Ohio State team that has had two weeks to prepare. It doesn’t matter if the 38.5-point spread is the most by which Ohio State has been a favorite against a Big Ten foe this millennium. Give the points, and watch the carnage ensue.

Pick: Ohio State -38.5

Purdue at Maryland

Line: Maryland -10 | O/U: 56

Purdue has covered the spread in each of its last four road games, but all of those games were last season. This will be Purdue’s first road game of 2016, and that’s a concern given how the Boilermakers have played at home. They weren’t competitive in a loss to Cincinnati and didn’t put Nevada away until the very end because they have been very careless with the football, committing nine turnovers in those games. Now they have to leave West Lafayette to face a Maryland team that expects quarterback Perry Hills to start after suffering a shoulder injury two weeks ago against UCF and has yet to turn the football over. Purdue doesn’t have the discipline to keep this close.

Pick: Maryland -10

Illinois at #15 Nebraska

Line: Nebraska -21 | O/U: 54

Nebraska will win this game, but Illinois will keep things interesting. The Illini have one strength on offense, and it’s their ability to break off big runs. They have three 50-plus-yard scampers in the first four weeks. On the other hand, Nebraska’s defense has been susceptible to surrendering long runs. The Huskers have allowed five runs to gain the 40-plus yards already — the most by any FBS team. Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Kendrick Foster will have opportunities to show off their wheels from time to time, while Illinois’ fierce defensive line will slow down the Huskers enough for the Fighting Illini to cover.

Pick: Illinois +21

Minnesota at Penn State

Line: Penn State -3 | O/U: 55

Due to a brand-new defensive line and injuries throughout the linebacker crew, Penn State’s defense has been wrecked when it has faced a rushing offense with a pulse. Pitt ran for 341 yards on 6.09 YPC and three touchdowns and Michigan just racked up 326 rushing yards on 6.65 YPC and six rushing scores against the Nittany Lions. Now they must meet Minnesota, whose offense is 33rd in yards per carry (5.04). The Gophers are led Rodney Smith (298 yards, 5.1 YPC, 5 TD) and Shannon Brooks, who returned from an injury to run the ball 13 times for 85 yards a touchdown last week. Plus, quarterback Mitch Leidner can be an effective runner when it’s designed (5.6 YPC and 3 TD on non-sack carries). If Minnesota chooses to pound the football, Penn State won’t stop them.

Pick: Minnesota +3

#17 Michigan State at Indiana

Line: Michigan State -7 | O/U: 53.5

Every once in a while, you will see a big discrepancy in the line between Vegas and S&P+. We have that here. Michigan State is a seven-point favorite in the sportsbooks, but S&P+ projects that Indiana will win (!) by three points. Whaaaat? What does S&P+ know that we don’t? Maybe it knows that Indiana’s pass offense (24th in QB rating) can exploit Michigan State’s defense deep. Maybe it knows that Michigan State’s offense hasn’t been the most effective so far this season (68th in YPP and 77th in S&P+). Maybe it knows that this will be a night game in Bloomington. And maybe it knows that Indiana is the #CHAOSTEAM. So screw it. Trust the Math! Trust the CHAOS!

Pick: Indiana +7

#8 Wisconsin at #4 Michigan

Line: Michigan -10.5 | O/U: 44

This is the Big Ten’s marquee matchup of the week. The Badgers come to Ann Arbor after knocking off two top-10 teams to challenge a Michigan team that has played like one of the nation’s best. It appears that it will be a defensive showdown. Both teams have top-15 scoring defenses and top-10 S&P+ defenses, while Wisconsin’s offense is 80th in S&P+ and seems to play right into the Wolverines’ strengths. The question is whether Michigan will put up the points to cover the 10.5-point spread. Michigan just crushed Penn State on the ground, but Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense has been phenomenal against the run. It’s more likely that the Badgers stuff Michigan’s rushing attack unless Jabrill Peppers creates some magic. That then leaves Wilton Speight and whether he can push the ball down the field against Wisconsin’s good secondary. He showed he could carry a team against UCF, but he hasn’t been the same since he dinged his shoulder against Colorado. His accuracy has been shaky, and he has underthrown his deep balls. I’m not sure if he can make the throws to help Michigan cover this double-digit spread. However, rather than take Wisconsin +10.5, I will pick Under 44 due to my doubts about the offenses, even if the Over has hit in 12 straight Michigan games.

Pick: Under 44