The first round of College Football Playoff rankings are finally in, and the Big Ten has positioned itself incredibly well for the November stretch run. Michigan State leads the way at No. 3, followed by No. 5 Ohio State and No. 7 Michigan rounding out the top tier of the conference, so it will be difficult for an undefeated or one-loss Big Ten Champ to be left out of the dance. The Playoff committee showed an immense amount of respect for the conference by dropping Michigan only one spot (relative to their previous AP ranking) after their thrilling loss to rival Michigan State.
Coming off an emotional game, win or lose, teams can get caught in a “let down” game. Both Ohio State and Michigan State played tough games last week and are the on the road against formidable foes. Nebraska has suffered several one-score losses, and Purdue was recently ranked after they destroyed Iowa. While Michigan is at home, they are playing an Indiana squad that has a solid defense which can slow down the Wolverines’ run game. It’s not the sexiest weekend for matchups, but there could still be high drama across the board.
No. 5 Ohio State @ Nebraska (+14.5)
The Ohio State Buckeyes are coming off an incredibly physical primetime battle against rival Penn State. It wasn’t the massive blowout that many predicted. Instead, it was a slugfest in which the Buckeye offense got bogged down nearly every time it crossed the 50 yard line and had to settle for four field goals. Outside of the homerun by TreVeyon Henderson, the Buckeyes struggled to establish the running game behind an offensive line that didn’t look like their dominant selves. This Saturday against a tough and physical Nebraska front will be a big test. Will the offensive line be able to answer the challenge?
Defensively, the Buckeyes took a step back as well. Facing increased talent on the perimeter, Ohio State’s defensive backs allowed over 350 yards through the air and routinely gave up inside breaking routes to Penn State WRs Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington. The Ohio State defensive line was able to pressure Clifford, and they will need to keep it up against Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez. He is by far the most valuable player on the Husker offense, but he is also prone to the big mistake.
Nebraska will need to sustain drives to help keep the Buckeye offense on the sideline. They don’t have the receiving unit that Penn State has, so such drives will have to come from the legs of QB Adrian Martinez. Nebraska puts up a good fight, but in the end, OSU is too much. Lay the points. Buckeyes pull away late.
No. 3 Michigan State @ Purdue (+2.5)
The Spartans are riding high entering Week 9. They roll into West Lafayette, IN fresh off a 16-point comeback win over their in-state rival and with the No. 3 ranking from the College Football Playoff selection committee. It’s been a dramatic turnaround in Year 2 of the Mel Tucker tenure.
However, much like when then MSU played Indiana, this game has “trap” written all over it. Handling adversity is tough, but handling success is tougher. The Spartans played an emotional game and rode star RB Kenneth Walker III for almost 200 yards on the ground last week. They have also probably lost star WR Jalen Nailor for a few weeks. Nailor was seen with a green cast on his right in the second half last week, and his status moving forward is uncertain. That puts most of the receiving burden on WR Jaden Reed. Without his full complement of playmakers, QB Payton Thorne will have to play well to keep pace with an explosive Boilermaker offense.
It’s been an inconsistent season for the Boilermakers, as they haven’t been able to string together consecutive wins since Week 2 and can boast only signature win, against Iowa. Purdue was able to outlast Nebraska in a hard fought, one score game last week, but fell to Wisconsin 30-13 the week before. HC Jeff Brohm has been creative all year, rotating up to three different QBs to confuse defenses. Ultimately, he has relied on star WR David Bell to provide the explosive plays that have propelled the Purdue offense. Purdue has been able to get loose at times and put some points on the board.
Both Minnesota and Wisconsin were able to control the line of scrimmage and the tempo of the game against the Boilermakers. Michigan State should be able to do the same, and if the Spartans can contain Bell, they will be just fine. The tight line is worrisome, but lay the 2.5 points as the Spartans don’t fall for the trap.
Indiana @ No. 7 Michigan (-19.5)
It was tough to find another Big Ten game that could be close this week, but the same reasons Michigan State might struggle against Purdue also apply to Michigan against Indiana. The Wolverines are coming off an emotionally taxing loss, and it’s fair to wonder how that impacted this week of practice. Will they be ready to play after surrendering a 16-point lead in a rivalry game, or will there be an emotional hangover?
UM RBs Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum were held in relative check last week and need to get back to their dominant ways to help set the tone early against the Hoosiers. QB Cade McNamara played his best game of the season last week, but still split time with FR JJ McCarthy. McCarthy’s fumble drastically impacted the trajectory of last week’s game. Will his role continue to grow after such a costly mistake?
Indiana has not closed out games all season long, and last week against Maryland was no different. QB Donaven McCulley played well enough to win, but he still needs to improve his consistency. Indiana’s offense has struggled to score all season, so the pressure has shifted to the Hoosier defense. LB Micah McFadden is one of the best LBs in the Big Ten and has been the heartbeat of this team all season. He will need a monster game to pull the upset and slow down the Michigan rushing attack. The Hoosiers play well and stay competitive, so take the 19.5 points, but Michigan gets the win.