Week 4 Big Ten Football Preview

(Photo courtesy of Northwestern Athletics.)

Week 3 in the Big Ten made it even more clear that we should continue to expect the unexpected in 2020 Big Ten football. From Maryland’s domination of Penn State as 27-point underdogs to Indiana defeating Michigan for the first time since 1987, Week 3 left us with more questions about some of these teams than answers. 

Let’s take a look at the Week 4 matchups:

Iowa (1-2) @ Minnesota (1-2)

When/Where: Friday, November 13th, 7:00 PM @ TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN

Lines*: Iowa -3.5, O/U 58 

(Photo courtesy of Iowa Athletics.)

Both teams are coming off of their first wins of the season: Iowa blew out Michigan State, 49-7, while Minnesota defeated Illinois 41-14. 

Iowa needed a get-right game after starting 0-2, and that’s exactly what happened last Saturday against the Spartans. The Hawkeye’s rushing attack was unstoppable as running back Tyler Goodson went off for 113 yards and two touchdowns on only 14 carries. As a team, Iowa finished the game with 226 yards on the ground. Minnesota’s defense has been porous against the run through three games, giving up an average of 238 yards on the ground, which is last in the Big Ten. Iowa will most likely rely on the rushing attack again this week. 

Minnesota’s ground game last Saturday was even more impressive, as the Golden Gophers ran for 325 yards. Running back Mohammed Ibrahim had four touchdowns for the second consecutive week and finished the game with 224 yards on 30 carries. He currently leads the NCAA averaging 190 yards per game. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman had a breakout game too, racking up 10 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. Iowa’s run defense is number 1 in the Big Ten, creating a matchup that pits strength against strength. 

Prediction: Both of these teams have had disappointing starts to the season, but Iowa’s defense has kept them in games while Minnesota’s defense has lost them games, which is why I like the Hawkeyes. 31-20 Iowa. 

Penn State (0-3) @ Nebraska (0-2)

When/Where: Saturday, November 14th, 12:00 PM @ Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE

Lines: Penn State -3, O/U 56.5 

(Photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics.)

Penn State is coming off of an embarrassing home loss to Maryland, which gave them their first 0-3 start in 19 years. Nebraska was defeated by undefeated Northwestern in a low-scoring battle, 21-13. 

Penn State’s loss against Maryland might have been the low point of the James Franklin era in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions showed no signs of life throughout the game and were absolutely steamrolled by a team that they had dominated in the past. Quarterback Sean Clifford was inaccurate and took 7 sacks, but he was not helped at all by a rushing attack that mustered just 2.6 yards per carry. The Lions took another hit this week with the news that star running back Journey Brown will be retiring from football due to a heart condition. Nebraska’s shaky defense will give Penn State’s offense a chance to finally get things rolling. 

Outside of the second quarter, Nebraska’s offense could find no rhythm against Northwestern. Quarterbacks Luke McCaffery and Adrian Martinez combined for 218 and two interceptions and the team was just 4/16 on third downs. It’s possible that McCaffery gets more reps this week at the quarterback position with this team in need of some juice on offense. Penn State has struggled mightily on defense this year, giving up over 30 points in each of their games. However, Nebraska is most likely the least potent offense they have faced to this point. 

Prediction: Both of these teams are reeling, but Nebraska has shown improvement from week- to-week while Penn State has regressed. I think the freefall in Happy Valley continues into this week and the home team comes away with a win. 27-24 Nebraska. 

Illinois (0-3) @ Rutgers (1-2)

When/Where: Saturday, November 14th, 12:00 PM @ SHI Stadium, Piscataway, NJ

Lines: Rutgers -6.5, O/U 52 

(Photo courtesy of Rutgers Athletics.)

Illinois is still looking for their first win after falling to Minnesota while Rutgers is favored in a Big Ten game for the first time since 2014 after a decent showing against Ohio State. 

Illinois is looking like they’ll occupy the cellar of the Big Ten this season after another poor showing against a Minnesota team that had been struggling. The Fighting Illini have dealt with injuries and are on their fourth-string quarterback, Coran Taylor. They rank second-to-last in the Big Ten in both points and offensive yards and managed just 287 yards of offense against a poor Minnesota defense. Rutgers is giving up the second most points in the Big Ten so far, so this may be the week the Illini break through. 

Rutgers lost by 22 to Ohio State, but outscored the Buckeyes 24-14 in the second half. It was an encouraging performance for a team that has been known for their lack of fight in conference games. Three different quarterbacks got snaps for the Scarlet Knights last Saturday, but starter Noah Vedral has been serviceable so far. He appears to have a tight grip on the job going forward. Rutgers will look to build off of their moral victory versus Ohio State against an Illinois defense that has given up the most points in the Big Ten this season.

