Week 5 Big Ten Football Preview

(Photo courtesy of Ohio State Athletics.)

In Week 4 of Big Ten football, we gained a lot of knowledge about some of these teams that were tough to get a read on previously. For example, we know Wisconsin’s Week 1 performance was not a fluke and we know that things are seriously wrong at Penn State and at Michigan. Week 5 gives us a handful of intriguing games as well as two battles for the top of each division. 

Let’s take a look at the matchups:

Purdue (2-1) @ Minnesota (1-3)

When/Where: Friday, November 20th, 7:30 PM @ TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN

Lines*: Purdue -2.5, O/U 61 

(Photo courtesy of Purdue Athletics.)

Purdue is coming off of a tough home loss against undefeated No. 19 Northwestern while Minnesota stumbles into this game after a 35-7 defeat at the hands of Iowa.

Purdue had a chance to gain possession of first place in the Big Ten West last week but they ran into a Northwestern defense that has been playing lights out. The Boilermakers finished with just two rushing yards in the entire game, which prevented them from getting into a real rhythm. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell finished with 263 yards and two touchdowns, but could only do so much with no help from the ground game. Minnesota’s defense might be the perfect cure for a struggling rushing attack as they rank last in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game. 

Minnesota could get nothing going offensively against a stout, Iowa defense. Their only points came in the fourth quarter when the game was all but decided. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim continued to shine with 144 yards, as did wide receiver Rashod Bateman (111 yards and a touchdown), but quarterback Tanner Morgan had another shaky performance. Purdue has been susceptible to big plays in the passing game this year, ranking 13th in the Big Ten, so Minnesota will need to convert some explosive plays if they want to have a chance in this game. 

Prediction: Purdue will definitely be able to put up points against a Minnesota defense that has been brutal so far and I don’t trust Minnesota’s offense enough to keep up. 38-28 Purdue. 

No. 9 Indiana (4-0) @ No. 3 Ohio State (3-0)

When/Where: Saturday, November 21st, 12:00 PM @ Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH

Lines: Ohio State -20.5, O/U 66.5 

(Photo courtesy of Indiana Athletics.)

This is the battle for first place in the Big Ten East division. Indiana took care of business last week against the inferior Michigan State while Ohio State’s game against Maryland was cancelled. 

Tom Allen’s Hoosiers should feel wildly disrespected by the line in this game. Indiana comes into this game as the third-highest scoring offense in the Big Ten and they have really only had one close game–Week 1 vs Penn State. They run a balanced offense that won’t overwhelm you. They also don’t turn the ball over much and take advantage of good field position. Ohio State will be the most talented defensive team they have faced, however, so it will be interesting to see how Indiana handles the Buckeyes.

Ohio State’s offense is wildly talented and they have lived up to all of the expectations set for them in the preseason. Quarterback Justin Fields has been near-unstoppable and with the weapons he has, the only potential concern is whether or not he’ll show any signs of rust early on after sitting out a week unexpectedly. Indiana is fourth in the Big Ten in both points and yards defensively, but this unit most likely lacks the talent to compete with the Buckeye offense for a full game.

Prediction: Indiana is feeling very confident entering this game and they will probably be able to hang with Ohio State for a while, but the Buckeyes will pull away towards the end of this game. 42-27 Ohio State.

Illinois (1-3) @ Nebraska (1-2)

When/Where: Saturday, November 21st, 12:00 PM @ Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE

Lines: Nebraska -15.5, O/U 59 

(Photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics.)

Both of these teams are coming off of their first wins of the year. Illinois upset Rutgers on the road, 23-20, while Nebraska defeated Penn State in a nail-biter, 30-23. 

Illinois finally found something that worked offensively, as they ran all over the Rutgers defense for 338 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Isaiah Williams only needed to complete seven passes to get the win. However, he ran 192 yards, enough to win him the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. Starter Brandon Peters is now healthy after being out with COVID, so it will be interesting to see if Illinois plugs him back in or if they roll with Williams and try to build off of his performance. Nebraska has been one of the worst teams against the run this year, so they may struggle to contain Williams in whatever role he has come gametime. 

Nebraska jumped out to an early lead against Penn State, as quarterback Luke McCaffrey got the start and delivered for the Cornhuskers. He struggled a bit throwing the ball, but his rushing ability was enough to keep Penn State on their toes, at least in the first half. Nebraska will probably continue to use McCaffrey’s legs to their advantage against Illinois, who has also struggled against the run this year. The Fighting Illini defense gave up less than 30 points for the first time of the season last Saturday, but there’s a decent chance they return to their old ways this week. 

Prediction: Both teams got much-needed wins last week, and 15.5 points seems like a lot to go in Nebraska’s favor. However, the Huskers are the more talented team across the board and should take care of business. 34-24 Nebraska. 

