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MC&J: Ohio State a massive favorite, Notre Dame-Wisconsin & Rutgers-Michigan battle in Week 4 Big Ten action

There are a few interesting games involving Big Ten teams this week, kicking off with Notre Dame-Wisconsin & Rutgers-Michigan before Ohio State hosts Akron as a seven touchdown favorite on Saturday night.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Last week ATS: 7-8-1 (3-3 National, 4-5-1 B1G)

Season ATS: 22-24-2 (10-9 National, 12-15-2 B1G)

If you are looking for some national games to supplement the Big Ten schedule this week, I made picks for some interesting contests around the country not involving Big Ten teams.

Full disclosure: I totally missed picking the Northwestern/Duke game last week. I guess subconsciously I knew that we shouldn’t be spending any time watching the Brain Bowl. I made sure to get all the games involving Big Ten teams that are playing FBS teams on this week’s picks schedule.

B1G games:

No. 12 Notre Dame v. No. 18 Wisconsin (-6.5) - 12:00 PM EST - FOX

This is the ultimate revenge game for Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan. After tossing 23 touchdown passes for the Badgers from 2018-19, Coan was deemed expandable when Graham Mertz burst on the scene. Coan has been the perfect quarterback to take over for Ian Book in South Bend, throwing for 828 yards and eight touchdowns in three games this year.

Speaking of Graham Mertz, what is going on with the Wisconsin quarterback? Mertz looked like he was on his way to becoming the mayor of Madison after throwing for five touchdowns in the season opener against Illinois last year. Then Mertz caught COVID and things haven’t been the same. Mertz has thrown just four touchdowns in eight games since then.

What exactly do we know about Wisconsin? The Badgers lost to Penn State in the season opener, beat up on Eastern Michigan the next week, and had a bye last week. This just seems like too many points for Wisconsin to be laying, especially when I’m not sure they’ll even win the game. Notre Dame has already been in a couple tight games this year, so if this game is close in the fourth quarter, the Fighting Irish won’t lose their cool. Coan gets a little revenge on his former school.

Notre Dame 24, Wisconsin 20

Bowling Green v. Minnesota (-31) - 12:00 PM EST - ESPNU

Can Minnesota score more than 31 points? In their first three games this year, the Golden Gophers have scored 31 against Ohio State and Miami (OH), followed by 30 points last week against Colorado. Minnesota should be able to run all over Bowling Green, but it won’t be quite as prolific as if Mohamed Ibrahim was playing in this game.

Even if Minnesota scores like 42 points, I could see Bowling Green getting a couple touchdowns. By no means is this game going to be close at all, I just feel like the Falcons will score just enough to cover. Plus, it helps that Minnesota seems to have a habit of playing down to their competition a little bit, as evidenced by their game a few weeks ago against the RedHawks.

Minnesota 37, Bowling Green 14

Ohio v. Northwestern (-14.5) - 12:00 PM EST - Big Ten Network

I really want to find a reason to take Ohio in this game, I just can’t. Northwestern is coming off a 30-23 loss to Duke. There is a reason for optimism though, since the Wildcats did have some success after Hunter Johnson left the game. The former Clemson QB threw three interceptions and clearly isn’t the answer for Northwestern. Andrew Marty did throw two touchdowns in relief, the Wildcats just ran out of time.

I just can’t see how Ohio is going to find enough points to cover this spread. Their offense is only averaging 300 yards per game, and the Bobcats have scored 49 points in three games. Not that Northwestern is some sort of offensive juggernaut, I just think we see the most complete performance of the year from the Wildcats.

Northwestern 37, Ohio 17

Rutgers v. No. 19 Michigan (-21) - 3:30 PM EST - ABC

When thinking of this game, I immediately thought back to Ohio State playing Rutgers in Columbus in 2020. The Buckeyes came in undefeated and handled Rutgers in the first half, only to see the Scarlet Knights trick play Ohio State to dep in the 2nd half. The biggest difference is Ohio State was a little higher and the spread was a little bigger.

We still don’t know how good Rutgers is, though. The Scarlet Knights have played Temple, Syracuse, and Delaware. Not exactly a murders row of opponents. Even with the soft schedule to open up the year, Rutgers is only allowing 3.3 yards per carry. If the Scarlet Knights can’t find any room running against a tough Michigan defense, it is going to put even more pressure on quarterback Noah Vedral.

On the other hand, Michigan has been running the football down their opponents’ throats. The Wolverines have three running backs that have rushed for over 100 yards through three games, including Blake Corum, who has 407 yards and seven touchdowns already. I smell September Heisman!

As much as I want to pick Rutgers, it would only be fitting for Michigan to get another big win before September ends and the Wolverines come back to reality. I think Michigan avoids some of the tricks that Greg Schiano is going to throw at them and win rather convincingly, further fueling maize and blue fans with hope they might have Ohio State’s number this year.