Prediction: These are two programs trending in opposite directions, with Rutgers surprising everyone under Greg Schiano while Illinois has struggled to be competitive against Big Ten opponents. 29-24 Rutgers. 

No. 10 Indiana (3-0) @ Michigan State (1-2)

When/Where: Saturday, November 14th, 12:00 PM @ Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI

Lines: Indiana -7, O/U 52 

(Photo courtesy of Indiana Athletics.)

Indiana enters this game as co-leader in the Big Ten East after defeating Michigan at home while Michigan State was decimated at home by Iowa.

Indiana head coach Tom Allen has the Hoosiers playing some incredible football right now. They cruised to victory last week behind quarterback Michael Penix Jr. ‘s 342 yards and three touchdowns. Penix has taken the league by storm this year as none of the Hoosiers competition so far has had an answer for him. Indiana hasn’t faced the top Big Ten defenses yet, and that trend will continue this week against a Spartans team that was torched by Iowa last week. 

Michigan State was not able to carry over their momentum from beating Michigan into Week 3. Quarterback Rocky Lombardi regressed greatly, throwing three interceptions and completing only 46% of his passes. It was an ugly showing by the Spartans, who punted the ball 10 times against Iowa. They will need to correct many aspects of their game if they want to compete against the Hoosiers. Indiana’s defense has been formidable this year and is coming off of their best game of the year in which they only allowed 13 rushing yards and forced two turnovers.

Prediction: This could be a potential trap game for Indiana with Ohio State looming next week, but the Hoosiers are a much better team than the Spartans. 38-20 Indiana. 

No. 13 Wisconsin (1-0) @ Michigan (1-2)

When/Where: Saturday, November 14th, 7:30 PM @ Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI

Lines: Wisconsin -4.5, O/U 54 

(Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Athletics.)

Wisconsin is finally back on the football field after two cancellations due to COVID-19. Michigan is coming off their second straight loss and are badly in need of a strong performance to quiet the critics. 

Wisconsin was perhaps the most impressive team in the Big Ten after one week with its 45-7 dismantling of Illinois. Quarterback Graham Mertz completed 95% of his passes and tossed five touchdowns while the Badger defense shut down Illinois for 60 minutes. Then, everything fell apart. Mertz, among other Badgers players and staff, tested positive for COVID-19 and Wisconsin had their next two contests cancelled. Mertz could play against the Wolverines, but his status probably won’t be known until gameday. If he cannot go, backup Danny Vanden Boom will get the start. Whoever plays quarterback will face a Michigan secondary that has been the subject of much criticism in Ann Arbor this season.

The Michigan offense, led by quarterback Joe Milton has had a rough go after their solid Week 1 performance. Milton put up 300 passing yards again, but the team rushed for just 13 yards the entire game. The Wolverines also converted on less than 50% of their third downs for the second week in a row. It’s tough to evaluate the Wisconsin defense after just one game against one of the league’s worst offenses, but the Badgers were a top-five defense last year and returned many starters. They will probably be the toughest unit Michigan has seen. 

Prediction: This one is tough to pick because of the uncertainty regarding Wisconsin, but they rolled Michigan last year and the Wolverines have looked very shaky. 35-28 Wisconsin. 

No. 23 Northwestern (3-0) @ Purdue (2-0)

When/Where: Saturday, November 14th, 7:30 PM @ Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, IN

Lines: Northwestern -2.5, O/U 50.5 

(Photo courtesy of Purdue Athletics.)

Who would’ve thought that Northwestern-Purdue was going to be a matchup of unbeatens in the Big Ten conference? Northwestern won a hard fought game against Nebraska while Purdue’s game against Wisconsin was cancelled.

Pat Fitzgerald has this Northwestern team playing like they did when they reached the Big Ten championship game in 2018. The offense is not overwhelming, but they have done just enough to win games with the help of a strong defensive unit. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey has not been asked to do much as the Wildcats have relied on a strong rushing attack led by running back Drake Anderson. Purdue’s defense has perfected the strategy of “bend don’t break,” as they are fourth in the Big Ten in points allowed but 11th in yards given up. Similar to the Northwestern offense, they have done just enough to win games.

Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell looked fantastic in Week 2 against Illinois after throwing two interceptions against Iowa, but the star of the Boilermakers offense has been wide receiver David Bell. Bell has 22 catches, 243 yards, and four touchdowns in just two games. Purdue is still without All-American wide receiver Rondale Moore, who is a game-time decision. Northwestern’s defense is the anchor of this team. They are behind only Wisconsin (who has played one game) in points and yards allowed in the Big Ten, and haven’t given up more than 20 points yet to anybody.

Prediction: This might be the closest game of the week in the Big Ten. I believe that Northwestern is the better team, but I think the home-field advantage, even without fans, gives the edge to the Boilermakers. 24-23 Purdue. 

Note: Maryland-Ohio State has been cancelled due to COVID-19

*All lines from William Hill Sportsbook