This week's national picks got off to a rough start with Baylor blowing a late lead. Here are some Big Ten picks to add to keep track of on a busy Saturday.
Penn State v. #21 Northwestern (-2.5) - 12:00 p.m. - ESPNU
Take away Penn State's loss to Ohio State a few weeks ago and the Nittany Lions have looked pretty good lately. Some of that is because they got the benefit of playing Indiana and Illinois, but it's still hard to deny a team that is putting a massive amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Nittany Lions top the FBS with 36 sacks on the year, with 14.5 of those coming from Carl Nassib. Christian Hackenberg is also playing smart football, having not thrown an interception in 164 passing attempts.
Last time we saw Northwestern was two weeks ago, when they ended a two-game losing streak with a 30-28 win over Nebraska. Redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson did everything in the win over the Cornhuskers, accounting for 303 of Northwestern's 333 total yards in the game. The Wildcats are still really bad in the red zone, only scoring touchdowns on 29.2 percent of their trips inside the 20. I think Northwestern is going to have a really hard time moving the football in this one, so take the points as the underdogs win outright.
Penn State 17 Northwestern 13
Illinois (-5) v. Purdue - 12:00 p.m. - Big Ten Network
Illinois desperately needs to snap a win against Purdue if the Fighting Illini have any designs on going bowlin' for a second straight year. With games against Ohio State, Minnesota, and Northwestern still on the schedule, it's hard to see Illinois getting two wins in those games if they don't win on Saturday. The good news for Bill Cubit's squad is they'll get Josh Ferguson back after the running back his missed the last three games.
Last week Purdue added to Nebraska's woes with a 55-45 win, but the Boilermakers almost blew the game, allowing the Cornhuskers to score four touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Purdue's defense is still really bad, and I think Wes Lunt, Geronimo Allison, and Ferguson will be able to put together a strong effort for Illinois. I'm not sold on Purdue winning two Big Ten games in a row, so I'll take the team that is desperate for a win to stay alive in the race for a bowl bid.
Illinois 37 Purdue 24
#9 Iowa (-7) v. Indiana - 3:30 p.m - ESPN
If you had told me before the year that Iowa would be ranked in the top-10 of this year's first CFP rankings, I would have had you committed to the loony bin. The Hawkeyes aren't flashy, but they are keep winning and that's all that matters. Running back Jordan Canzeri will miss another game with an ankle injury, but Iowa did get LeShun Daniels Jr. back last week to compliment Akrum Wadley in the running game. On defense, Desmond King is tied for the national lead with seven interceptions so far this season.
After losing to Ohio State in Bloomington in early October, Indiana has been a dumpster fire. Last time out, Indiana was playing Michigan State tough in East Lansing, but then the Hoosiers fell apart late and lost 52-26. The good news for Indiana is they should get running back Jordan Howard back, who hasn't played since being injured in the Ohio State game. Even with Howard, it's hard to see Indiana getting much against Iowa's stingy running defense, which has only allowed one rushing touchdown this season. I can't say that I'm thrilled about laying a touchdown on the road, but I think Iowa ends up winning this one by 10 points.
Iowa 31 Indiana 21
Wisconsin (-11.5) v. Maryland - 3:30 p.m. - Big Ten Network
With Corey Clement back, last week we saw the Wisconsin team we've been used to seeing over the years. For the first time in Big Ten play the Badgers rushed the football more than they passed in a game. Clement took little time getting comfortable in his return, gashing Rutgers for 115 and three touchdowns on 11 carries. Lost in the mix has been how good Wisconsin's defense has been this year, only allowing 11 points per game. Former quarterback Tanner McAvoy has been especially good, and is the first player since Charles Gordon from Kansas in 2005 to have a sack, two carries, two catches, and two interceptions in a season.
Even with the firing of Randy Edsall following the Ohio State game, Maryland is still really bad. The Terrapins have been in the giving spirit all year long, throwing 23 interceptions, which is the most in the FBS this season. All it seems like Maryland can do somewhat well is run the football, and I doubt they'll be able to do that well against Wisconsin. The only real hope the Terrapins have is if William Likely returns about five kicks for touchdowns, but that isn't going to happen.
Wisconsin 38 Maryland 14
Rutgers v. #17 Michigan (-24.5) - 3:30 p.m. - Big Ten Network
The last two games I have picked Rutgers to cover and they've repaid me by losing those games by a combined score of 97-17. Leonte Carroo is questionable for this game, and even if he does play I don't see him being very effective against the Michigan secondary. The Scarlet Knights have been awful on the road against ranked opponents in recent history, losing their last six by a combined score of 243-85.
The Michigan defense has come back down to the earth the last few weeks, and was just a few inches away from losing to Minnesota last week in Minneapolis. It's not the defense I'm worried about this week though, as the Wolverine offense has left a lot to be desired lately. I sounds like Jake Rudock will play after suffering a "torso" injury last week against the Golden Gophers. I wish I didn't have to pick a side here, but I'll go with Michigan since I can't bring myself to live through another week of backing the Scarlet Knights.
Michigan 37 Rutgers 10
#7 Michigan State (-6) v. Nebraska - 7:00 p.m. - ESPN
Michigan State only has two hurdles left before their matchup in a couple weeks against Ohio State in Columbus. This week the Spartans will travel to Lincoln, where they hope to avoid the upset attempt by a Nebraska team that has lost four of five games. You have to imagine that Michigan State has to be licking their chops after watching Purdue carve up the Nebraska defense. Connor Cook should have a big day against a defense that is allowing 315 yards per game through the air to opponents.
It sounds as if the Cornhuskers should get Tommy Armstrong Jr. back for this contest, but they won't have De'Mornay Pierson-El, who is out for the year after getting injured celebrating a teammate's touchdown last week. This marks the first time since 1955 that an unranked Nebraska team is hosting an undefeated team in November. All year Nebraska has had terrible luck in close games, but I just don't see this game being that close. Turnovers will be the difference, as Michigan State is +10 in that category and Nebraska is -8.
Michigan State 42 Nebraska 24
Minnesota v. #3 Ohio State (-24) - 8:00 p.m. - ABC
Last week Minnesota was so close to beating Michigan, but terrible coaching took away any chance the Golden Gophers had at a victory. I give credit to Minnesota for playing with emotion and nearly beating the Wolverines following the resignation of Jerry Kill. Having said that, Tracy Claeys is terrible and he pretty much lost any shot at having the interim tag removed with how that game played out late. Mitch Leidner has looked like a solid quarterback over the past few games, but that progress could come to an end with the Ohio State pass rush breathing down his neck.
If Ohio State had J.T. Barrett starting this game the pick would be a no-brainer. Obviously we know Barrett won't be playing and Cardale Jones gets his starting quarterback job back for at least a week. It's not rocket science to figure out the offense doesn't run nearly as smoothly under Jones as it does Barrett, but maybe Jones being benched has lit a fire under Cardale and we see the quarterback closer to the version that we saw the last three games of last year.
I have been burned when Ohio State giving a big number all year, and apparently I haven't learned my lesson. Minnesota might have expended all their emotional energy in last week's close loss to Michigan and I could see them getting rolled by the Buckeyes on Saturday night. Even though we know that Cardale isn't J.T., the offense still has plenty of weapons that can put the Golden Gophers in a deep hole they can't recover from. I wouldn't be surprised to see Braxton Miller even more involved in the offense this week and Ezekiel Elliott will make it 14 straight games with at least 100 rushing yards.
Ohio State 45 Minnesota 17