It’s another week in the Big Ten, and there are lots of surprises to absorb. Indiana is 3-0 and No. 10 in the national rankings. That is the most positive surprise in the conference. Northwestern is 3-0 and a real contender in the Big Ten West Division. That is something worth watching. Penn State is 0-3 and reeling. Michigan is 1-2 and also reeling. Wisconsin is on track to finally return to the field after two straight games were canceled. Another news item: The Ohio State-Maryland game has been canceled. Let’s look at the six Big Ten games which will be played this week and examine the online betting lines:
Iowa Hawkeyes at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Sportsbook Odds: Iowa -3.5
This is the rivalry game known as “Floyd of Rosedale,” which refers to a pig. The winner of this game gets a trophy of the pig and parades it around the field right after winning. It’s a feisty, intense rivalry which is enhanced by the presence of a famous trophy.
Iowa is 1-2, but it just hammered Michigan State in a big blowout. People will wonder if this game represented a true resurgence for Iowa, or if it was more of a reflection on how bad Michigan State truly is. Given that Michigan State beat Michigan, some people will think that Iowa is probably better than its 1-2 record. Given that Michigan has struggled, however, some people will think Iowa’s win versus Michigan State is more representative of how bad Michigan State is. That is the guessing game going on with various teams across the Big Ten, and it’s the guessing game which goes into which team you think is better in these upcoming conference matchups.
Minnesota is 1-2. The Golden Gophers have a terrible defense, but they did just bury the Illinois Fighting Illini. Was this a case of the Gophers cleaning up their act, or was it merely a case of Illinois being a very bad team (the Illini are 0-3). Given how utterly abysmal Illinois has been through three games, it is clear that Illinois is a bad team. It is less clear that the Michigan State squad Iowa crushed is a bad team. Therefore, in a matchup between two teams with lots of questions, it is more likely that Minnesota is a weaker team, since its win over Illinois is noticeably less impressive – and less proof of improvement – than Iowa’s win over Michigan State.
Indiana Hoosiers at Michigan State Spartans
Odds: Indiana -7
This is a game between the most pleasant surprise in the Big Ten and the most mysterious team in the conference. Indiana being in the top 10 is an extremely rare occurrence. Indiana has not been to the Rose Bowl in over 50 years, but this team is trying to make a run at the Big Ten title. Quarterback Michael Penix started slowly in the first two games of his season, but he stepped up and improved to a considerable degree last week in an evisceration of Michigan’s defense. Indiana did whatever it wanted against the Wolverines and looked like a faster, stronger, more complete team. The Hoosiers do appear to be for real.
The bigger question mark in this game is Michigan State. Is this Spartan team as bad as the one which no-showed against Iowa and was whacked by Rutgers, or is this team as good as its win at Michigan indicated? Which Michigan State team will show up? That’s very hard to answer. Will Indiana play well? Quite probably.
Penn State Nittany Lions at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Odds: Penn State -3.5
When this game was scheduled, could anyone have imagined that Penn State and Nebraska would both be winless? Plenty of people imagined that Nebraska would be winless. The Cornhuskers didn’t play Wisconsin, but that game was expected to be a loss for coach Scott Frost. The loss to Northwestern was less expected, but still not a big upset. Penn State being winless, however, is a real jolt. The Nittany Lions should have beaten Indiana but made a ton of mistakes down the stretch and suffered a bad call at the very end to lose by one point. Then came Ohio State, which is easily the best team in the Big Ten.
However, the game Penn State never figured to lose in the first three games of the season was its most recent home game against Maryland. The Terrapins were expected to have a miserable season under coach Mike Locksley, but they stormed into Pennsylvania and grabbed a 28-7 lead en route to a comfortable and decisive win over the Nittany Lions. Penn State coach James Franklin is scrambling for answers, and if he loses here, he will be under even more fire in State College.
Illinois Fighting Illini at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
College Football Odds: Rutgers -7
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights are 1-2, but they are no longer the doormat in the Big Ten they were in the previous few seasons. Head coach Greg Schiano coached at Rutgers 15 years ago and built up the program. Now he is trying to do the same thing again. Rutgers probably won’t finish in the top tier of the Big Ten East Division, but it might avoid finishing in the basement, which is real progress. One of the few teams Rutgers is expected to beat in this year’s Big Ten is Illinois. The Illini came close to beating Purdue but were demolished by Wisconsin and Minnesota. This game is easy to pick if you realize Illinois is terrible. Rutgers might be a hard team to pin down, but Illinois is easy to identify.
Wisconsin Badgers at Michigan Wolverines
Odds: Wisconsin -4.5
The key point about this game is that Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz – who was spectacular in his season debut against Illinois a few weeks ago – is uncertain to play for this game due to the COVID-19 problems which have affected the Badgers the past few weeks. If Mertz plays, Wisconsin is a lot better than a Michigan team which has stumbled through the first three games of its season. If Mertz doesn’t play, this game becomes a complete toss-up and impossible to gauge.
Northwestern Wildcats at Purdue Boilermakers
Odds: Northwestern -3
The Purdue Boilermakers barely held off the Illinois Fighting Illini earlier this season. Illinois is a bad team, and yet Purdue gave them a chance to win. The Illini had first and 10 at the Purdue 15 in the final minutes, with a chance to score a touchdown and then go for a 2-point conversion and the win. Purdue held on, 31-24, but that game was alarming for anyone who thought Purdue was ready to take the next step up the ladder in the Big Ten West Division.
Northwestern won the Big Ten West in 2018 and has started 3-0. The Wildcats’ blowout win over Maryland in their season opener looks a lot better after Maryland beat Minnesota and Penn State the past two weeks. It seems clear that Northwestern is a much better team than Purdue. It would rate as a small surprise if Northwestern lost here.