The college football season moves into Week 6, and the Big Ten Conference has four teams taking the week off. Only 10 of the 14 teams in the conference are playing, creating a five-game schedule. Let’s look at the matchups and the odds for those who bet online, highlighted by a big clash in Iowa City.
Michigan Wolverines vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Odds: Michigan -3
The Michigan Wolverines are in a good mood after hammering Wisconsin on the road. The Nebraska Cornhuskers just crushed the Northwestern Wildcats and showed the potential to become a better team as the season moves along. People will wonder if Michigan’s win was more the product of what the Wolverines did or more the result of Wisconsin cratering as a program, a plot development few people anticipated. Similarly, plenty of college football observers will wonder if Nebraska’s demolition of Northwestern was more about Nebraska finding solutions to its problems, or more the creation of Northwestern bottoming out under head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
It is not immediately clear which viewpoints are more accurate. There are a lot of examples in college football in which a lot of teams have played mediocre football, making it hard to tell whether a given result is the product of the winning team’s excellence or the losing team’s faults, flaws and frailties. Michigan and Nebraska just won blowouts against surprisingly bad opponents. Now they get to see how they stack up against each other. It should be a very fascinating game, with the defenses expected to control the game and the offenses trying to make big plays in difficult situations.
Penn State Nittany Lions at Iowa Hawkeyes
Odds: Iowa -2
This Penn State-Iowa game is a top-five matchup. Alabama and Georgia are No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, followed by third-ranked Iowa and No. 4 Penn State. Penn State has beaten Wisconsin on the road and Auburn at home, while Iowa beat Iowa State on the road. This game, much like Michigan-Nebraska, figures to be controlled by the two defenses, which have been playing at a very high level. The offenses aren’t nearly as good or advanced as the two defenses, which means that this game could easily turn on an interception or fumble recovery. If the teams don’t commit turnovers or if the turnover factor is even, the game could swing based on the kicking game.
Penn State’s James Franklin is seeking to win his second Big Ten championship at Penn State and his first since 2016. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz last made the Big Ten Championship Game in 2015. Winning a conference title would be very special for him since he is the longest-tenured coach at any Power Five program, having been with the Hawkeyes since 1999. This game figures to be close throughout and the margin for error is very small precisely because these defenses figure to punish any major mistake a quarterback or skill-position player might make.
Michigan State at Rutgers
NCAA Odds: Michigan State -5
The Michigan State Spartans have made a reputation on being solid and unspectacular. Michigan State is a blue-collar team that lacks high-end athleticism but makes the routine plays more consistently than the opposition. The Spartans wait for the opposition to implode or at least flinch, and so far that has happened in every game. Michigan State trounced Northwestern on opening night when people didn’t know what to expect. The Spartans also notched a notable road win in Miami against the Hurricanes, who drowned in a sea of turnovers and generally bad execution. More recently, Michigan State made a late comeback to beat Nebraska with solid special teams. The Spartans are not a dazzling or overwhelming team, but they are finding ways to win.
Rutgers has had an interesting past few weeks. The Scarlet Knights pushed Michigan hard in Ann Arbor, losing 20-13. That result wasn’t ideal, but playing Michigan close suggested that Rutgers was going to be competitive against the upper half of the Big Ten. Then came last week’s game against Ohio State. Rutgers got blown out of the box early and never recovered in a lopsided 52-13 loss that the program used to endure under previous head coach Chris Ash. It’s a result current coach Greg Schiano has not allowed to happen under his watch with the same frequency. Rutgers will try to bounce back against Michigan State and erase the memory of the Ohio State debacle. Michigan State will just try to stick to its identity of being the steadier, less mistake-prone team.
Maryland Terrapins at Ohio State Buckeyes
Odds: Ohio State -21
The Maryland Terrapins, who many had in their college football picks last week, gave up 51 points to an Iowa team generally not known for scoring in bunches. The Terrapins collapsed on national television in a Friday night game. They now have to play Ohio State, which might have solved some of its problems in a 52-13 blowout win over Rutgers. Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud looked sharp and confident against Rutgers. If he is ready to play at a much higher level compared to what he showed in September, Ohio State could be in for a very big year and the Buckeyes would roll here against Maryland. However, one blowout of Rutgers probably isn’t enough evidence to indicate that the Buckeyes have figured out how to play. They need to replicate that level of performance throughout the remainder of the season.
Wisconsin Badgers at Illinois Fighting Illini: The Wisconsin Badgers have played two horrendous games in a row against Notre Dame and Michigan. They will try to rebound against Illinois. Both teams have had very difficult seasons. The loser here will be in big trouble in terms of making a bowl game at the end of the regular season.