Michigan 45, Rutgers 17

Colorado State v. No. 5 Iowa (-23.5) - 3:30 PM EST - FS1

Colorado State is truly a Steve Addazio team already. After losing to South Dakota State and Vanderbilt, the Rams beat Toledo last week 22-6. After laughing at Colorado State the first couple weeks of the year, it would make sense for them to build off last week’s performance and at least frustrate Iowa a little.

Iowa still isn’t doing a ton on offense, luckily the Hawkeyes haven’t needed much since they’ve been so good everywhere else. This could be a bit of a weird game for the Hawkeyes since they hit the road for a Friday game next week. Maybe they look ahead a little bit to jumping back into Big Ten play. I could see this game being a bit like the Kent State game, with Colorado State scoring a few more points.

Iowa 31, Colorado State 13

Illinois v. Purdue (-11) - 3:30 PM EST - Big Ten Network

Amazingly, the series between these two schools is tied 45-45-6. As if playing for leadership in the series wasn’t enough, the Purdue Cannon will be at stake. The Boilermakers have won four of the last five games, including the most recent meeting last year where Purdue won 31-24.

There’s no question that Purdue is the better team. The problem is, sometimes really weird things happen in Purdue games. It feels like every time I’ve backed the Boilermakers as a double-digit favorite, they either lose or getting taken to the wire. Add in Illinois being a strange team that got even stranger now that Bret Bielema is the coach, and I have a feeling shenanigans will happen in West Lafayette. I mean, if the Fighting Illini can hang with Maryland, I don’t see why they can’t at least frustrate Purdue.

Purdue 35, Illinois 27

Nebraska v. No. 20 Michigan State (-5) - 7:00 PM EST - FS1

Did Nebraska shoot their wad against Oklahoma? The Cornhuskers only lost by a touchdown to the Sooners, giving Nebraska fans a little hope that Scott Frost might be the right guy for the job. Of course now is where the Cornhuskers stomp on the hearts of their fans with a dud of a performance.

There’s not many teams playing better football in the country so far than Michigan State. The Spartans had no problem holding up in Miami last week, outscoring the Hurricanes 21-3 in the fourth quarter, and forcing four turnovers in the 38-17 win. Mel Tucker’s team is incredibly balanced, throwing for 256 yards per game and rushing for 263 yards per contest. Quarterback Payton Thorne already has nine touchdown passes, while Wake Forest transfer running back Kenneth Walker III has ran for nearly 500 yards and five touchdowns.

Maybe Michigan State comes back down to earth this week. I don’t see it happening, though. The Spartans know they have a path to heading into their meeting with Michigan in late October undefeated. Michigan State takes care of business against a Nebraska team that might have an inflated opinion of themselves after a close loss last week.

Michigan State 38, Nebraska 23

Indiana (-9) v. Western Kentucky - 8:00 PM EST - CBS Sports Network

Remember when Indiana was supposed to be one of the better teams in the Big Ten this year? Those were fun times. The Hoosiers started off well last week against Cincinnati, they just couldn’t finish the Bearcats off. Michael Penix Jr. isn’t the same as we saw last year, as he has thrown six interceptions already this season.

Western Kentucky can certainly put points on the scoreboard. The problem is their defense is almost as bad. At least the Hilltoppers have been a little better against the pass, but some of those rush defense numbers could be because they played Army. While the Hoosiers will put plenty of points on the board, Western Kentucky will be able to match a lot of those points. This feels like a game that Indiana wins by a touchdown or less.

Indiana 45, Western Kentucky 38

Akron v. No. 10 Ohio State (-48.5) - 7:30 PM EST - Big Ten Network

It’s not unheard of for Ohio State to win games by 49 points or more. In 2019 alone, the Buckeyes beat three opponents by at least that number. Sadly for Ohio State, they don’t have Justin Fields taking the snaps at quarterback anymore. Instead, we’ll likely see Kyle McCord make his first career start on Saturday night. Head coach Ryan Day already stated that C.J. Stroud would only be available in an “emergency” mode since Stroud is dealing with a shoulder injury.

If there ever was an opponent for McCord (or Jack Miller) to get their feet wet against, Akron is pretty much the perfect opponent for that. The Zips are one of the worst FBS teams, so they likely won’t challenge Ohio State’s young quarterbacks. Not only has Akron only has forced one turnover, the Zips only have a couple sacks this year. It’s hard to see them challenging the Buckeye offense all that much.

Then again, Ohio State’s quarterbacks might not need to do much if TreVeyon Henderson picks up where he left off last weekend, when he set an Ohio State freshman record with 277 yards rushing. While Henderson has a firm hold on the starting running back job, it’ll be interesting to see how much time on the field Miyan Williams gets after Williams didn’t play last weekend against Tulsa.

I want to say that Ohio State could name their score on Saturday night, but something isn’t right about this Buckeye team. Think about this, if Akron scores 14 points, that means Ohio State will need to score 63 to cover. Is it possible? Of course. I just don’t know if I’m comfortable banking on them to do that with some new quarterbacks taking snaps. DJ Irons is a dual-threat quarterback for Akron, so I could see him frustrating the Ohio State defense just enough to allow the Zips to cover.

Ohio State 59, Akron 14