Big Ten Big Games and Best Bets: Week 7, The Big Off Week

It’s the midway point of the 2021 season for the Big Ten, and apparently that is a good time for many of the schools to take their schedule bye week. No. 6 Ohio State, No. 7 Michigan, and No. 8 Penn State are all off this Saturday, and how they handle this weekend will be critical for the difficult six-week march to finish the season. Ohio State and Michigan have been rolling. Does the week off kill their momentum? Or is it a chance to self scout and develop some wrinkles to use in November? These are the critical decisions head coaches are forced to make that seem benign at the time but can pay huge dividends down the road. 

Penn State is in an entirely different situation. They’ve had one of the country’s most difficult schedules to start the season, and now the Nittany Lions are battered and bruised after their 15-round slugfest with No. 2 Iowa. QB Sean Clifford was one of many Nittany Lions injured in the game, and he appeared to injure his non-throwing shoulder. He returned to the Penn State sideline but wasn’t dressed in shoulder pads and his day was done. Without Clifford, Penn State is in a world of trouble. Though he threw an interception early in the Iowa game, he returned to his typical form and built at 17-3 lead for the Nittany Lions. Head Coach James Franklin hopefully used the week to help prep backup QB Ta’ Quan Roberson, who was overwhelmed against Iowa and needs to be ready to go if is Clifford sidelined for an extended period.

There are some good games of note taking place this weekend in the Midwest. The 10th ranked Michigan State Spartans will travel to Bloomington to take on the Indiana Hoosiers. It’s a chance for the Hoosiers to rectify their early season struggles. Purdue takes on the 2nd ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, who will try to prevent a letdown game. Finally, Nebraska tries to marry its progress with production as they travel to Minnesota. 

Michigan State at Indiana (+4.5)

Spartan Head Coach Mel Tucker is an early candidate for Coach of the Year, but his coaching prowess will be challenged this week against the Hoosiers. With a bye week up next and a rivalry game with Michigan looming at the end of the month, this matchup has all the markings of a classic trap game, especially for a team that hasn’t experienced recent success. Since all of East Lansing is patting the Spartans on the back, it will be up to Tucker and the leaders to keep them focused. With QB Payton Thorne at the helm, directing an offense featuring RB Kenneth Walker III and a pair of WRs, Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed, the Spartans have more than enough firepower to down the Hoosiers. 

Tom Allen has kept Indiana together despite a disappointing start and injuries to some key players. QB Michael Penix Jr suffered a separated AC joint in this throwing shoulder against Penn State two weeks ago. Allen has been coy about who his starter will be against the Spartans, but Indiana needs Penix to play AND play well to have a shot against Sparty. Michigan State, in the end, has too much for IU… lay the 4.5.

Purdue at Iowa (-11.5)

The problem with the Big Ten over the past few seasons is that when teams finally begin to climb in the polls, they drop a game against an inferior opponent. As a double-digit home favorite at home, Iowa should win this game handily. However, the Hawkeyes had an emotional, comeback win over Penn State just last week, so this game could be closer than many expect. Iowa QB Spencer Petras has continued to protect the football and to rely on the running attack, while the Hawkeye defense has continued to force a bounty of turnovers, giving the offense great field position. One day the turnover well will run dry though, and when it does, the Iowa offense will have to step up their game.

Sitting at 3-2, Purdue isn’t turning any heads, but they’ve played a fairly tough schedule to date and do have a big non-conference win over Oregon State to open the season. The Boilermakers played Notre Dame tough a few weeks back and played Minnesota well, despite the loss last week. The worry for Iowa is that Purdue features a stingy defense that yields only 15 points per game. That’s bad news for the Hawkeyes. While Iowa still prevails, without turnovers, scoring could be tough. Hawkeyes win, but it feels more like a 10 point game… so take the points.

Nebraska at Minnesota (+3.5)

Scott Frost would like a big win in the worst way. The Nebraska head coach has had the Huskers competing well against Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Michigan, but they haven’t been able to close one out. This week, that should change. Last week, QB Adrian Martinez coughed up a 4th quarter fumble against Michigan that cost Nebraska a chance for a game winning field goal. This week, he comes through in the clutch. 

Minnesota is another Big Ten team that has suffered early season injuries at critical positions, which has led to incredibly erratic play. From beating Colorado to losing to Bowling Green, the Gophers have been anything but consistent. Their offense is averaging fewer than 25 points per game, which is a bad matchup against Nebraska. The Huskers get the win and battle back to .500, so lay the points as they take care of business.

Written by Bobby Carpenter

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