College football is now in full swing, and it’s finally conference season. Outside of a game or two a week, most teams will face off against the big boys with conference title ramifications on the line. The non-conference slate was finally good to the Big Ten. Outside of Ohio State’s loss to Oregon, the rest of the conference held serve in OOC games they were expected to win, and there were even a few upsets. This week’s Big Ten schedule provides a couple of great matchups, and there’s even one slightly outside the conference that could still have historic ramifications.
Iowa @ Maryland +3.5
The Hawkeyes have survived off a ball-hawking defense and a consistent, mistake-free offense. No one has yet challenged Iowa with perimeter playmakers and a potent offense, but that’s exactly what Maryland provides. Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa has already thrown for over 1,300 yards, 10 TDs, and, the most important number, just 1 interception. The Terps haven’t just beaten up on inferior competition. Their Week 1 win against West Virginia looks much better than initially projected. If styles make fights, then this game will boil down to which team can impose their will and do what they do best. If Iowa can control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and limit Maryland’s big plays, then it’s their game to lose. But if the Terps can push tempo and score more than 30 points, then Iowa is in trouble. The Hawkeyes simply aren’t built to play that way.
This game will be tight, and the hook is enticing, but Iowa can take this by a touchdown. Lay the points
Michigan @ Wisconsin -2.5
The lines never lie. Earlier this week, Wisconsin opened as a 1.5 favorite over the visiting Wolverines, and the line has since moved to 2.5 still in favor of the Badgers. Now they are playing at home in the friendly confines of Camp Randall, which is worth a field goal, but they need the Badger faithful to show up. The fans will provide an emotional boost for the Badgers, and they’ll need it. Sitting at 1-2, they are in desperate need of a win. The offense has struggled to run the ball consistently against quality defenses, and QB Graham Mertz has regressed into a turnover machine. The Badgers have also struggled to finish drives in or near the red zone, which puts an incredible amount of pressure on DC Jim Leonard and the defense.
Wisconsin has certainly struggled, but Michigan’s offense has been limited as well. All Michigan has been able do is run the football. They are averaging nearly 300 yards a game on the ground. Meanwhile, the Badgers’ stingy run defense is surrendering only 85 yards a game on the ground. So, the outcome will largely fall on the shoulders of QB Cade McNamara. Last week against Rutgers was the first time he outgained the Wolverine’s rushing attack. There’s no reason to feel good about either QB winning the game for his team, but Wisconsin has had a much tougher road and is battle tested. Lay the points as the Badgers get their first big win of 2021.
Ohio State @ Rutgers +15
The Scarlet Knights have bought into the Greg Schiano way. Sitting at 3-1, Rutgers has won the games it was supposed to win, developed an identity of toughness, and continued to fight for four quarters. Last week against Michigan was the perfect opportunity for the Scarlet Knights to revert to their old ways. They were down 20-3 at halftime and could have packed it in, but instead they came out swinging in the 2nd half, closed it to a 1-possession game, and held Michigan to a mere 112 rushing yards total.
Ohio State is coming off their most complete game of the year, bludgeoning Akron behind backup true freshman QB Kyle McCord. Now at Rutgers, OSU will be welcoming QB CJ Stroud back to the starting lineup. But it’s not the QB who will make the difference. OSU has been preaching toughness in the trenches all week and will attempt to impose their will by running the football. Freshman RB Treveyon Henderson has been incredibly dominant and needs to have a huge day in Piscataway. It’s a tighter line than it’s been in years (and for good reason), but still lay the points as the Bucks still cover.
Cincinnati @ Notre Dame +1.5
This game may not feature a Big Ten team, but it’s still geographically relevant to Big Ten interests. Plus, it may even have historic ramifications. No Group of Five team has made the College Football Playoff since its inception in 2014. This year, Cincinnati has chance to make it, should they beat Notre Dame on Saturday. They entered the season with a top 10 ranking, they have a chance to run the table, and have Notre Dame, a top 10 college football blue blood, to give them a perception boost. Factor in the chaos across the ACC, Big Ten and potentially the Big 12, and this could be the year the Group of Five slides in the CFP. Entering the game, the pressure on Bearcat QB Desmond Ridder will be intense, but the pressure applied by the Irish defense could be overwhelming. The Irish defense has been much better over the last 2 games, with the defensive line driving the improvement. Offensive line is the one area in which the Bearcats have struggled. Cincinnati will need a monster game out of Ridder to escape South Bend with a win. He has it… lay the 1.5 and Cincinnati places themselves squarely in the College Football Playoff conversation.