The last few weeks of November are action packed for the Big Ten. With Rivalry Week on the horizon, Week 12 still provides some big games and must-win situations for teams in contention. The East Division race is still wide open with No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Michigan State, and No. 4 Ohio State all still alive and eager for a spot in the College Football Playoff. It seems obvious the Playoff Committee respects the Big Ten enough that any one-loss Big Ten Champion will be awarded a spot in the Top 4. The West Division race is slowly thinning out. With Purdue losing to Ohio State last weekend and Minnesota losing to Iowa, both of those teams have basically eliminated themselves. The Badgers are the highest ranked team in the West coming in at No. 15 and hold the head-to-head tie breaker over the No. 17 Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin is the only team that controls their own destiny in the West, so their matchup against frisky Nebraska Cornhuskers is a must-win. Michigan State and Ohio State will square off this week and are both still in complete control to win the East. And if Michigan has any hopes of playing in the Big Ten Championship Game, they need Ohio State to take down the Spartans this week before they can have their crack at the Buckeyes in the final week of the regular season.
No. 7 Michigan State @ No. 4 Ohio State (-19.5)
Over the past 25 years, no team has destroyed Ohio State’s dreams quite like the Michigan State Spartans. Three times since 1998, they have played spoiler and prevented the Buckeyes from playing for a National Championship. Whether it was the big comeback in Columbus in 1998, the 4th down stand in Indianapolis for the Big Championship in 2013, or the rain soaked slopfest at the Shoe in 2015, the Spartans know how to ruin a Buckeye season.
Ohio State strolls into Saturday off their most impressive offensive performance of the season. Against Purdue, they could run and pass at will, accumulating more than 600 yards of total offense. QB CJ Stroud is now FanDuel’s Heisman Trophy favorite and is facing the worst pass defense in the FBS. The offense is finally healthy with both RBs TreVeyon Henderson and Myian Williams providing the thunder and lightning to prevent opposing defenses from simply playing all pass coverage.
Michigan State HC Mel Tucker is on the verge of signing the richest contract extension in Big Ten history… 10 years and $95 million. As a former DBs coach and defensive coordinator, he will earn every penny trying to slow down the OSU WR trio of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxon Smith Njigba. They all have big play ability and will cause serious issues for the Spartan defense. Expect OSU to challenge MSU’s secondary early and often. If Sparty tries to play soft coverage, then expect intermediate passes and a heavy dose of the run game.
Michigan State has made a living behind the rushing attack of Kenneth Walker III. He’s the only non-QB in the top 5 of the Heisman odds and for good reason. His tremendous vision and ability to set up blocks allow him to find the running seam nearly every time he touches the ball. The OSU rush defense has improved immensely since the Oregon debacle, and it will be on the defensive ends to hold the edge and prohibit Walker from finding the perimeter.
QB Payton Thorne has been an efficient and effective passer for the Spartans. This season, he has shown poise and big play ability which have catapulted Sparty into the Top 10. He has a pair of big play threats in WRs Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed, though Nailor has been sidelined the last few weeks with an injured hand. Without him, it will be tough for MSU to challenge a talented but inconsistent OSU secondary. Despite history and Michigan State’s ranking lay the 19.5 as MSU will struggle to slow down the Buckeye passing attack.
No. 6 Michigan @ Maryland (+15.5)
For the Michigan Wolverines, the 2021 offseason was anything but normal. Coming off a rough 2020 campaign, it seemed as though HC Jim Harbaugh and the school would part ways. A contract restructuring saved the relationship and they proceeded tentatively into the season.
Now Harbaugh has his squad ranked 6th in the country and potentially one win away from their first Big Ten Championship Game appearance. Last week, RB Hassan Haskins shouldered the bulk of the running attack with his backfield mate Blake Corum still on the shelf. Maryland isn’t great on the defensive side of the ball, especially against the run, so it should be a feast on the ground for the Wolverines. QB Cade McNamara has steadily improved all season, culminating in a game-winning TD pass last week against Penn State. If Maryland can sell out and stop the run, McNamara has proven he can lead the team to victory.
Maryland started the season on fire, but injuries have slowly taken a toll over the last few months. QB Taulia Tagovailoa is still putting up great numbers, but they have mostly been in losing efforts. The wide receiver room has been hit particularly hard by the injury bug and isn’t strong enough to carry the team at this point. Tagovailoa was sacked four times by the Spartans last week and the Michigan pass rush is even less forgiving. Rushers Aiden Hutchinson and David Ojabo are relentless and will pose a massive issue for Maryland. It’s a big number but lay the 15.5 as the Wolverines should roll in this one.
Nebraska @ No. 15 Wisconsin (-7.5)
At the start of the season, this game would have been circled on every football fan’s calendar. Wisconsin has mostly controlled the West Division over the last decade and Nebraska appeared poised to challenge their reign. Unfortunately, Nebraska has found a way to play every game close without coming away with a win, and Wisconsin stumbled so badly to start the season that they nearly fell flat on their face.
While the Badgers have righted the ship behind more efficient performances from their young QB Graham Mertz, Nebraska is still looking for the secret sauce to put them over the top. The Husker defense has been playing well, yielding fewer than 21 points per game. Their task will be to stop the resurgent Badgers’ rushing game and forcing the offense back onto Mertz.
For better or for worse, the Nebraska offense has been carried by QB Adrian Martinez. Not only is he the leading passer, but he is also Nebraska’s leading rusher. Yards on the ground will be tough to come by as Wisconsin is yielding only 60 yards per game on the ground. If Martinez can make some plays and not turn the football over, the Huskers will have a chance to keep it close. With Wisconsin favored by 7.5, take the points as Nebraska will keep this game close like they’ve done all season.