Big Ten Week 4: Big Games, Best Bets, and QB Controversies

Notre Dame @ Wisconsin (-5.5)

After a heartbreaking home defeat against Penn State to open the season, the Badgers thrashed Eastern Michigan in Week 2 before an early season bye week last Saturday. The timing should ensure that Wisconsin is fresh and ready to face the Fighting Irish at Soldier Field in Chicago. QB Graham Mertz and the Badgers will need to play much better in the red zone than they did in Week 1. The Badgers were plagued by turnovers and special teams blunders for much of the game, and it ultimately cost them a leg up in the Big Ten West. Conversely, Notre Dame strolls in undefeated but not unscathed. A couple of 3-point wins over Florida State and Toledo in the first weeks count a wins on the stat sheet, but were hardly a confidence infusion. 

Former Wisconsin and current Notre Dame QB Jack Coan will get a chance prove that the Badgers made a massive mistake by choosing Mertz over him last season. Coan has been solid this year for the Irish and even led a penalty-aided game winning drive against Toledo. Mertz has been anything but spectacular so far, and while the Badgers’ run game looked better against Eastern Michigan, it wasn’t up to par against the much tougher Nittany Lions. It’s difficult to fathom that Wisconsin is nearly a touchdown favorite over a solid yet unspectacular Notre Dame team. At the neutral field, look for Wisconsin to win, but it feels more like a field goal than a touchdown. Take the points.

Nebraska @ Michigan State (-4.5) 

It’s surprising to see Michigan State as only a 4.5 point favorite at HOME against a struggling Nebraska. College football usually has the strongest homefield advantage line with the home team receiving a 3-point boost. With that math, MSU would favored by fewer than 2 points against Nebraska on a neutral field. The Huskers played the Sooners incredibly tough last week, led in large part by a very efficient game by QB Adrian Martinez. He was accurate throwing the ball, looked poised in the pocket and did a great job connecting for some big plays. When Martinez performs well, Nebraska has a shot to compete with most of college football. Finding that consistency has been a challenge though. 

Michigan State is off to the one hottest starts in the Big Ten. The offense has been racking up points at an impressive clip, with QB Payton Thorne tossing 9 touchdowns and Kenneth Walker III running wild for nearly 500 yards. Walker, a Wake Forest transfer, has shown terrific agility, vision, and homerun ability from anywhere on the field. Racking up 38 points in Miami against the Hurricanes was no small feat, and their bend-don’t-break defense has allowed drives but limited points. Michigan State is for real and handles the Huskers. Lay the points as Sparty rolls. 

Rutgers @ Michigan (-20)

Just because Rutgers is a 20-point road dog, don’t go counting them out against the vaunted Wolverines just yet. Since arriving back in Piscataway, Greg Schiano has transformed the attitude of the Scarlet Knights. He has them believing and playing with an attitude that hasn’t existed since Schiano left the program following the 2011 season. The transfer portal has been good to the Scarlet Knight, and the talent infusion, led on offense by Nebraska transfer QB Noah Vedral, has changed expectations. Outside of traveling to Syracuse, Rutgers hasn’t been challenged this season, so Ann Arbor will provide a significant upgrade in both talent and venue. 

Jim Harbaugh has struggled to find an offensive identity since returning to his alma mater. This season, the tide seems to be turning. Behind a potent running attack that features a dynamic 1-2 punch of RB Blake Corum and RB Hassan Haskins, the Wolverine offense is beginning to resemble what Harbaugh built at Stanford. Multiple tight ends sets allow Michigan to align in a multitude of formations and slowly pound their opponents into submission. QB Cade McNamara has been efficient and played his role well. He hasn’t forced the football into tight coverage, and he can rely on the strong running game to set up his play action passing attack. For the first time under Harbaugh, Michigan finally appears to know who they are and how they should be playing. They aren’t a high flying offense, so take the points, but the Wolverines control the game.

Akron @ Ohio State (-48.5)

This game didn’t become interesting until midday on Thursday when HC Ryan Day announced that QB CJ Stroud would not be starting against the Zips. Stroud has been battling a shoulder injury and has had pain throwing the football. This announcement shed some light on the accuracy issues that have been plaguing Stroud so far this season. Behind Stroud are 4 and 5 star quarterbacks Kyle McCord, Jack Miller and early enrollee Quinn Ewers. McCord will likely get the start and see most of the action, followed by Miller. Ewers likely won’t see action since he arrived near the end of training camp.

Assuming McCord or Miller plays well, which they should since it’s Akron, we’ll have to wait and see whether there is a QB controversy come Sunday morning. Ryan Day has done a fantastic job of managing the quarterback battle without creating a quarterback controversy. The old adage of “The film tells no lies” could come into play if/when McCord lights it up Saturday night in Horseshoe. Saturday’s game was transformed by Day’s announcement, and while the outcome isn’t in doubt, the quarterback position could be.

Outkick’s Arky Shea has the CFB betting lines to pounce on (and the ones to avoid).

Written by Bobby Carpenter

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