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The Big Ten returns with Nebraska-Ohio State, the Little Brown Jug, and more

Nearly two months after the Big Ten season was supposed to begin, action around the conference finally gets underway this weekend.

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Last week ATS: 4-3

Season ATS: 24-17

Business is about to pick up. After having to only focus on games from a number of other conferences around the country, the Big Ten is back this week. Now we’ll find out what MC&J is really made of. With twice the amount of games to pick each week, can we keep gaining ground on the north side of .500? Stay tuned to find out.

B1G games (all games Saturday unless otherwise noted):

Illinois v. No. 14 Wisconsin (-19) - Friday 10/23 8:00 PM EST - Big Ten Network

This year’s Big Ten schedule starts with one of the biggest upsets from last year. Remember when Illinois was 30-point underdogs and beat Wisconsin 24-23? Of course you don’t, since 2020 has felt like it has been 50 years long and erased all of our memories of fun in the past.

The Badgers will have to replace Jonathan Taylor at running back, leaving Nakia Watson as the first to try and fill the hole at running back. Even though Wisconsin seems like they have an endless supply of running backs, the Badgers are still going to miss Taylor, who had two seasons where he rushed for over 2,000 yards.

Even though Illinois does have Brandon Peters returning at quarterback, it’s tough to see the Fighting Illini doing much against Isaiahh Loudermilk, Jack Sanborn, and the rest of the Wisconsin defense. Things could get ugly in Madison on Friday night, as the Badgers will be looking for revenge after last year’s loss snapped Wisconsin’s nine-game winning streak against Illinois. Badgers win by at least three touchdowns.

Wisconsin 42, Illinois 17

Rutgers v. Michigan State (-13.5) - 12:00 PM EST - Big Ten Network

I’m not going to put lipstick on a pig here. This game is going to be ugly. Thankfully we will be too busy watching the Ohio State game to have to pay much attention to this game.

Greg Schiano is back as head coach at Rutgers, while Mel Tucker left Colorado after one year to return to Michigan State, where he was a GA under Nick Saban. Both head coaches have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to lead their teams to success. Not like Schiano hasn’t had to build Rutgers from the ground up before.

It feels like Michigan State has to replace pretty much everybody on both sides of the football, so why they are favored by nearly two touchdowns is puzzling. Rutgers has been a joke since joining the Big Ten, but I feel like Schiano will at least have them playing somewhat competitive football.

Michigan State 17, Rutgers 10

No. 8 Penn State (-6.5) v. Indiana - 3:30 PM EST - FS1

Going to Bloomington is never an easy task. We’ve seen Ohio State struggle on numerous occasions when they have traveled to Indiana. I think we could see Penn State suffer the same fate on Saturday, especially since the Nittany Lions will be without Micah Parsons, who opted out of the season, and running back Journey Brown, who will miss the season due to a medical condition.

While Penn State will be without a couple key players from last year’s team, Indiana will get one of their players back after missing the second half of last season. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw for 10 touchdowns before suffering an ACL injury. With Penix back, the Indiana offense could be quite entertaining this year. Stevie Scott, who ran for nearly 850 yards and 10 touchdowns last year will be back, as well as wide receiver Whop Philyor, who eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving.

We might as well get a little crazy since the season is shortened this year. Indiana beats Penn State straight up on Saturday. The Nittany Lions have Sean Clifford returning but they are going to really feel the losses of Parsons and Brown. Penn State limps in to next week’s showdown with Ohio State.

Indiana 34, Penn State 31

Iowa (-3) v. Purdue - 3:30 PM EST - Big Ten Network

After a strange offseason in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes have to be itching to get back on the football field. Iowa has to replace quarterback Nathan Stanley, but they do have Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Tyler Goodson returning on offense. New starting quarterback Spencer Petras might be light on experience, but he does have the look of a quarterback that by the time he’s a senior feels like he has been starting for the Hawkeyes for the last 15 years.

Purdue won’t have head coach Jeff Brohm on the sidelines after the head coach tested positive for COVID-19. At least the Boilermakers will have Rondale Moore on the field, after the wide receiver had initially decided to opt out of the 2020 season. Quarterback Jack Plummer did have some nice performances for Purdue last year, but he threw two interceptions in three of the seven games he played in. Plummer can’t afford to make the same mistakes against Iowa or the Hawkeyes will take advantage of those turnovers.

