Big Ten Big Games and Best Bets: Week 8

It’s finally here, the weekend the Big Ten has been waiting for. The No. 6 Michigan Wolverines travels to East Lansing to take on the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans, and the No. 20 Penn State Nittany Lions travel to Columbus to square off with No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes. It’s two top 25 matchups that should garner national attention. The problem is Penn State fell out of the Top 10 after a 9-overtime loss to Illinois AT HOME last week. ESPN’s College GameDay was slated to travel to Columbus until the Nittany Lions’ pitiful offensive performance spoiled the show. Instead, the show will travel to East Lansing to watch the Spartans and Wolverines battle for Paul Bunyan.

The overshadowed game of the weekend is No. 9 Iowa visiting Wisconsin. In a normal year, this would be a matchup of two teams ranked in the top 20, teams that run the ball and play great defense. Unfortunately, Wisconsin has failed to hold up their end of the bargain this year and has struggled so mightily on offense that is has led to three losses by midseason. Despite the Badgers’ offensive struggles, the Hawkeyes have their work cut out for them if they want to pull the upset.  

No. 20 Penn State at No. 5 Ohio State (-18.5)

After struggling through the first three weeks of the season, the Ohio State Buckeyes have caught fire, thanks in large part to an explosive offense that has rolled up over 50 points in each of their last 4 games. The Buckeyes boast the nation’s best skill position players. Between TreVeyon Henderson (RB), Jeremy Ruckert (TE), Chris Olave (WR), Garrett Wilson (WR), and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR), there isn’t a player who isn’t a game breaker. QB CJ Stroud has looked more comfortable in the pocket and that has led to incredibly fast starts in each of the last 4 weeks. If Illinois was able to rush for over 350 yards against Penn State, there is no telling what true freshman RB TreVeyon Henderson is capable of. He has been on fire of late and averages nearly 9 yards/carry for the season.

The Nittany Lions are reeling. Their head coach is seemingly distracted by potential job openings, and they are coming off consecutive losses to Iowa and Illinois. Penn State’s season hangs in the balance. QB Sean Clifford was knocked out of the Iowa game with a 14-point lead, a lead which then quickly eroded and the Nittany Lions eventually lost. Last week against Illinois, Penn State couldn’t muster any offense. Clifford still looked hobbled and was unable to push the ball to star WR Jahan Dotson downfield. If Penn State can’t score and consistently drive the football, it will be a long day for their defense. Clifford believes he will be 100% on Saturday, but that doesn’t seem likely. Even with a massive line of 18.5 points… lay the points as the Buckeyes pull away in the 2nd half. 

No. 6 Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State (+3.5)

With Sparty coming off a bye week and the Wolverines coming off a 33-7 thrashing of Northwestern, Saturday’s game in East Lansing will be the most anticipated intrastate matchup in recent memory. Both teams have handled their business through the first 7 weeks of the season and arrive undefeated and ranked in the top 10. The Spartans, led by Heisman Trophy candidate RB Kenneth Walker III, will need to establish their running game to help keep the Wolverine defense off balance. Michigan State is averaging over 200 yards/game on the ground, but rushing for 100 yards will be a victory for MSU on Saturday. Establishing the run game will also take some heat off of their defense to prevent Michigan from pounding the football and controlling the clock.

The Wolverine defense is paced by Senior DE Aiden Hutchinson. He is a playing at an elite level and wreaks havoc against both the run and the pass. If the Spartans can’t run the football consistently, it will be a long day for QB Payton Thorne with the Wolverine front chasing him around the pocket. HC Jim Harbaugh has tried to construct this offense in his image. His philosophy? Pound the football and take play action shots. QB Cade McNamara has played better as the season has progressed, but RBs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins have truly driven the offense. 

Michigan has controlled nearly every game they have played this season. Michigan State needs to disrupt the Michigan machine by utilizing their elite WRs Jordan Nailor and Jayden Reed for some big plays to get an early lead. It’s the best way to change the dynamic of how Michigan likes to play. The Spartans must force the Wolverines to throw the ball, which they haven’t had to do much this season. This game will come down to the final gun… so take the 3.5 points but look for Sparty to pull the upset.

No. 9 Iowa at Wisconsin (-3.5) (36.5)

For the second weekend in the row, the Wisconsin Badgers are unranked yet still favored over a ranked team. The Badgers have done a better job of running the football in recent weeks, and QB Graham Mertz hasn’t been quite as generous in giving it up either. Factor in a defense that held Purdue to negative rushing yards, and it looks like Wisconsin is on the come up.

The Iowa Hawkeyes have lost much of their luster since the loss to Purdue two weeks ago. For the first time this season, the Hawkeyes couldn’t produce a bounty of turnovers that game and were forced to play from behind. The Boilermakers were able to ride the massive performance by WR David Bell to a victory. Wisconsin doesn’t have anyone of Bell’s caliber to create big plays. Look for Iowa to slow down the Badgers’ running attack, and once the game is shifted to Mertz’s shoulder, it’s advantage Hawkeyes. Despite the game being played at Camp Randall, take the 3.5 and Hawkeyes get it done. 

Written by Bobby Carpenter

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