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Wisconsin-Iowa headlines a depleted Week 8 Big Ten slate

The Badgers and Hawkeyes will battle in what could be a winter wonderland in Iowa City on Saturday afternoon with the Heartland Trophy on the line.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 05 Iowa at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week ATS: 3-10 (1-4 B1G, 2-6 National)

Season ATS: 66-61-2 (20-19-1 B1G, 46-42 National)

If you’re looking to compliment this week’s B1G picks with predictions for Saturday’s best national games, you can find them here.

B1G games:

Illinois v. No. 14 Northwestern (-14) - 12:00 PM EST - ESPN2

Much like the Michigan State game, I’m not sure Northwestern can score two touchdowns — let alone be favored by that much. After Northwestern’s 43-3 win over Maryland in the season opener, the Wildcats haven’t won a game by more than 10 points.

Illinois might only be 2-4 this year, but they have been playing better football than their record may indicate. The Fighting Illini actually did jump out to a 14-0 lead over Iowa last week before the Hawkeyes reeled off 35 straight points. The area where Illinois has struggled the most this year is with their pass defense. I’m not concerned so much about that in this matchup since Northwestern doesn’t have much of an aerial attack.

Northwestern already knows what lies for them next week, since their matchup with Ohio State has already been booked. With nothing aside from bragging rights on the line this week, it’s a prime opportunity for a subpar performance from the Wildcats. Illinois puts a scare into Northwestern before the Wildcats squeak out a win in the fourth quarter.

Northwestern 24, Illinois 21

Michigan State v. Penn State (-14.5) - 12:00 PM EST - ABC

Aside from wins over Michigan and Northwestern, Michigan State has been awful this year. The biggest issue with the Spartans has been their run defense. After allowing 322 yards on the ground to Ohio State last week, Michigan State is giving up an average of 163 rushing yards per game. Penn State struggled earlier in the year running the football after the losses of Noah Cain and Journey Brown, but recently Keyvone Lee has taken ownership of the running back position, rushing for 229 yards in the last two games.

After starting the season 0-5, Penn State has found a little life with back-to-back wins over Michigan and Rutgers. Sean Clifford has a least fended off the challenge of Will Levis to remain starting quarterback, but the Nittany Lions still are using Levis in the running game. Considering all Penn State has lost on offense this year, it’s a bit of a surprise they have been able to be as effective as they have lately.

It’s unknown if Rocky Lombardi is going to be able to play this week after suffering a concussion last week against Ohio State. Whether it’s Lombardi or Payton Thorne, it’s not going to matter. Lombardi is an interception machine, while Thorne might not be quite ready to take on a defense like Penn State’s. The high number Penn State is laying is a little concerning, but when Michigan State loses, they lose big.

Penn State 34, Michigan State 13

Minnesota v. Nebraska (-10.5) - 12:00 PM EST - Big Ten Network

While one performance isn’t going to erase everything else that has happened this season, at least Nebraska can feel good with their effort last week against Purdue. The Cornhuskers got three touchdowns from Adrian Martinez in a 37-27 win over the Boilermakers. Nebraska did allow David Bell and Rondale Moore to combine for 23 catches for 210 yards, but the rest of Purdue’s offense wasn’t able to get much done.

At least Nebraska shouldn’t have to worry about the Minnesota passing game, which took a hit when Reshod Bateman announced he is opting out of the rest of the regular season. What the Cornhuskers do have to worry about is Mohamed Ibrahim, who has 817 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns through just five games.

Since Nebraska doesn’t have to worry about the pass as much, they can focus more on slowing down Ibrahim. With the way the defense of the Golden Gophers has played this year, the Cornhuskers should be able to put up plenty of points on Saturday, which could render Ibrahim ineffective if Minnesota falls behind early. It’s hard to see Nebraska not taking back the $5 Bits of Broken Chair trophy.

Nebraska 38, Minnesota 21

Rutgers v. Maryland (-7) - 12:00 PM EST - Big Ten Network

Both these teams have been erratic this year, yet surprisingly entertaining to watch. Rutgers started off the year by forcing seven turnovers in the upset of Michigan State. The biggest accomplishment for the Scarlet Knights this year might just be being able to play all eight of their regular season games, which is something only Penn State and Iowa can claim as well.

On the other side, Maryland has only been able to play four games so far this year, which hasn’t allowed Alabama Taulia Tagovailoa to find much of a rhythm. In the limited action the Terrapins have seen, Tagovailoa has formed a healthy partnership with Dontay Demus Jr. Maryland’s problem this year has been a rush defense that is giving up nearly 230 yards per game on the ground.

Rutgers is coming off a performance in which they were only able to score seven points against Penn State. Luckily the Scarlet Knights won’t be going up against a defense nearly as tough as what they saw last week. The problem is they’ll be going up against a better offense. While Rutgers might be a little sharper than Maryland because they haven’t missed any games yet, I trust Maryland a lot more to put points on the board.

Maryland 34, Rutgers 21

Wisconsin (-2) v. No. 16 Iowa - 3:30 PM EST - FS1

This is not the Wisconsin team we have grown accustomed to. After scoring over 40 points in their first two games of the season, the Badgers have scored a combined 13 points in losses to Northwestern and Indiana. Graham Mertz has thrown four interceptions in the last two games, while the Badgers have rushed for no more than 140 yards in their last two games. Jalen Berger looks like he could be the next great Wisconsin running back, he’s just not getting much help right now.

While Wisconsin has gotten worse as the season has gone on, Iowa has gotten better since dropping their first two games of the season. Last week the Hawkeyes fell behind Illinois 14-0 but didn’t panic, reeling off 35 straight points against the Fighting Illini. Spencer Petras had one of his best performances since taking over as the starting quarterback this year, throwing three touchdowns last week.

Right now Iowa is out-Wisconsining Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes are doing most of their damage on the ground, getting key plays from Petras when needed, and riding their defense to a five-game winning streak. I’m just not sure what motivation the Badgers have for this game, aside from trying to beat their rival. Wintry weather is expected in Iowa City on Saturday, so I’ll gladly take the points in what could be a low-scoring, close game.

Iowa 20, Wisconsin 14