It’s another week in the Big Ten, and there has been another pair of postponed games: Minnesota and Northwestern will not play due to a COVID-19 complication. Neither will Michigan and Maryland. This leaves five games in the conference. Let’s look at them as well as the online betting odds:
Nebraska Cornhuskers at Purdue Boilermakers
Odds: Purdue -2
The midsection of the Big Ten is a jumble. Purdue beat Iowa but lost to Minnesota and Rutgers. Nebraska beat Penn State but lost to Illinois. It is hard to get a handle on Nebraska and Purdue, except to say that both teams struggle more often than they succeed. They play well at times, but those good periods don’t last; the Huskers and Boilermakers have not found ways to sustain a high level of play. Purdue blew a 10-point lead at home versus Rutgers last week, so no one should feel especially comfortable about picking the Boilermakers. However, Nebraska was shelled by Illinois at home; that’s hard to ignore. Purdue winning might not be something you can trust, but Nebraska losing? That might be the outcome you can be sure of here.
Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan State Spartans
Odds: Ohio State -24
The Ohio State Buckeyes haven’t been able to play on a regular basis due to COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic has been bad in the United States for a long time, and in the past three weeks or so, it has been especially nasty in the Midwest, with Columbus, Ohio — home of the Buckeyes — being extremely hard hit. The Buckeyes know that they haven’t been able to play a lot of games this season, so with the College Football Playoff not too far away, they know they need to look very impressive on the field and make a loud national statement. The Michigan State Spartan, just upset the previously unbeaten Northwestern Wildcats, a team Ohio State might play later this season for the Big Ten championship. Currently, Ohio State is in a tough position, where the failure to play Michigan on Dec. 12 could make OSU ineligible for the Big Ten Championship Game. The Big Ten Conference could change that policy, but as of Thursday morning, it had not yet done so. Ohio State knows Michigan State is capable of pulling the upset, so expect the Buckeyes to be focused and play one of their better games.
An added note here: Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is clearly in the Heisman Trophy race. If Fields wants to improve his case – knowing he hasn’t played as many games as Florida’s Kyle Trask or Alabama’s Mc Jones – he has to absolutely go wild. Expect Fields to lead the charge for Ohio State.
Iowa Hawkeyes at Illinois Fighting Illini
College Football Odds: Iowa -13.5
When Illinois beat Nebraska decisively on the road, many people wondered how good the Illini really was. Then Illinois’ game with Ohio State was postponed due to COVID-19, so the Illini haven’t been able to test themselves since the Nebraska game. Iowa, meanwhile, struggled to beat Nebraska at home. The Hawkeyes look like an objectively better team than Illinois at nearly every position, but the way these teams – the Hawkeyes and Illini – fared in recent weeks against Nebraska suggests that this could be a much closer game than the experts seem to believe. Illinois might not win straight up, but it has a decent chance of keeping this game tight in the fourth quarter.
Penn State Nittany Lions at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Odds: Penn State -11.5
Penn State finally got off the schneid and won its first game against Michigan. That might give the Nittany Lions the inspiration needed to display more confidence. Penn State still has plenty of talent. The Nittany Lions lost to mighty Ohio State by 13 points. Many other teams in the Big Ten and across the country would fail to keep the score that close against the loaded Buckeyes, who are a national championship contender. Penn State has played a number of close games but has made fatal mistakes late in those contests. One gets the sense that the Nittany Lions needed to feel what winning is like, for just one game, in order to regain some swagger and energy. Now that PSU has finally broken through, this team might play better, with Rutgers being the victim.
Indiana Hoosiers at Wisconsin Badgers
Sportsbook Odds: Wisconsin -14
Depressing news accompanies this game. Michael Penix, Indiana’s quarterback, is out for this game and the rest of the season due to an injury suffered last weekend against Maryland. Indiana versus Wisconsin was shaping up to be a battle for status in the Big Ten. Northwestern is the likely Big Ten West champion due to a win over Wisconsin, but Indiana doesn’t play Northwestern, so the Hoosiers had hoped that by beating Wisconsin (the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten West), they could get a high-quality win on their resume and go to a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time since the 1967 season when they reached the Rose Bowl.
The Penix injury destroys Indiana’s dreams. The Hoosiers have a good defense that could contain Wisconsin’s offense and keep this game somewhat close, but Indiana’s offense without Penix figures to be impotent and hamstrung against Wisconsin’s quality defense. The only real way for Indiana to win under the adjusted set of circumstances created by Penix’s absence is for the defense and special teams to score or set up touchdowns. Indiana’s offense simply isn’t good enough to win this game on its own. What had looked like a marquee matchup has been downgraded by an injury to an important player. The two-touchdown betting line probably would have been a full touchdown lower, maybe eight points lower, if Penix was healthy.