This is the toughest Big Ten game of the weekend to call. West Lafayette is never an easy place to leave with a win. Having said all that, I think Iowa does win on Saturday afternoon. Purdue won’t be as crisp as they need to be since they’ll be without their head coach. The Hawkeyes let it be known that they’ll be a threat in the Big Ten West.

Iowa 34, Purdue 24

Maryland v. Northwestern (-11) - 7:30 PM EST - Big Ten Network

If you ever give me a chance to pick against a Pat Fitzgerald team, I’m going to take it. I feel like Fitzgerald is one of the most overrated head coaches in college football. Northwestern has a new quarterback in Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey, but that’s not going to fix a terrible Northwestern offense.

But let’s not pretend like Maryland is much better. The Terrapins haven’t announced whether Lance LeGendre or Taulia Tagovailoa will start at quarterback, but expect linebacker Paddy Fisher to make life miserable for whoever ends up starting for Maryland. Fisher is going to be the best player on the field on Saturday night, which means a defensive struggle is likely in the cards. Take the points.

Northwestern 24, Maryland 17

No. 18 Michigan (-3) v. No. 21 Minnesota - 7:30 PM EST - ABC

This line really puzzles me. Maybe I’m a sucker for thinking it is too easy to back Minnesota in this game, but it really does seem too easy. Michigan has a new quarterback, four new starting offensive linemen, and a number of new receivers. I can’t see it being very easy for Joe Milton and the Wolverine offense to move the football.

On the other hand, Minnesota has all the tools to put up some points. Quarterback Tanner Morgan is back, as well as top wide receiver Reshod Bateman, who had originally opted out of the 2020 season. What will be critical is if the Golden Gophers can get the running game going against a stout Michigan defense.

Minnesota lost a lot on defense from last year’s team, but I’m not convinced that will translate into a Michigan win. I like Minnesota to take back the Little Brown Jug and put Michigan in an early hole in a shortened season.

Minnesota 28, Michigan 24

Nebraska v. No. 5 Ohio State (-26) - 12:00 PM EST - FOX

Now for the game that everyone came here for. Hopefully this is the last time we see Ohio State start their season in October — something that hasn’t happened since 1939. The Buckeyes have been itching to get back onto the field ever since late December when they fell to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

A lot of talent from last year’s Ohio State team is gone, but a lot has also returned. While the Buckeyes have a tall task in replacing guys like J.K. Dobbins, Chase Young, and Jeff Okudah, the most important piece from last year’s team is back. Justin Fields had an amazing first season in Columbus after transferring from Georgia, accounting for 51 total touchdowns. Even though this season is shortened, expect to see Fields as one of the Heisman Trophy finalists whenever the ceremony is held.

There’s not much to be concerned about when it comes to the Buckeyes this year, but there are a few areas to keep an eye on. Who will step up to handle the load at running back now that Dobbins is gone? Master Teague is recovering from an achilles injury suffered in the spring, while Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon is coming off a knee injury. At least for whoever handles most of the carries, they have an experienced offensive line to run behind.

Another question for the Buckeyes is how the secondary responds after losing three starters from last year’s team. There is no worries about one of the cornerback positions, as Shaun Wade is back for a final season with the Buckeyes. It’ll be interesting to see who steps up to stake their claim to the other three spots.

Nebraska does a lot of talking for a team that hasn’t done a lot. Scott Frost hasn’t yet had the homecoming he was hoping for, posting just a 9-15 record in his first two years in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers could have a solid season if Adrian Martinez returns to the form that we saw from him in 2018 when he threw for 17 touchdowns and ran for another eight scores. Martinez will at least benefit from the return of all five starting offensive linemen from last year’s squad.

We all know Ohio State has unfinished business this year. 26 points seems like a lot to be laying in the first game of the year after an offseason of uncertainty, though. Nebraska isn’t Rutgers or Maryland. The Cornhuskers do have some pieces. Three starters returning in the secondary should help Nebraska make Fields work a little bit to find his targets.

The Buckeyes don’t run all over Nebraska like they have in most of the last five meetings, but the Cornhuskers also don’t test Ohio State like they did in Columbus in 2018. This feels like a game that Ohio State wins by around three touchdowns. Ohio State is in control throughout the game but doesn’t show too much with Penn State looming next weekend. No matter the result, it’s just good to have Ohio State football back.

Ohio State 41, Nebraska 20