No. 10 Wisconsin (2-0) @ No. 19 Northwestern (4-0)

When/Where: Saturday, November 21st, 3:30 PM @ Ryan Field, Evanston, IL

Lines: Wisconsin -7, O/U 43.5 

(Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Athletics.)

This is the battle for first place in the Big Ten West division. Wisconsin picked up right where they left off before being shut down with a 49-11 undressing of Michigan while Northwestern defeated Purdue, 27-20. 

Wisconsin looked unstoppable in all facets of the game for the second time this season. Quarterback Graham Mertz was not asked to do a whole lot, as he only attempted 22 passes and threw for 127 yards. Wisconsin benefitted from some short fields after Wolverine turnovers and took advantage of the opportunities they were given. Northwestern’s defense has been excellent this season, trailing only Wisconsin in points and yardage allowed. It will be interesting to see how they match up against Mertz, who is probably the most prolific threat they have faced so far.

It was the same story for the Northwestern offense last week against Purdue. The Wildcats did just enough to compliment their defense and win the game. The rushing attack struggled a bit, but the Wildcats were still able to dominate time of possession and wear down the Boilermakers defense. Wisconsin has given up just 18 points in the two games they have played, which is a small sample size but impressive nonetheless. The Badgers defense has so far have lived up to their lofty expectations. They will also be the best defense Northwestern has faced by far.

Prediction: Northwestern is a very good football team, and might finish the year with only one loss. However, they are not built to beat a team that is on Wisconsin’s level. 27-16 Wisconsin. 

Iowa (2-2) @ Penn State (0-4)

When/Where: Saturday, November 21st, 3:30 PM @ Beaver Stadium, University Park, PA

Lines: Iowa -2.5, O/U 47 

(Photo courtesy of Iowa Athletics.)

Iowa is coming off a cakewalk against Minnesota while Penn State lost their fourth game in a row at the hands of Nebraska.

Iowa’s offense relied heavily on the run last week, which is not surprising given how Minnesota has defended opposing teams’ ground attacks. They wore down the Gopher’s defense, scoring 21 of their 35 points in the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes will continue to rely on the ground game since quarterback Spencer Petras has not yet proved himself as a strong passer at the college level. Penn State’s defense has underperformed wildly this season. They have given up 30 points in every game so far, even though their yardage numbers are middle of the pack in the Big Ten. 

Coach James Franklin benched quarterback Sean Clifford in the second quarter last week, moving to sophomore Will Levis. Levis made a game that was 24-3 competitive, as the Nittany Lions only lost by seven. However he was not particularly effective throwing the ball and relied a lot on his legs. Franklin has not said which quarterback will start this week, instead claiming that “we’re gonna need both of them.” Whoever it is, they will be tasked with fixing an offense that has a limited rushing attack and has been extremely prone to turnovers through four games. Iowa’s defense has taken care of business the last two weeks against Michigan State and Minnesota, allowing only 14 total points, therefore they will be playing with a lot of confidence entering this one. 

Prediction: The big question in this game is whether or not Iowa will continue to succeed running the football. After watching Penn State for four weeks, though, it’s tough to have any confidence predicting them to win. 27-23 Iowa. 

Michigan (1-3) @ Rutgers (1-3)

When/Where: Saturday, November 21st, 7:30 PM @ SHI Stadium, Piscataway, NJ

Lines: Michigan -10.5, O/U 55

(Photo courtesy of Rutgers Athletics.)

Both of these teams are coming off of tough home losses. Michigan got rolled by Wisconsin, 49-11, while Rutgers lost on a last second field goal against Illinois. 

The downward spiral has continued in Ann Arbor and Jim Harbaugh’s seat gets hotter with every loss. The Wolverine offense was helpless against Wisconsin, as they gained just 219 yards. Quarterback Joe Milton was 9/19 with two interceptions and was replaced by backup Cade McNamara, who looked solid on only seven passes. It will be interesting to see how much more time Milton gets before McNamara becomes the new starter. The Rutgers defense is not as porous as they have been in previous years, but are still towards the bottom of the Big Ten. 

Rutgers took a step back last week against Illinois after they had built some momentum early in the season. Quarterback Noah Vedral threw three interceptions, all in the second half, which killed Rutgers chances to take control of the game. They will need more consistent play from him to have a shot against Michigan. The Wolverines defense has been very underwhelming this year. While Rutgers isn’t great offensively, the Michigan defense allowed Michigan State to put up 27 points, so it’s a chance to get right for Vedral and the Scarlet Knights offense.

Prediction: If Michigan loses this game, it might be the nail in the coffin for Jim Harbaugh. I think they rally this week, but Rutgers will not lay down. 20-17 Michigan. 

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

*All lines from William Hill Sportsbook