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It’s the homestretch of the college football season. This is the time when conference championships and preseason goals begin to come into focus. With only three Saturdays remaining in the 2021 regular season, the division races are heating up and so are the matchups. Top 10 ranked Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State are all alive in the East race and will be playing each other as well as Penn State over the next few weeks. In the West, it’s a 4 way tie for first place between Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue all sitting at 4-2. Of those four teams at the top, the Gophers are the only team not ranked in the CFP rankings. Week 11 features a trio of Big Ten matchups that will play heavily into both the conference crown and potentially the national championship.
No. 19 Purdue @ No. 4 Ohio State (-20.5)
Ohio State has won 24 straight conference games. Their last conference loss came in West Lafayette, IN back in 2018. While many of the current players weren’t on the team or playing significant roles back then, HC Ryan Day was the offensive coordinator at the time and vividly remembers the game. Ohio State was unable to stop the Boilermakers’ passing attack, thanks to WR Rondale Moore. Moore is now in the NFL, but WR David Bell is the same explosive threat. Several times this year, he has gone over 200 yards receiving and is part of a passing attack that QB Aiden O’Connell has guided to over 400 yards per game.
But even with those numbers, the Boilermakers are more than just a pretty offense. They have a defense that yields fewer than 19 points per game. They have done a pretty good job against the run, which is even more impressive considering they have recently played Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa, who all have strong running games.
The Buckeyes will have their work cut out for them trying to slow down the vaunted passing attack. Since Matt Barnes began calling the defense, the Silver Bullets have played more 2-deep safety looks, which helps disguise the coverage to the QB. They will need to change up their coverages continuously against Purdue HC Jeff Brohm. Brohm is an excellent play caller, and if he can get a feel for the coverage, it will be a long day for OSU. CBs Cam Brown and Denzel Burke (who is a true freshman) will be tasked with slowing down David Bell. Both have been playing well and should be up for the challenge.
The Buckeye defensive line will be the true difference makers in the game. Despite the slow start to the season, the Buckeye pass rush has picked up steam in the last five games and now sits near the top nationally in sacks. The spread is almost three TDs, so while Ohio State will control the game, a backdoor cover by Purdue is likely… Take the 20.5 as OSU takes it by only two TDs.
No. 6 Michigan @ Penn State (+1.5)
Four weeks ago, this game would’ve been circled as one of the premier contests in all of college football. Unfortunately, Penn State has struggled of late, losing three straight games against Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State. During that stretch, QB Sean Clifford injured his shoulder and didn’t look like the same player he was prior to the injury. Last week against Maryland, Clifford appeared to be fully recovered. He threw for over 360 yards, with 242 them to star WR Jahan Dotson, which is a recipe for success for Penn State. They need Clifford to be efficient this week to help control the time of possession against a Michigan team that wants to wear down opposing defenses. Without an established rushing attack, the onus falls on Dotson to provide the offensive explosion. He is usually good for at least one deep ball a game, but against Michigan, he might need two.
HC Jim Harbaugh has built the Wolverine team in his image. They are tough, rugged, and love to run the football. Add in their ability to play great defense, and this team is looking for their first appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game. After they surrendered a 16-point 2nd half lead to Sparty, UM got back to their winning ways last week by taking care of the struggling Hoosiers. In recent weeks, QB Cade McNamara has shown his ability to make big throws in critical moments and even carry the team when the run game slows. But against Penn State, the Wolverines defensive front, led by rushers Aiden Hutchinson and David Ojabo, has to shine. These guys have to pressure Clifford early and often. Penn State struggles to run the football, so that should allow Michigan to pin their ears back and go. The line on this game is incredibly tight and has even been a pick’em. Michigan wins a close game… lay the 1.5 points.
Minnesota @ No. 20 Iowa (-4.5)
It’s been a season of highs and lows for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Earlier this season, they lost to Bowling Green. Last week, they were playing the lowly Illini for a chance to seize control of the Big Ten West race. Unfortunately, the Gophers laid an egg against Illinois, giving up two early scores and failing to find the end zone until late in the 2nd half. Minnesota has been decimated at running back, a position that will need to perform well to help control the clock against an Iowa team that likes to dictate tempo. RBs Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving will have to play well to manufacture yards against the Hawkeyes.
After two straight losses, Iowa got back in the win column with a victory against Northwestern last week. Despite that victory, the Hawkeyes are averaging just over 10 points in the last three games. Without the defense providing a short field through turnovers, the offense has struggled. Minnesota is a tough team that won’t easily concede yards on the ground, so it will be up to backup QB Alex Padilla to take the reins of the passing game. This is a make-or-break game for both teams. Whoever loses will most likely be out of the West Division race. Despite Minnesota’s recent struggles, they pull out an outright upset win. Take the 4.5 points.