The college football season moves into Week 7 with another relatively light slate in the Big Ten Conference. The league, for the second straight week, has just five games. Only nine of its 14 teams are playing this week. A lot of midseason off-weeks are giving Big Ten teams crucial rest to refuel for the home stretch in late October and the month of November. Let’s look at this week’s games and see some of the best options for college football picks.
Nebraska Cornhuskers at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Odds: Nebraska -4
The Nebraska Cornhuskers keep living through their own personal Groundhog Day. They keep losing close games. They keep losing games in which they had a lead in the fourth quarter. They lost this way against Michigan State and lost in the same manner against Michigan. The ‘Huskers are close, but they can’t finish off games which hang in the balance in the final minutes of regulation. They trailed Michigan early this past Saturday and then scrambled to take a late lead before a roaring home crowd in Lincoln. Yet, their defense allowed big pass plays and their offense fumbled when trying to mount a game-winning drive.
It has been like this not just all year for the Cornhuskers, but throughout the tenure of coach Scott Frost, who is in his fourth season and has still not been able to turn the corner. Can Nebraska finally handle the heat if it gets roped into a close game? The Cornhuskers certainly want to be able to rise to the occasion in a close game, but the counterpoint is that they don’t even want to get in a close game. Minnesota lost to lowly Bowling Green at home. Nebraska should think that it is the better team but the ‘Huskers have to prove it. They can’t keep claiming they’re ready to win. They just have to get the job done.
Purdue Boilermakers at Iowa Hawkeyes
Odds: Iowa -11½
This is the Big Ten game with significant national implications. The Iowa Hawkeyes just defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions to remain unbeaten and move to No. 2 in the national polls, shortly before the College Football Playoff committee releases its own rankings. Iowa knows that if it keeps winning, it will have the inside track to the College Football Playoff. The Hawkeyes might lose the Big Ten Championship Game to Ohio State, but if they go 12-1 and get an Alabama loss, they might still be able to make the playoff even with one loss. They need to stay the course against a Purdue team which is realistically fighting for bowl eligibility. The Boilermakers lost a home game against Minnesota, which reduced their odds of making a bowl game. Purdue has to find a way to claw a game back, but Iowa is not the opponent against which that is likely to happen.
Michigan State Spartans at Indiana Hoosiers
Odds: Michigan State -5
The Michigan State Spartans are unbeaten and in the top 10 of the national rankings. Not losing games will do that. Michigan State has been taking advantage of the soft portion of the Big Ten schedule. The Spartans don’t have a heavyweight-level win – their biggest games are still ahead of them – but by accumulating wins now, they are increasing their chances of getting a quality bowl bid. The quest for a high-end bowl bid continues against an Indiana team that has had a disappointing season. The Hoosiers got an early lead on Cincinnati but faltered in the second half and couldn’t bring that game home. Indiana’s offense has struggled markedly and hasn’t been able to find a genuine groove. The Hoosiers will try to pull an upset and make sure they walk away with some positive moments and achievements. This does not figure to be an easy game for Michigan State, a team which still has to take some steps to make certain that it belongs among the nation’s elite.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Northwestern Wildcats
Odds: Rutgers -2
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights have gone through a very difficult portion of their schedule. They just finished a three-game stretch against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State, three teams all ranked in the national top 10. There is no shame in losing to those three. Even so, the reality of a three-game losing streak is never fun. Rutgers wants to be able to get back to its winning ways and pursue the best possible bowl destination it can get this upcoming winter. Fortunately, the Scarlet Knights now play what could be the worst team in the Big Ten, so this could be a good opportunity if you betonline. Illinois is bad. Minnesota and Purdue are almost as bad. Northwestern, though, has bottomed out more than any other Big Ten team this season, losing to Duke in a non-conference game and showing none of the quality of last year’s team, which reached the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis before losing to Ohio State.
This is a road game for Rutgers, but a road game it should definitely expect to win, much as Nebraska should expect to win at Minnesota. If the Scarlet Knights let this game slip away, they will have a tougher time mentally regrouping for the latter half. The balance of their season is at stake. They need to view this game as an opportunity and not as a time to be fearful or tentative. We will learn a lot about Rutgers in this game, for better or worse. Head coach Greg Schiano hopes to get the right answers about his team.
Army Black Knights at Wisconsin Badgers: The Wisconsin Badgers are a heavy favorite, which is the result of Army’s surprising loss to Ball State earlier in the season. Army might have been looking ahead to this game, though. It’s a fascinating contrast of styles.